Jewish delis: we all know them and love them dearly. Without them, where would we satisfy our craving of matzo ball soup and corned beef sandwiches? When Jewish European people migrated to the United States, there were no Kosher shops. So many opened up their own for their community. These delicatessens sold Jewish and Kosher dishes and ingredients. Today, many delis from that time period are still standing and just as popular. 

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I went to temple every Sunday, learned about the history and culture of Judaism and immersed myself in the religion to learn more about my roots. What was almost as important was the deli stop we would make after temple most Sundays. It was the best reward I could ever ask for, as the delis were a world of Jewish food heaven to us. Corky and Lenny’s was always my family’s favorite deli. It was a staple in Cleveland for the Jewish community.

Many of them are family-run and have been using the same recipes for decades. If you’ve been to a Jewish deli, you know the menu is an overwhelming wave of amazing dishes. May is Jewish American Heritage Month, so to celebrate, here is our guide to help you navigate the deli next time you go. This guide is by no means exhaustive of every dish you'll find, but it’s an introduction to the world of Jewish delis.

Common pastries found at Jewish delis


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Babka is a dense, brioche-like bread sometimes filled with rich chocolate. This is one of my personal favorites, and a dessert I always eat at my family’s Jewish holiday parties. 


If you’re in the mood for something decadent, super sweet, rich, with more of a fruity flavor to it, you have to try sufganiyah. Also known as jelly donuts, these are a staple for dessert. They are a traditional Israeli dessert and pair perfectly with a bagel for brunch. These mini jelly-filled donuts topped with the perfect dusting of powdered sugar always hit the spot, and if you don’t know what to order, I say try these. Traditionally, sufganiyah is eaten during the eight nights of Hanukkah, as it's said that these fried treats that represent oil and celebrate the miracle of one night of oil lasting for eight. The history is what makes these treats so rich. 

Chocolate Hamantaschen Cookies

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If you love a classic chocolate chip cookie, these are for you. They are traditional Jewish cookies filled with chocolate, poppyseed, and jam. These are commonly eaten during Purim, a Jewish holiday that takes place in the springtime.


These are commonly served during brunch as a part of the meal, and let me tell you, these are so delicious. They are thin, crepe-like pancakes, filled with creamy cheese and topped with a rich berry sauce.


Rugelach is another traditional Jewish pastry that’s like a croissant, but has filling in it; typically walnut and cinnamon. There are many different kinds of rugelach though, as chocolate rugelach is my personal favorite. These are just a few of my ride or die sweets, but there are so many more that are served in delis. If you haven’t tried any of these, I am begging you to, they are a true treat.

Common savory dishes found in Jewish delis

Now, as far as savory goes, there are a lot of options. My go-to is always a poppy seed bagel with lox, onion, tomato, cream cheese, and capers. A bagel and lox is a true staple in American Jewish cuisine, so this is always an option at any Jewish deli you encounter. 

If you haven’t dipped your toes in the water in the world of Jewish delis, you might not know the differences among all of the meats served in the deli. What is the difference between corned beef and roast beef? 

Noodle Kugel

I can’t possibly think of a better way to transition from sweet to savory than to inform you about noodle kugel: a sweet dish made up of noodles. It’s served at most gatherings and holidays, and for Jewish families, even on Thanksgiving. This is a rich and creamy casserole made from eggs, noodles, sour cream, and cottage cheese. It’s sweet, giving it an interesting flavor palette. It’s something you should try if you’re a noodle-lover. Kugel is a main staple for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest which is celebrated/observed every sundown on Friday and lasts until sundown on Saturday. It’s a perfect way to kick off the day of rest. It’s certain that pretty much any deli you go to will have Kugel to serve.

Corned Beef

Corned beef is primarily beef brisket that is cured in a seasoned brine solution, which gives the beef its strong flavor. After the beef is brined, it’s slowly cooked in an oven, or simmered in a pot of water, until tender, and it’s ready to be served. It can be served hot or cold on many different sandwich variations.

Roast Beef

Roast beef, on the other hand, can be from many different cuts of lean beef, like sirloin or tenderloin, and it’s seasoned heavily and roasted in the oven until tender. Since roast beef can be from many different cuts of beef, it offers more versatility in how it tastes. Additionally, the seasonings on roast beef are quite different from corned beef, making them taste quite differently. Roast beef can be served as one big cut of meat or it can be sliced thinly for sandwiches. Both corned and roast beef go well on a sandwich with mustard, swiss cheese, and coleslaw.


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Pastrami goes through a similar process as corned beef, as it's from beef brisket, and it’s also cured and coated through seasonings. The difference is that it’s then cold smoked and steamed to make the final product. Pastrami typically has a peppery crust to it with hints of mustard seeds, garlic, and coriander. You can’t go wrong with any beef variation, as they all offer similar tasting sandwiches.


Lox, as I mentioned before, comes from salmon. Lox is never actually cooked, it’s also cured in a salty brine mixture for a number of weeks. So, it’s raw, and it is the perfect addition to any bagel sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget to get a fresh, crunchy, kosher dill pickle to eat on the side, it’s the perfect addition to any brunch combo.

Matzo Ball Soup

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Another classic and delicious order is matzo ball soup. This is a classic soup in the Jewish religion, and is served at pretty much any gathering or holiday. It’s made up of deliciously dense matzo balls, in a flavorful broth, with celery and carrots. Usually Jewish delis serve matzo ball soup every single day and have other special soups served weekly. Matzo ball soup is one of my favorite things to eat during the winter, as it serves as a warming comfort food, and satisfies my soup craving.


Latkes are a favorite among most Jews, as these deep fried-to-perfection potato pancakes are just delectable. They are served most commonly during Hannukah to celebrate the holiday. They are often served with applesauce, my favorite topping to add to them, and sour cream. Going to the deli is a good option, so you can eat them without dealing with the mess. The best part about this cuisine is that you can get a little bit of everything to make a plate to your likings and try everything at the deli in one stop.