Katz’s. It’s the pastrami, stupid!
Ode to the best deli in the world
You want the best pastrami sandwich — maybe the best sandwich, period — in the world? Follow me to:
Katz’s Deli in Manhattan
When you get there, order exactly this: “Pastrami, juicy, and mustard on rye.” Your reward:
The place can be confusing, so here is your guide to the peak experience at Katz’s.
- They require a vaccination card to get in! And everyone wears masks.
- Come very hungry.
- Expect to wait but the line moves quickly. It’s ok, talk to people. They come from all over the world. Use Google’s Popular Times function to see best times. Generally, avoid 1–4 PM. And yes: Katz’s is open on the Sabbath.
- It used to be cash-only but now they take cards. Hey, when you do it one way since 1888, changes come slowly. Still cash only at the main register — you’re your credit card to the last station, where you will buy a black and white cookie.
- Ask the staff if you have questions. New Yorkers seem abrupt but they are very friendly and happy to help and are kind to first-timers. Soon, you will be navigating like a taxicab on 40th Street.
Welcome to Katz’s
Now you have arrived. Come on in, they’re ready for you.
A greeter will give you a ticket and explain the system. The ticket is how they record what you order. You must turn it in to leave, even if it is blank. Do not lose it.
You can sit in a section at the back and order from a waiter. Meh. To me, ordering at the counter and elbowing through the lines is part of the experience. After you get your food, you find a table.
There are multiple lines, for different items.
At the frontmost station
Egg cream. Strange name: there’s no damn egg, no damn cream. It’s syrup, milk, and seltzer. Odd-sounding but so refreshing. You have to at least try one. Get the chocolate variety, made with so much Fox’s U-bet syrup that you’ll think it would be explodingly sweet, but it’s perfectly balanced. There is also a vanilla version, which I will probably never have.
Best hot dogs in the city, I am told. Got it with mustard and pile on the sauerkraut.
Omelets: Never tried but they are said to be great.
There are several stations. Choose a line. When you get to the front, say hi to your cutter. Right now, this is your best friend in the world. Talk to them, they are nice folks and part of the Katz’s experience. Tip them.
You can get pastrami, corned beef, or a combo. Or half a pastrami with matzo ball soup. The sandwich is big enough to share.
Again, here’s your line: “Pastrami, juicy, and mustard on rye.”
When you order pastrami “juicy,” which means fatty (in a good way). On rye, with mustard (which they make themselves).
Ask for mayo or white bread and rumor is they might kick you out. They will definitely give you a pitying look. A reuben is available, but no, don’t be that guy.
Now, watch. This fine cutter before you is an artist. Behold.
Pickles: They give you two types. Both great. Next time, I plan to ask for all half-sour. Best pickles in the world.
Meh. I have my egg cream and tap water is self-serve on the back wall. Yes, tap. New York City tap is the best, most delicious water in the world (seriously). Fiji? Feh.
If you want a beer, they have Katz’s own. Haven’t had it.
A classic choice would be a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.
Latkes. Creamy in the middle, a bit of onion, fried crisp, with sour cream. Gigantic.
Blintzes. I have not had them but they look fabulous. Dough-wrapped cheese, friend in butter by the looks of it. Next time.
The best black and white cookie anywhere.
Cheesecake, I hear! Next time…
Essen, mein kind
Schlep your fabulous treasure over to the nearest table and have a seat. Take in the Katz’s experience as you take in the Katz’s food. There is nothing like this anywhere else.
Around the corner:
- Russ and Daughters. OMG. Get some white fish, some lox.
- Economy Candy, which dates back to 1937 (when Katz’s was only 49 years old).