Los Angeles has long been blessed with terrific Jewish deli food, from the famous number 19 at Langer’s to the towering Black Forest Reuben at Brent’s to the crisp pickle plate at Nate n’ Al. But just south of LA in the city of Torrance, there are the lesser known — but equally essential — sandwiches at New York Deli. Cut diagonally and built thick in the middle with about five ounces of peppery-cured brisket, this pastrami has been fulfilling cravings for those far away from the most famous Southern California delis for the past 38 years.
Jewish delis have had to battle changing tastes over the generations. Movements away from carby, meaty lunches to grab-and-go salads and bowls over the past few decades have meant slower times for restaurants that rely on sit-down diners. A 2009 book called Save the Deli by David Sax chronicled the existential threat posed to the industry, which still looms large. In recent years, the 95-year-old Greenblatt’s Deli in West Hollywood and 47-year-old Izzy’s Deli in Santa Monica closed permanently.
But through it all, New York Deli, located in a generic Sepulveda Boulevard strip mall, has served classic deli sandwiches in a dining room that looks like it hasn’t changed since the days of Cheers, with black and white photos of long-gone Hollywood stars, lattice white fencing placed haphazardly on the walls, and hanging wire lights. Filled mostly with quiet retirees and folks looking for an affordable lunch without the fuss, glass-topped tables and cushioned metal chairs give the feeling of a ’90s ballroom, complete with a wet bar station that no one congregates around anymore.
Opened by the Temory family, who hails from Afghanistan, in 1985, founder Omar, his wife Kamila, and son Leo continue to operate to run the New York Deli every day. Though they declined to return multiple requests for comment, it’s a welcome sight to see owners engaged in keeping regular customers happy. New York Deli’s excellence hasn’t escaped local South Bay publication the Daily Breeze, which has written numerous articles about the restaurant and named it a Reader’s Choice from 2014 to 2017. But outside of the South Bay, New York Deli doesn’t receive much media attention, which is fine because the sandwiches speak for themselves.
The Reuben ($17-18) in particular stands as an exercise in perfect proportions, with tender, beefy pastrami or corned beef topped with crunchy sauerkraut. A thin slice of Swiss cheese melts between the fermented cabbage and sliced meat, the latter stacked with such skill that the cross-cut looks like the whirls of a fingerprint. Griddled rye bread keeps everything together until the last morsel. Elsewhere on the menu, untoasted sky-high sandwiches ($14-15) come with a choice of meat, mound of crisp coleslaw, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese for a solid rendition of Langer’s number 19.
The real highlight though might be the matzo ball soup, large enough for two or even three people to share with a fist-sized globe of glorious soaked carbohydrates surrounded by a deeply rich chicken broth. A few noodle strands, chicken chunks, and diced carrots keep every slurp interesting, and for $10 this bowl is a meal unto itself.
Not everything on the menu, however, is a hit. Those ordering bagels and lox ($18) might be slightly disappointed. Served with canned black olives and capers, the over-salted lox at New York Deli looks like it might’ve been sitting in a package for a while. But what the lox lacks the potato pancakes ($11) make up for. Shaped nearly five inches in diameter and sporting a gorgeous dark brown fried color, they work as a delicious, comforting starter, especially when topped with a blend of sour cream and applesauce. Just be sure to come in early as the latkes tend to sell out.
At New York Deli, the portions are hefty, the service is quick, and the parking is easy enough before noon. There’s a reason why this formula has retained its fans for more than a generation, and why this Jewish deli resists the passing of time. While younger folks and social media mavens haven’t caught on to its charms, those who are in the know show up before the lunch rush for one of the best pastrami sandwiches in the greater LA area.
New York Deli is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 2424 Sepulveda Boulevard, Suite 4335, Torrance, CA 90501. Closed Sunday.