Best delis in Chicago for bagels, sandwiches, soup and more
From towering pastrami sandwiches to steaming bowls of matzo soup, here are the best delis in Chicago.
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 matzo balls (and the largest) are in a soup at Eleven City Diner, which just opened a second location in Lincoln Park to join the first in the South Loop. Of course, we also love nouveau delis and diners, too, like the cheese-focused Pastoral and 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.
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Eleven City Diner 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. 1112 S Wabash Ave and 2301 N Clark St (312-212-1112, elevencitydiner.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $9.
Kaufman's 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. 4905 W Dempster St, Skokie (847-677-6190, kaufmansdeli.com). 7am–7pm. Average sandwich: $7.75.
New York Bagel & Bialy 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. 4714 W Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood (847-677-9388, newyorkbagelandbialy.net). 24hrs. Average sandwich: $6.
Pastoral Small-batch artisan cheeses are cut to order at this friendly, well-stocked wine-and-cheese shop. The place is attitude-free, and if you’re new to the game, wine director Jan Henrichsen will help you pair your Neufchâtel with your sauvignon blanc. Recent additions to the menu, like the Nut N’ Chutney sandwich of spiced almond butter and cranberry chutney on cracked wheat bread, are perfect for a quick lunch in one of the handful of seats on the outdoor patio and Spanish cheese plates (with Mahón, rosemary Manchego and pata cabra) are perfect for a picnic. 2945 N Broadway (773-472-4781, pastoralartisan.com). Mon–Fri 11am–8pm; Sat 11am–7pm; Sun 11am–6pm.
Perry’s The closest thing Chicago has to the “soup Nazi,” Perry’s is an institution with a fiercely enforced policy of no cell phones. 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. 174 N Franklin St (312-372-7557, perrysdeli.com). Mon–Fri 7:30am–3:30pm (closed Sat, Sun). Average sandwich: $9.
Publican Quality Meats 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 lamb meatball pita and a seat at one of the cramped communal tables. 825 W Fulton Market (312-445-8977, publicanqualitymeats.com). 10am–6pm. Average main course: $10.
Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe 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; still, with only nine tables, the most coveted thing in the place is a seat (easier to find come summer when the patio opens). 1126 E 47th St (773-538-7372, zhmarketcafe.com). Mon–Fri 7am–5pm; Sat, Sun 8am–5pm. Average sandwich: $9.