So by now, you’ve figured out that I love the holiday season in NYC! And back when my husband and I first started our relationship, we added another special NYC holiday tradition to our list: Hanukkah dinner at Katz’s Deli! Now, if you’re not from New York, you may question why we would dine at a deli for a holiday but wonder no more. Katz’s isn’t just any ordinary deli. It’s a New York institution! And this is just one of the fabulous things you can get there…
It may be hard to tell from the photo, but that is actually nearly a pound of hot and juicy, freshly-sliced pastrami. With mustard on fresh rye bread. And it is soooooo good! Usually, Mike and I will get one sandwich to share (they cost $22.45 each right now!) and then round out the meal with their pickles, a heaping mound of coleslaw, and either the fries, knishes, or latkes. They even have beer on tap, and you definitely need one or two to wash down all that delicious food! (Or for a true New York experience, get yourself an egg cream instead.)
You may be surprised to learn that you’re probably already quite familiar with Katz’s. There is one particular moment in the movie When Harry Met Sally in which Meg Ryan makes quite a scene in a restaurant with her fake orgasm and then a nearby diner quips, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Yep. That was filmed in Katz’s deli! As were several other movies and TV shows.
Katz’s turned 130 years old this year, but it didn’t originally start as Katz’s. In 1888, the deli was opened in Manhattan’s Lower East Side by the Iceland Brothers. It wasn’t until 1903 that Wally Katz joined the Iceland brothers, and then later in 1910 he and his own brother bought out the Icelands and Katz’s Deli gained its current name. About 30 years ago, though, there were no more Katzes to keep running the deli, and the restaurant was sold out of the family. Fortunately, it still retains the Katz name, and its legacy lives on!
When you enter Katz’s, you’ll receive a ticket and you want to guard that thing with your life. If you lose it, you’ll be paying them a $50 surcharge on your way out! The reason you get a ticket is that you actually order your food and drinks from several different lines along the long counter. Beer from one section, sandwiches from another, sides from one more spot near the back, etc. We usually split up and one of us gets sandwiches while the other gets the beer and sides – divide and conquer!
Each time you order something, they’ll write down the amount on your ticket and you’ll pay the final amount when you turn in your ticket on the way out. It’s cash only at the front door, but you can pay with a card at the dessert counter in the back.
The food is the obvious draw here because it’s delicious, but going to Katz’s is also an experience. The crowds can be insane sometimes, and you’ll probably get jostled a bit while waiting in line, so just try to be patient and know that it will all be worth it in the end (the visit from all these photos was around 6:00 pm on a Friday, and it was very NOT crowded for a change!)
If you’re ordering a sandwich, the guys behind the counter will pull out these giant hunks of meat, which have been cured for about 30 days, and they’ll slice off a heaping portion right before your eyes. They usually give you a sample slice (or three) when they get started so you can have a little nibble while you wait (and probably so you don’t drool all over the place while waiting for your sandwich!) Don’t forget to ask for pickles, too!
The decor is also a lot of fun to look at and definitely part of the Katz’s experience. You’ll see photos of celebrities who have visited Katz’s in the past (and there are a lot of them), and you’ll see tons of vintage signs all around, including several with their famous wartime catchphrase, “Send a salami to your boy in the army!”
During World War II, the owners of Katz’s shipped food to their sons who were serving overseas, and they will still ship salami and other non-perishable food to members of the armed services today if you give them a call at 1-800-4HOTDOG. And if you want some of their yummy goodness shipped to you, too, they will also ship their pastrami, pickles, and more to any address in the U.S.
If you live in NYC and you’ve never been, believe the hype and get thee to the deli! I always worry we’re going to go there and that I’m going to think the sandwich is overrated, but it really isn’t. It’s consistently delicious every. single. time.
And if you’re planning a visit to NYC soon, be sure to stop by and see what all the fuss is about! There is a new, smaller outpost of Katz’s in Brooklyn, but skip that and go to the original location on the Lower East Side. Like I said, going there is part of the experience, and this is one you don’t want to miss!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Katz’s Delicatessen: 205 East Houston Street (corner of Ludlow St), New York, NY 10002
- You can also visit their Brooklyn location in the Dekalb Market Hall in the City Point building if you just want to try the food, but I HIGHLY recommend the original location for the full Katz’s experience!
When to Go
- Anytime! Katz’s is open 7 days a week. Expect crowds on the weekends and around the holidays.
Tips for Visiting
- You’ll get a ticket when you come in – don’t lose it! There’s a $50 surcharge for lost tickets. As you order food and drinks, your bill will be tallied on the ticket. You can combine tickets when you leave, though, if more than one person in your party is ordering food and drinks and you want to pay together.
- It’s cash only at the front door, but you can pay with a credit card at the dessert counter in the back.
- Prepare for crowds! It can be very busy at times and you will have to wait in line. Also, there is quite a bit more seating way in the back near the bathrooms in case the front is completely full.
- And there’s more than one line! Note there are various lines which are for ordering different things. Be sure you pick the right line for whatever you’re trying to order! (And sometimes there will be more than one line for whatever you want, like for ordering sandwiches especially.)
- Get the pickles! When you order food, you’ll be asked if you want pickles. The answer to this question is always yes.
- Try their food as its intended to be enjoyed. The pastrami sandwich comes on rye bread with mustard–don’t ask for it on white bread or with mayo or ketchup. Embrace the classic style and recognize that they know what they’re doing.
- The meat is fatty. You can ask for it lean, but really, what’s the point? 😉 Fat is flavor my friends, and this is not the place to go if you’re on a diet.
- If you want to enjoy Katz’s year round, wherever you may be, they ship to any address in the U.S. They will even ship some of their items to U.S. armed forces serving overseas. Call them at 1-800-4HOTDOG for details.