We tried four of the top-ranked pastrami sandwiches in New York — here is the best one

  • INSIDER’s Herrine Ro and Alana Yzola visit Harry & Ida’s, Katz’s Deli, David’s Brisket House, and 2nd Ave Deli in search of the best pastrami sandwich.
  • They learn about the history of each place, how the pastrami sandwiches are made, and try each sandwich on camera.
  • Herrine and Alana declare 2nd Ave Deli as the best pastrami sandwich in New York City.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Alana Yzola: Hey, everyone, I’m Alana.

Herrine Ro: And I’m Herrine.

Alana: And today, we are travelling around New York City to find the best Both: pastrami sandwich.

Herrine: I love, love, love, love, love pastrami sandwiches. There are pastrami sandwiches basically sold everywhere throughout the city.

Alana: True.

Herrine: They are found in bodegas, mum-and-pop stores, and just giant restaurants that have been around for over a century.

Alana: Yeah, and we narrowed it down to the four major spots you should hit, and, being from New York, I’ve heard of some of these places.

Herrine: And some of these places we basically picked out off of just good, old-fashioned internet research, and that’s about it.

Alana: Cross-referenced it.

Herrine: Yeah. That’s about it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alana: All right. Well, I am starving. Let’s go.

Herrine: Our first stop is Harry & Ida’s. Alana: Located in the East Village, it’s a sandwich counter and general store best known for its modern take on the pastrami sandwich.

Customer: For the best pastrami sandwich, come to f—ing Harry & Ida’s. Oh, I said f—.

Will Horowitz: So, Harry and Ida is my great grandparents, and they had a delicatessen up in Harlem about 70 years ago, and me and my sister, Julie, opened this place about five years ago, just to keep it alive. So, the traditional pastrami in New York is a beef brisket, and it’s seasoned with coriander, garlic, sometimes a little bit of allspice, and plenty of black pepper and salt. If you want to get really traditional, then you hand-slice it and throw it over a rye with mustard. But we don’t do anything like that. I’d say our pastrami is definitely a little bit more unique. For one, we’re one of the only places in New York that still smokes it by hand ourselves, and we’re using the fattier part of the backbone. It’s like a more marbled steak. And it looks like our ingredients are a little bit different. We have things like fish sauce in it, to all sorts of other crazy spices that you wouldn’t typically find. For me, I wanted to change up the bread. I grew up with it, I’ve had it before. But we wanted it to be something different. We put on a pretty generous amount of anchovy mustard and a buttermilk-fermented cucumber slaw with toasted rye berry. And a huge amount of fresh dill on top. You’re getting a lot of the old flavours, but it definitely comes in a totally, totally different form. The toughest part is to get traditionalists and purists to actually try the sandwich. Because people get very offended that we don’t have rye bread or traditional mustard on it. But always, without question, once we get someone to try it, they’re hooked for life.

Alana: Oh, my gosh!

Herrine: OK, first things first. Let’s try the pastrami by itself.

Alana: Pastrami by itself. Got it. Herrine: That marbling. Alana: Ooh.

Herrine: And thickness.

Alana: OK.

Herrine: Shall we? Alana: Yep!

Alana: OK.

Herrine: I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy, in a very long time.

Alana: I have to say, like, first bite reminds me more of, like, a steak or, like, a dinner than, like, what I think of, like, you know, thinly sliced pastrami. This is more like a meal.

Herrine: I’m more curious about the bread.

Alana: Yeah.

Herrine: And before this gets any colder, let’s take a bite.

Alana: All right!

Herrine: Mm. It’s so good.

Alana: Oh, my God, this is it! What is this, cucumber?

Herrine: You should swallow before you talk.

Alana: Oh, my God! Sorry!

Herrine: The pastrami is so thick and so fatty that the dill and the pickled cucumber cuts through that richness.

Alana: You killed that, you ate it faster than I did.

Herrine: Mm-hmm!

Alana: You weren’t lying. Our second stop is Katz’s Deli. A New York City staple and arguably the most famous pastrami spot we’re visiting.

Customer: It’s the best. It’s the best pastrami ever, anywhere. I think what makes Katz’s pastrami the best is the way they cut their meat. It’s the cutters. They have the magic. It’s the very best.

JakeDell: If New Orleans has beignets, New York has pastrami.

Herrine: This is Jake Dell. He is the fifth-generation owner at Katz’s Deli.

