Visiting Katz’s Delicatessen: A New York City Landmark

by joeheg

In 1888, the Iceland Brothers opened a deli on Ludlow Street on New York City’s Lower East Side. In 1903 Willy Katz joined the Iceland Brothers and in 1910 Willy’s cousin Benny helped buy the business. That’s when Katz’s Delicatessen was born.

The construction of the New York Subway caused the deli to move to the corner of E Houston St and Ludlow St, where it’s remained ever since. The present storefront was built between 1946-49. It’s now a New York institution.

Katz’s Delicatessen
205 East Houston Street
(corner of Ludlow St)
New York City, 10002

a sign on a building

I’m embarrassed to say how long it took us to visit Katz’s Deli. For many years, our trips to New York City were focused on seeing Broadway shows. Traveling to the Lower East Side just wasn’t in our travel plans.

Finally, after enough visits, we had a free afternoon and took the F train from Times Square to 2nd Avenue. It was a short walk from there to Houston St.

If it’s an average day, you’ll encounter a line that stretches outside. Don’t worry; the line moves quickly. Listen to the instructions on how Katz’s works, which means not losing your ticket, which, if you do, will cost you $50. If you want to be a tourist, you can get in line for a booth where you’ll get table service. If you want to be like a local, you’ll order your sandwich at the counter.

a group of people in a restaurant

Photo courtesy of Tony Robinette

There’s a certain magic to ordering a sandwich from an expert who will slice the meat in front of you and pile it higher than you can manage in a mouthful. Sandwiches at Katz’s aren’t cheap, though. Corned beef or pastrami on rye bread will cost you around $25+.

After getting your sandwich, you head to a table. Don’t worry; they’ll help you find a place to sit. Just don’t expect them to be friendly; just efficient. That’s a quintessential New Yorker trait. There’s a sign over the table that Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal used during the filming of “When Harry Met Sally”; just don’t expect to sit there.

a group of people sitting at tables in a restaurant

I’ve only been to Katz’s Deli once. Sharon and I tried a bit of everything. She said the matzo ball soup was spot on. The half-sour, sour and dill pickles all tasted “right.” We both felt that the french fries stood out and tasted like the oil hadn’t been changed in a long time, which is a compliment.

a table with food and drinksOn another trip, when we stayed at a Holiday Inn that’s only a few blocks away, we had planned another visit but a hurricane and flight changes kept me from visiting. However, Sharon stayed an extra day and was able to go with a longtime friend.

The sandwiches are the main draw and there’s a reason Katz’s has been open for over a century. They also sell Dr. Brown’s sodas, including the divisive Cel-Ray (celery soda) (Note from Sharon: it’s NASTY!)

a trays of food on a tablea sandwich on a plate

Is a Katz’s sandwich worth traveling to the Lower East Side, standing in line and paying $25-$30? That depends on who you ask. If you’re judging the experience solely on the food, then you may be able to get a better corned beef sandwich in New York for less money. But that’s not why you make the trip to Katz’s Delicatessen.

It’s true that the neighborhood isn’t what it used to be, and high-rise condos are replacing old storefronts. However, Katz’s has learned to evolve, selling the air rights above the property to a newly built condo so that it can afford to stay in its classic corner location.


NYC’s famous Katz’s Deli is still around because it sold its air rights and neighboring lots for upwards of $17 million! @Eric Brody a developer/builder here in NYC, shares some insights. #nycrealestate #developer

♬ original sound – Ariel Viera

Final Thoughts

If you want to discover the classic New York experience, there’s no better place to start than at Katz’s Deli. From waiting in line, the staff barking instructions, ordering at the counter and eating a sandwich with enough meat to feed a small family, there’s nothing like it. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but neither is New York City. That’s what makes it unique. Love it or hate it, there’s nothing else like it.

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