The best places to try this deli staple in Seattle, Bellevue and Bainbridge Island.
Firmly fixed in the deli pantheon, the corned beef on rye approaches sandwich perfection when done right. Stacked high and served warm is the only suitable execution, and the places we visited did not disappoint. All serving house-brined versions, these five spots are must-trys for the brisket faithful.
Market House Meats
If you’re going to put the words “world-famous corned beef” in 4-foot letters across the front of your shop, you better deliver on that meaty promise. And this no-frills Denny Triangle lunch-counter spot — open since 1948 — does. Brined for anywhere from 10 to 14 days, the beef here is then roasted for 4½ hours. The thick-cut Franz marble rye struggles to hold up to the meat — which, when served in the warm-sandwich option, is finished on the griddle — but it’s a more than tolerable situation considering the flavor. The $10.95 menu version comes with melted Swiss cheese, but never the need. The beef is delicious on its own, with maybe a quick slather of mustard. 1124 Howell St, Seattle (206-624-9248) — Brian Thomas Gallagher
Goldberg’s Famous Delicatessen
If anything nearby comes close to the classic corned beef of famous Jewish delis like Katz’s in New York, it’s this strip-mall place in scenic Factoria. The décor leaves something to be desired — think kitschy vinyl booths and walls adorned with classic deli terms like “egg cream” and “potato latke” — but the meat is right, and that’s what counts. Warm and just fatty enough, it has the characteristic balance of buttery and beefy. The Brenner Brothers (a Federal Way bakery) caraway rye encasing the meat was perfectly soft without giving way to the delightful juices-and-mustard slurry that is the inevitable byproduct of a properly done corned-beef sandwich. At $13.99, it’s a more than serviceable version of the East Coast ideal, and the half-sour pickles could hang with New York’s best in a blind taste test. 3924 Factoria Blvd. S.E., Bellevue (425-641-6622 or goldbergsdeli.com) — B.T.G.
Rain Shadow Meats Squared
Make no mistake, the corned beef at this Pioneer Square outpost of butcher Russell Flint’s butcher shop is a delicious sandwich ($13). However, decked out with toasted marble rye, Gruyere and caraway slaw, it’s edging into Reuben territory. Which is to say, there are a lot of nice flavors happening — including the caraway in that slaw, which echoes the traditional rye flavor profile — but the brisket here is an ensemble player rather than a solo star. Like most of Rain Shadow’s beef, the corned version here is grass fed and grain finished (this particular cut raised by Painted Hills, but Flint will soon be switching to 100 percent grass-fed briskets from Whatcom County’s Burk Ridge Farms), and it has a hyper-beefy flavor. 404 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle (206-467-4854 or rainshadowmeats.com) — B.T.G.
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Tat’s touts its “East Coast steaks & subs,” and if a decade-plus of long lines at its utilitarian Pioneer Square shop are any indication, it’s doing the job. They cure their own corned beef in-house, yet curiously, the menu lacks a corned-beef sandwich per se. To keep it simple (and to keep the line moving — there’s pressure), order the sandwich they call the New Yorker, minus the pastrami. It’s an overstuffed meat-monster, served with a little Swiss cheese and a lot of spicy mustard on fairly fresh marbled rye. (An accompanying pickle spear was just a floppy, flavorless section of cucumber — a small but serious deli downfall.) The sandwich is predominantly salty (a beer helps), while the eating of it is predominantly messy (you’ll need more napkins). It fulfills its function while overperforming on volume — which, for $13, seems only fair. If you’re sharing with a friend, they’ll split it into two separate waxed-paper-lined plastic baskets; if you eat the whole thing, clear your afternoon schedule for a nap. 159 Yesler Way, Seattle. (206-264-8287 or tatsdeli.com) — Bethany Jean Clement
Hitchcock Deli is the kind of place that has a “philosophy” (their lowercase) on its website. It’s got two attractive locations, the original on Bainbridge Island (appended to the well-regarded restaurant of the same name) and a newer, high-ceilinged Georgetown branch. The brisket they use is Painted Hills grass-fed — no hormones, no antibiotics, raised on presumably picturesque pasture — and the curing involves 11 days of brine, followed by sous-vide cooking for 36 hours (according to a well-designed deli-case sign). If it sounds overly fancy to you, the proof’s in the corned beef: deep red, spiced with nuance and noticeably, deliciously rich. (“Is there butter on this?” my friend asked.) The $13 sandwich isn’t piled a mile high in the traditional Jewish-deli style, but the quality of the meat might make it the best version in the region. 6003 12th Ave. S., Seattle (206-582-2796) 129 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island (206-451-4609 or hitchcockdeli.com) — B.J.C.
*For purposes of this survey, we ignored the fact that serving a corned-beef sandwich with cheese is considered traif (nonkosher) and would never pass muster with your bubbe.