Jake: And if you’re talking about pastrami, there’s no better place than Katz’s Deli. It’s not just me, but our customers think that we have the best pastrami sandwich in the world, because we cure it ourselves, we smoke it ourselves. It’s done the old-fashioned way. We’ve never changed the recipe here at Katz’s. It’s the same flavours that you would have had in 1888. When you first come in, you get a ticket. That’s your everything. So, if you don’t have a ticket, we put you to work. And maybe 30 years later, we let you leave. Jake: Then, you go down the line and start figuring out what you want. It’s cafeteria style.

Alana: Twenty-two, nah! Herrine: You can pay for this. Wow, that’s steep!

Jake: Then, you go to the cutters. When you get to the front of that line, you better know what you want, because we’ll yell at you a little bit.

Herrine: Pastrami on rye.

Alana: Pastrami on rye. I don’t like being yelled at. The pastrami on rye!

Herrine: Yell at her! We were told you would yell.

Jake: The cutter’s gonna give you a nice taste of that pastrami. Get you excited for the real thing.

Alana: Free samples! This is like Costco.

Herrine: You can’t compare this place with Costco!

Jake: There’s only one real way to eat a pastrami sandwich, in my opinion, and that is on rye with a little bit of mustard. That’s all you need.

Alana: Oh, God, all right.

Herrine: All right, that way.

Alana: All right. How do we even find a seat?

Herrine: This was probably, like, the first place I’ve had a pastrami sandwich, like, ever, and now it’s one of my favourite foods.

Alana: Really?

Herrine: So, what about you? Alana: I’ve never been here. My parents have been here.

Herrine: But you’re from Long Island.

Alana: OK! I know. I don’t get out much! Let’s see if it lives up to the hype.

Herrine: Cheers.

Alana: Cheers! It just oozes juice.

Herrine: While I like my pastrami very thin, I appreciate the thick slabs here, because it just has that extra hearty mouth feel.

Alana: Right. I want to try this with the mustard.

Herrine: What? That was cute! As Alana struggles, I shall teach you how it’s done.

Alana: Go for it. Girl, you just, like, that was, like, some snake moves! Did you ever see, like, a snake?

Herrine: I am so happy right now.

Alana: This is gonna be pretty hard to beat.

Herrine: Our third stop is David’s Brisket House in Brooklyn. It’s a deli popular among locals.

RiyadhGazali: To be honest with you, the reaction is, they always say it’s a five star, it’s better than Katz’s.

Customer: People always talk about David’s Brisket. “You have to go try the pastrami!” It lives up to its billing.

Riyadh: There’s a review on Yelp. It’s a Jewish guy, he came in here, and he said the same thing. He was very sceptical about the food, but then he wrote a big review, saying he wishes his mum never catch him doing this. It’s like a taboo. We split it in two processes. We do it in a steam, on at 350 degrees, and then after we finish cooking it, we let it stay, turn off the heat and keep it in there. I mean, it is time-consuming, but it’s worth the while. My personal opinion is when you cut it with a slicing machine, it tastes a lot better. It holds its juice in it. But when you cut it thick, it just doesn’t taste sandwich-like. It tastes more like a meal.

Both: Three, two, one! Mm.

Alana: So, when I first took a bite of the pastrami by itself, again, the seasoning stood out, but I didn’t think it was, you know, as juicy as the ones we’ve had before. But in the sandwich form, all the juices that were on the meat keep getting caught within each other.

Herrine: I agree. It’s like, you know those, like, stone waterfalls?

Alana: Yeah! Yeah, so, like, if the juice is the water, and the stones are the meat, it’s just, like, all up in there. All in the crevices.

Herrine: Yeah! We are such great food reviewers! I feel like the pastrami here has a lot more of, like, a seasoning taste. I don’t think the meat here is as, like, tender.

Alana: Right. Herrine: But you’re still getting that very hearty, fatty, marbled taste every time you take a bite. I could probably do with… more pastrami.

Alana: Our last stop is 2nd Ave Deli in Murray Hill. The Kosher restaurant has been family-owned since 1954 and is known for its Jewish deli classics and modern menu items.

Customer: So, 2nd Ave Deli is surely my favourite restaurant in the area. It’s a good deli to get anything. This would be my last meal if I ever had a last meal that I had to order.

JackLebewohl: We came up what we consider is the right recipe, and we think we have the best pastrami in the world. The secret is the spicing, and in the preparation and the steaming, just, it’s a combination of many different factors, and getting it just right. We slice it so fine. It just tastes better. Whoever does the slicing has to know what he’s doing.

