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For Lunch Where Harry Met Sally: Katz’s Deli

“When Harry Met Sally” is one of my favorite movies. I can watch it over and over again.  This iconic scene made Katz’s Deli a household name.

Ever since the line “I’ll have what she’s having” has been delivered, people all over the world have wanted to know what is so special about Katz’s Deli. But actually they have been in business since 1888, so they must be doing something right.

On any list, on any travel show countdown, when it comes to favorite NYC spots, or best sandwiches or anything of the sort, Katz’s is guaranteed to be mentioned is this discussion. This is why is has always been on my list of things I must do in NYC. I had already made my pilgrimage to that other famous deli in NYC (the Carnegie Deli; so I knew I would have to go to Katz’s to see which one I really thought was better. Bragging rights always go to Katz’s but I really enjoyed Carnegie so now the heat was on. Luckily for me Katz’s is located only a few short blocks from the Tenement Museum. It was a sign the time had come.

Upon entering Katz’s Deli I was immediately overwhelmed. There was a line which I expected for a weekend when crowds are at their highest. But there was a man handing out tickets to each patron walking in the door. Then you had to walk over to this long version of a deli counter where food was divided into apparently random groups: knishes and hot dogs, pastrami, turkey, and sandwiches, pickles and condiments, fries and side dishes, desserts, drinks, etc. It might not sound like a big deal but when you have to wait at each counter, get your ticket punched, wait for your food, then move on to the next, and so on, and then fight the crowds to hopefully get a seat, it becomes and exhaustive process. Even more so for me because on top of all of this I also had to dig out my camera out of my bag and take pictures while trying not to let my try get knocked over by overly aggressive passerby’s.

When I finally did sit down I was able to enjoy what I ordered, a Philly cheese-steak sandwich. I know that is not the specialty of the house, the pastrami is, but I was able to taste that as someone in my group had that. I was also able to taste their knishes, one potato, and one spinach, both of which I also liked. Their hot dogs were good too. 

However the overall environment was not what I expected. It was too chaotic and crowded even though it was a fairly large establishment. It was unorganized. You paid on the way out based on what was on your ticket. But the people working the counters were easily confused and it was loud. If you wanted to share a plate, one person ordered one thing and someone else got another. It didn’t make much sense. I also didn’t realize until I left that there was some limited waiter service tables although none were free when I was looking for seats so I guess that’s why I didn’t notice. Plus the workers keep trying to push you to the back like cattle so you get in and out faster to allow for more clientele, so who had time to see. That really irked me. Of course when you watch Katz’s on TV it appears calm and empty and in the above-mentioned movie they have a waitress.

That is not my only disappointment. I also thought Carnegie had better food. They also happen to have better service. I just sat and ordered food like a regular person and wasn’t rushed out. But that aside, the food was also better and of greater quality. The food is similar and the differences were slight but my alliance in the great deli wars of NYC is with Carnegie.

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