We’ve enjoyed 45 meals at delis in cities between Washington, DC and New York City. We ordered the identical meal at each deli: pastrami, corned beef and brisket sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad, half sour and full sour pickles. We used a 100-point scale to rate each meal. A deli could earn a maximum of 24 points for each of the 3 sandwiches, 7 points each for the coleslaw and potato salad, and 7 points each for the two types of pickles. We rated only the food and did not consider any other factors such as ambiance, cleanliness (which varied enormously), etc. We made multiple trips to several delis that were our favorites. Other than learning that deli sandwiches cause your cholesterol score to rise, what else did we discover?
We concluded the best deli food can only be found in the New York City area. Although we visited 20 delis in and around Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, hoping to find at least one that equaled the best of what New York had to offer, we were generally disappointed. For example, we enjoyed Corned Beef King in Olney, Maryland, and Parkway Deli in Silver Spring is a good authentic deli, but neither one matched up to our five favorites in the New York City area (Katz’s, Second Avenue, David’s Brisket House, Goodman’s and Sarge’s).
We would urge you to avoid ordering brisket sandwiches at virtually all delis. We found brisket to be consistently dry and/or tasteless. The three exceptions to this rule were David’s Brisket House in NYC, Goodman’s in NJ and MGM Roast Beef in Washington.
Similarly, we suggest you skip the potato salad and coleslaw at most delis. Almost none of our samples were homemade, many were tasteless, and some were drowning in mayonnaise. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the outstanding homemade redskin potato salad at Goodman’s.