Review: Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen in Rego Park, New York
S queezed between a dollar store and a closeout store on Queens Boulevard stands an establishment with a vaunted tradition of 70 years as purveyors of arguably the best Kosher food in New York.
Established in the Bronx in 1945 by the late Benjamin Parker and succeeded by his son Jay long after it moved to the Rego Park neighborhood in Queens, Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen may appear to be little more than a humble eatery — but do not let its appearance fool you: the wall on the right past the entrance as you walk inside speaks volumes about the legacy it has already established amongst the best of the best in New York.
I had heard bits and pieces pertaining to Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen — not to be confused with the chain known as Ben’s Deli, which I patronized for lunch in Manhattan with fellow FlyerTalk members and which reportedly has plans to expand despite the general and gradual decline in Kosher-style and Kosher delicatessens around the United States — with some people claiming that it has the best pastrami sandwich in New York.
Really? Even better than Katz’s Deli in Manhattan?!? No way…
…but I had to go in and try for myself.
I never had a reason to try any food from Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen when I lived in Brooklyn. Although I have passed through or near it, I cannot recall Rego Park being a destination for me. Brooklyn had more than its fair share of Kosher delicatessens over the years; but many of them no longer exist today. Mill Basin Kosher Delicatessen is one of the few survivors left in Brooklyn. Moreover, I patronized Kosher and Kosher-style delicatessens in Manhattan when I attended high school and college as well as worked; so I had no reason to shlep to Queens for my pastrami sandwich fix — until a price discrepancy in airfare by Delta Air Lines changed all of that.
Although I typically enjoy a cold Dr. Brown’s cream soda to go with my pastrami sandwich and pickles, I had not had New York City tap water in a long time. I ordered a glass of it.
“That tap water ain’t the best”, said one of the guys behind the counter.
“Yes, it is”, I countered. “It is the best water in the world.”
“Where you from?”
“Brooklyn, originally”, I replied.
“They got better water there.”
I have heard claims that members of the staff there can be rather brusque. That was not my experience at all. They gave service — and food — with a smile with the New Yawkest of accents…
…and speaking of the food, the salads and other offerings within the glass case looked like the typical appetizing fare I had not seen or tasted in a long time: potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, potato latkes and other tempting delights.
The wall on the right side of the delicatessen is dedicated solely to awards, accolades, photographs and reviews earned over the past 70 years, all crammed and overflowing, fighting for your attention…
…but it all meant nothing to me. My opinion is what counts the most to me; and so, I ordered a pastrami on rye bread with an assortment of half-sour and sour pickles and that aforementioned New York City tap water — and yes, they gave me so much flak for ordering it extra-lean that they gave a few samples of their typically pastrami, moist and with fat.
It was delicious; but I simply do not like the texture of fat in my meat. Besides, if it is frowned upon to eat pastrami extra lean, then why charge an extra two dollars for that request? Charge the extra two dollars for the fatty pastrami and give me a discount. Yeah, that’s right.
Anyway, I chose to eat at the counter at the honor wall instead of taking a table in the dining area primarily because I had a flight to catch; and I wanted to leave myself some extra time — just in case any anomalies arose…
…and there it was: a pastrami sandwich as close to perfect as I can remember ever having — along with a huge selection of assorted half-sour and sour pickles and plenty of mustard.
Dare I say that if it was not the best pastrami sandwich I have ever had, it was pretty darn close?
The pastrami at Katz’s Deli is sliced thicker and more marbled, for lack of a better word; whereas the pastrami is sliced thinner at Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen — and definitely leaner, too.
Ceteris parabus — or all things being equal — a differentiator is the price: a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen costs just shy of $20.00; while a pastrami sandwich at Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen is leaner on the wallet at fewer than $14.00. It may — I say may because that is debatable — contain less meat; but it was still filling and incredibly satisfying. It was a much better value for the dollar, in my opinion…
…and if you prefer to keep Kosher, Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen is an obvious choice over Katz’s Deli — but be aware that it is not Glatt Kosher, as it is open during Shabbos, or the Jewish sabbath.
I will still eat at Katz’s Deli with every opportunity I get if I happen to be in Manhattan, as its pastrami is still excellent; but I do believe I have found an equal — if not better — contender for the title of best pastrami in New York in the form of Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen, which I hope will be around serving what may be my new favorite pastrami sandwiches for another 70 years.
All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
96-40 Queens Boulevard
Rego Park, New York 11374
1-800-BensBest or 1-718-897-1700
Sunday – Thursday
9:00 in the morning – 9:00 in the evening
Friday – Saturday
9:00 in the morning – 9:45 in the evening
Although it is a local bus route, you can take the Q72 bus directly from LaGuardia Airport to the last stop at Queens Boulevard. You can also take the M or the R trains to the 63 Drive-Rego Park subway stop, which is only approximately 100 yards southeast of the delicatessen.