Most of Chicago's best delis are on the outskirts of the city (or in the suburbs), but we promise they're worth the trip. For a bagel, the only place to go is New York Bagel & Bialy in Lincolnwood, while the best (and the largest) matzo balls are in a soup at Eleven City Diner, with a second location in Lincoln Park to join the first in the South Loop. Of course, we love nouveau delis and diners, too, like the Publican Quality Meats, a pantry and sandwich shop that makes a killer rendition of a gyro. Whether you're craving an old-school pastrami sandwich or a new-school lamb meatball pita, here are the best delis in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best Chicago restaurants
Best delis in Chicago
J.P. Graziano's has been selling meat since 1937 but its killer subs have only been on the menu since 2007. None of the sandwiches will set you back more than $10, but the Italian is our favorite: a bunch of meats—hot capicola, Volpi Genoa salami, hard salami and mortadella—plus provolone, tomato, lettuce, red wine vinegar and oregano on a long roll from D'amato's Bakery.
This Chicago institution has been doling out its goods for over 70 years, which, props for a cafeteria-style deli. You'll get in line and need to decide what you want quick. Our pick? The cold pastrami sandwich, full of pepper and flavor, which you'll add heaps of their signature horseradish mustard to later. Pair it with a bowl of matzo ball soup, with tender matzo balls and full-bodied chicken broth.
Owner Brad Rubin scoured the country to research this Jewish deli/diner. His pastrami is tender, fatty and full of flavor; the milkshakes are thick and oversized; matzo balls are enormous; and the brisket is good enough that any grandmother would want to claim it, Jewish or not. Does it hold a candle to other Jewish spots in the country? It’s hard to say. But Rubin definitely holds his own as the host, giving this place enough character to become a fixture in its own right.
After a fire forced it to close in 2011, this classic deli (which originally opened in 1955) has risen from its ashes. Traditional Jewish breads—bagels, rye bread—are Kaufman’s foundation and form the base for dozens of deli sandwiches, such as the New York Special (thinly sliced corned beef with chopped liver on rye—ask for mustard, too). Grab some whitefish salad, sliced hard salami and a black-and-white cookie to go, and it’ll be just like the old days.
Don’t take our word for it—any Jew or New Yorker can tell you the best bagel in Chicago is not in Chicago. It’s in Lincolnwood, at a nondescript strip mall just off I-94. This place never closes and doesn’t have tables. Which is why if you’re looking for us, we’ll be in our car in the parking lot, inhaling a bagel sandwich with nova lox and clutching a bag of still-warm salt-and-poppy and sesame bagels for later.
This NYC-deli spot got a new location at the end of 2016, but the sandwiches are still tops. The long lunchtime waits are rewarded with deli classics, like egg salad sandwiches; hot, juicy pastrami; and “Perry’s Favorite”—corned beef, jack cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing piled high on fresh rye. Earlier hours offer breakfast takes on similar classics, including the Mad Moscow, a mess of eggs scrambled with pastrami, corned beef and Russian dressing, piled onto a toasted bagel.
The sister restaurant to the Publican does a lot of things: It’s a butcher shop, a sandwich joint, a grocer and a bread bakery. The selection of locally sourced meats and dairy is a home-cook’s (bourgeois) dream, but if you’d rather leave the cooking to Paul Kahan and crew, get a bowl of the deeply flavorful ribollita soup, a rotating sandwich (they're all great) and a seat at one of the cramped tables.
A couple of Hyde Park veterans (the former owners of Istria Café) and a sandwich maker from the suburbs joined forces for this casual but high-quality deli/grocery store. Crowds gather at the counter for Spanish jamón sandwiches with quince paste and panini that press farmstead cheese and ham between French bread. Save room because the oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies are a hot item, too.