Stein’s Deli, 2207 Magazine Street, may not be the first thing on folks’ radar when they come to town, but it should be one of the first stop-offs on Magazine Street. To channel the late Anthony Bourdain “But why, you may ask, should one go to a Jewish Deli in New Orleans?”
The first and most obvious answer is that New Orleans and its food are cultural gumbos; Muffuleta is Italian American, Po Boys are Franco-American (theoretically), gumbo is West African (unless you get it from Melba’s, in which case it’s all American, and really, really good); our street names are English, Spanish, French, Italian, Irish, and Greek. So there is no one real food tradition, and frankly someone’s momma always makes it better, anyways.
The second, and to me the most clearly meritorious and least high-falutin’ argument is that the food is seriously some of the best in town, and the price point is great for locals and vacationers on a budget. The food is so good, in fact, that the restaurant is New Orleans’ best place to grab a sandwich in 2018, according to Gambit magazine, a contentious win in a city with multiple sandwiches vying to be the official sandwich of the city.
The bagels: Stein’s ships their bagels in from Davidovich in New York, so any attempt at arguing that they’re not as good as any bagel in New York City is moot—they are New York City bagels. The accouterments are the standard, albeit well done, deli fare: cream cheese, capers, and lox.
The sides: Okay, so potato salad to most is an absolute afterthought, but Stein’s is really great (being a bit of a barbecue aficionado I’ve eaten innumerable pounds of the stuff since childhood), the consistency is dense but the flavor is light, and entirely appropriate for warm weather.
The important part, the sandwiches: One person in your party must, lest you commit a crime punishable by lifetime banishment to the swamps, order a Reuben (corned beef), a Rachel (pastrami), or some variant thereof. The Reuben (or their occasional offering of a Wu-Tang Clan themed spinoff) is whole chunks of corned beef, with just about everything on the sandwich made in-house; this is deli meat done right, not shaved or sliced.
The star of the show, and what used to be a well-kept and locals-only secret, is the beer room. While Stein’s keeps a selection of sodas and beers in the front cooler, the backroom hides some sought after secrets. To get to the backroom, one would walk through the kitchen, out the back door, and hook a right into the first door. I have found some white whale beers back there, usually only available one day each year: Kentucky Breakfast Stout by Founders, Bourbon County Brand Stout (and a few variants) by Goose Island, along with a selection of equally as good, small production and hard to come by beers from Louisiana to Belgium. If you’re a beer nerd, beer geek, home brewer, or just like beer that tastes good, this is where you need to be.
As a recommendation; the Tart Farmhouse by New Orleans’ Urban South pairs wonderfully with a Reuben—the smoke from the meat plays off the acidity of the beer perfectly.
Afterwards, take a stroll down magazine and hit the various consignment, costume, and record stores; two “must-hits” are DEFEND NOLA, selling quirky New Orleans-sourced apparel and street-wear at 1101 First Street, on the corner of First and Magazine, and Dirty Coast, similar to DEFEND, but with shirts, flags, pins, buttons, and candles celebrating New Orleans, the Saints, and Louisiana culture. Lagging from the weight of your sandwich and beer? My three personal favorite coffee shops are on Magazine: Hey Café, rustic, hipster, and straw-less is the perfect place to grab a coffee and head next door to peruse the legendary Peaches’ Records; Mojo came in third as far as Gambit’s reviews go for 2018, but in a town known for its coffee this is a big deal, and the Magazine street location was host to a Banksy mural, and potentially even the man himself, in 2015; finally, the best cup of coffee in town according to Gambit is French Truck Coffee, which specializes in making an extraordinary cup of Joe from hard to find beans sourced by the owner.