Herrine: Like, literally, you can see through it.

Employee: Yeah, you can see through! See? The thinner the slice is like the melt in the mouth.

Jack: People come in here, and they can’t eat just a little bit. And we know that. And that’s why we make it super thick.

Herrine: I’m coming in here a little biased.

Alana: OK.

Herrine: Because I come here at least once a month.

Alana: Once a month, Herrine?

Herrine: When I look for a great pastrami sandwich, I want that rye bread to be super-duper plush, I want that meat to be fatty, juicy and well marbled, and have, like, the exterior seasoning to just, like, really shine through through each bite. And I get that here every time. It is consistent.

Alana: Well, I kinda want to try it now.

Herrine: You’re gonna have a bite of this and just be like, “This is it!”

Alana: Jeez! OK. So good! Mm! OK, the seasonings aren’t just flavoring the meat for me, like you were saying, they were, like, adding that crunch and that texture.

Herrine: They steam the pastrami here for a longer time than other places because it, like, just makes it even more juicy and moist. Try it with the mustard now.

Alana: OK. Is there any meat left in this? You smeared the whole thing with mustard!

Herrine: Just the top part!

Alana: Fine, I suppose. All right. Mm. OK.

Herrine: This is a sandwich for the gods! Doesn’t get any better than that.

Alana: No, OK. Straight up, the sandwich was, like, 9.5. Mustard made it, like, easy 12.

Herrine: It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for!

Alana: Oh, my God, all right. This was really hard. I think it was probably, like, one of the hardest episodes that we’ve shot so far.

Herrine: I am so sick of pastrami! I am so sick of pastrami!

Alana: Let’s decide which one was the best.

Herrine: All righty, I already have mine.

Alana: I already know what it’s gonna be.

Herrine: I already know she’s gonna be wrong.

Alana: One, two, three!

Herrine: I knew it. I’m disappointed.

Alana: You’re so predictable!

Herrine: I’m sorry, what?

Alana: So, why do you think that 2nd Ave Deli is the best?

Herrine: Why do I know that 2nd Ave Deli is the best?

Alana: I said what I said.

Herrine: 2nd Ave Deli always has, always will be my favourite pastrami sandwich in New York City. It’s consistent. It’s good every time. I love the thinness of the pastrami. I think the layering of it just really makes for a very satisfying mouth feel. It still sticks to its roots of, like, just that classic, iconic pastrami sandwich. What about you? Why did you pick Harry & Ida’s?

Alana: Well, I’m glad that you admitted that 2nd Ave Deli is and has always been your favourite deli. So you admit, you’re biased a little bit.

Herrine: No, I came in with an open mind!

Alana: That’s good. Ah, no, like, thinking about it, what you said makes sense. You know, the meat is cut super thin, it is very juicy, it is very seasoned. I definitely see why you made that choice. However, for me, it’s 2019, and I think it’s time to sort of, you know, modernise the pastrami sandwich. I personally love the seasoning on Harry & Ida’s.

Herrine: I agree with you.

Alana: It was flavorful. The meat itself so juicy and marbled.

Herrine: It literally tasted like brisket.

Alana: Oh, my god! It was just melt in your mouth! And then, the bread itself. I personally, you know, after tasting all of the pastrami sandwiches, I don’t think I’m a big, huge fan of rye bread.

Herrine: You’re pitting against a new sandwich,

Alana: With its, like,

Herrine: with, like, a perfect

Alana: the staple.

Herrine: OG sandwich. OK, so, Alana, do you concede? Do you want to debate more? Someone’s gotta give.

Alana: All right, all right. For this one time. But I guess, for this one time, I’ll have to concede.

Herrine: Y’all, there are more episodes here. I just want a tally.

Alana: I’ll concede! …

Herrine: That’s twice now.

Alana: Whatever! I guess I gotta give it to 2nd Ave Deli.

Herrine: It’s 2nd Ave Deli.

Alana: All right, guys!

Herrine: You heard it here first.

Alana: You agree with Herrine over here, or do you think that Harry & Ida’s deserve the No. 1 spot?

Herrine: Or was it one of the two places we visited that didn’t make our boards?

Alana: Or a completely other place that we didn’t even hear of?

Herrine: Let us know in the comment section below. Bye!

Alana: See you!

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