Katz’s Deli is an iconic NYC deli that has been in existence since 1888. It’s not kosher (they are open on Saturdays and the Jewish holidays), but it’s the style of food common to Jewish delis (pastrami, corned beef, hot dogs, brisket, chopped liver, potato knishes, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup, etc.).
Whenever tourists are touted to a quintessential NY eatery, Katz’s always gets mentioned.
But does Katz’s deserve it?
I am not crazy about Katz’s. But if I were a tourist coming to NYC I would definitely go there. There is no place like it, and I am not sure there ever were other places like it in my lifetime. If there were, I never heard of them.
- It’s usually crowded (nothing special about that). Prepare to wait.
- You can either be seated and served by a waiter, or order at the counter and seat yourself (nothing special about that either).
- They might accept credit cards now. I’m not sure. There was a time when they were cash-only, which is ridiculous given how much deli food costs.
- When you walk in you are handed a ticket, and warned that they will charge you $50 if you lose the ticket. Will they really charge you $50? I don’t know. I always cling tightly to the ticket, as I don’t want to find out. The staff writes whatever you ordered on the ticket, and it’s used by the cashier to figure out your bill.
- If you choose to order at the counter prepare to be annoyed. There are different counter areas for different kinds of food – if you want hot dogs and a corned beef sandwich, you have to stand in two different lines. The “lines” are basically masses of humanity and whoever is most aggressive and pushy gets to the front. It’s an uncivil way to order food.
- If you choose waiter service the experience will eventually be more civil, but when they are busy you either wait outside or inside in an indoor holding pen until a table opens up.
You can’t get a crazy experience like that anywhere else in NY. For good reason. But I wouldn’t pass it up if I were visiting NY for the first time.
Is the food fantastic? Is the praise heaped on them justified? Eh … no.
I can’t judge the pastrami, as I’ve never had it there. But I can tell you that the 2nd Ave Deli’s pastrami is amazing. By far the best I’ve ever had. So is their brisket.
The best item I’ve eaten at Katz’s is their potato pancake. I am not sure if it’s even on the menu. Regardless they have it, and if you go there you should get it. You’ll never eat a better one.
The rest of the food is nothing special, in my experience. It’s not bad, but not great either. The worst part is the bread. Deli sandwiches should be served on fresh rye bread. The bread that’s served at Katz’s is borderline stale, tasteless, cold and might not even be rye. I couldn’t tell what it was. It doesn’t taste like anything.
The matzo ball soup is also nothing special, but no deli’s matzo ball soup compares to home-made. The soups are always very salty and the matzo balls are always dense and bland. No one’s grandma ever made matzo ball soup like that.
Whenever I see an article touting Katz’s I cringe a little, because I don’t want people coming to NY and think NYers don’t know what good food is. Come to Katz’s for the crazy atmosphere, but don’t expect to get the best deli food in NY.
For pastrami or brisket, go to the 2nd Ave Deli. For hot dogs, there are lots of places but my favorite is Dickson’s in Chelsea Market. For french fries go to Pommes Frites. None of these places are near each other, so you can’t make one meal out of the best deli food in NY. But if I had to pick one place to go it would be 2nd Ave Deli.