17 Sep

Our first ever showdown! For this maiden voyage, our mission is to find the best reuben in Tacoma, and we think we did. Hit “continue reading” to read the full write up!

This post has been a long time in the making. The brilliant idea of a showdown-style no-holds-barred food battle struck us very early on, we just wanted to wait for the right moment to tackle such an epic undertaking. We settled on the reuben partly from an earlier post about the MSM Deli, in which I get carried away about the reuben, suggesting that maybe it was one of the best in town other than perhaps The Swiss. I spent some time thinking about that statement, and realized how incredibly naive I was being. I hadn’t tried every reuben in Tacoma.  How could I even begin to suggest it might be one of the best? Turns out it’s not. I am a dick. Simple solution: we needed to find the best. Ladies and gentlemen, this post is my redemption.

The reuben is such a simple sandwich: rye bread, sauerkraut, cheese (usually Swiss), and either pastrami or corned beef. It’s then grilled and typically served with Thousand Island dressing, and occasionally with horseradish. I could delve into the history of the reuben, but you are all perfectly capable of searching Wikipedia so I won’t bother. It suffices to say that two Jewish deli owners, both with the name Reuben (one last, one first) devised the simple yet tasty sandwich in the early 1900′s, who cares who was “first,” I’m just happy to eat it. The first reuben I fell in love with was at Kenny and Zuke’s in Portland. The pastrami was made in-shop, and it was mind blowing. If you ever had reason to look at my crooked-assed family tree, several generations ago my ancestors traded in their yarmulkes for crucifixes and changed our surname from Rubenstein to Robinson. That sandwich made me consider turning it back.

Enough of me waxing reuben, onto the Showdown!


We realize that while our restaurant selection is wide, it is not a completely comprehensive sampling of Tacoma reubens. Since publishing the video, we’ve already received several suggestions of other reubens in the area including those pre-made at supermarkets like Metro and Stadium Thriftway, the waterfront restaurants like Katie Downs and CI Shenanigans, and a couple other spots here and there. We purposely avoided the markets because while good, they just don’t compare to a made-to-order restaurant sandwich, and this website is in part devoted to showcasing local businesses and restauranteurs. The waterfront restaurants were a bit out of the way, less than spectacular in past visits, and expensive.  Adam and I were able to put some of the reuben expense on our lovely guest judges, but we are largely still bankrolling this spruce goose. We did admittedly just miss a few too (sorry Capers); however, we do pledge to keep you updated. If we discover a reuben that usurps our showdown winner, then we will surely post about it.

The list:

  • Dock Street Sandwich Company
  • Doyles Public House
  • Meconi’s
  • MSM Deli
  • Paddy Coynes
  • The Swiss Tavern
  • Top of Tacoma
We wanted this to be as fair a showdown as possible. To achieve this we invited guest judges and created a rubric with defined categories and criteria. Here it is:

The categories are largely self explanatory except for possibly the last: Squish to Crunch. This is essentially a texture component – how well the toasted (or in MSM’s case microwaved) bread held up compared to the ingredients. Was it impossible to hold? Was the sauerkraut soaking through the bread creating a soggy mess? Etc. The only thing missing in this document in the point system. Each category was out of 5, and the overall was a comprehensive measurement out of 30. My bad.


Much of our analysis is found in the video at the top of this post, but we are thorough sons of bitches here at GCF, so I’ve written detailed accounts here for your fastidious reuben research. I’ve also posted the final complete rubric with individual scores and averages.

Meconi’s –

Menu description:

New York style Reuben with your choice of grilled pastrami or turkey on rye bread. Topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and homemade thousand island dressing.”

This sandwich had some of the prettiest marbled rye of the bunch, diagonally cut, receiving an overall appearance score of 4.75. The bread itself lost points because it didn’t taste all that fresh and wasn’t toasted quite perfectly. The pastrami was good, in fact two of our judges gave it a perfect score. Where the reuben went wrong was in the “other ingredients” category, receiving two 1′s for having a distractingly sweet 1000 Island dressing. But if you look closely, two of the judges loved this part of the sandwich. This one created a few arguments.
Overall: Some loved it, some didn’t. 21.75

MSM Deli 

Menu Description:
Dark rye bread, sliced corned beef, mayonnaise, mustard, sauerkraut, onions, lettuce and tomatoes. 1000 Island dressing upon request.”
If you want a laugh, look up the Yelp reviews of MSM. There are some very pissed off reuben orderers. People friggin’ hate the fact it’s microwaved. This is an interesting sandwich for me, because I actually really like it. It is big, cheap, filled with fresh ingredients not normally found on a reuben, and satisfying. This is really a great option for someone wanting a reuben-inspired deli sandwich; however, it tanks on this reubric. The microwaving of the thing is sacrilege, and today’s Magical Sandwich Maker forgot the sauerkraut. Ouch!

Overall: Eat this when you want a club, or at least remind them not to forget the sauerkraut. 15.8

The Swiss -

Menu Description:
Pastrami, ham, slivered onions, swiss cheese, seasoned sanekrant, 1000 island dressing, hot off the grill on russian rye”
I mentioned this in the vid, but I’ve always really liked this reuben. The pastrami was good, the sauerkraut great, and the grilled onions add quite a bit to the overall flavor. The bread was a big letdown, and the squish to crunch suffered quite a bit for it too. Best had fresh off the grill for sure.

Overall: Great at the Swiss, not as great as a take out. 19.8

Dock St. Sandwich Co. -

Menu Description:
“Lean sliced Pastrami with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and 1000 Island dressing on marbled drye.  Horseradish on request.”
This place was totally unbeknownst to me  before the showdown, but is probably well known to those living on the water. Dock St. Sandwich Co. is tucked into the ground floor of some condos and doubles as a small market carrying various odds and ends. The sandwich had thick slices of marbled rye and came wrapped in paper. The essentials were solid here: good meat, good sauerkraut, good bread. Some of our judges knocked it down a notch due to the dressing. Maybe we should have gotten the optional horseradish? This place would make a great stop for take out. Next time your office, band, whatever needs some grub, put in an order here.

Overall: Very very solid sandwich. 24.8

Paddy Coyne’s -

Menu description:
House-roasted corned beef, swiss, sauerkraut and horseradish sauce”
About as simple as it gets. I was pretty excited by this because I am a huge corned beef lover. I look forward to roasting a corned beef brisket every St. Patty’s Day, and I traditionally love simple sandwiches like this. The corned beef was sticking out the side of this like a tongue reaching for the accompanying fries, which may have been due to the tiny slices of bread on here. Maybe they were at the end of the loaf, who knows? The judges didn’t respond well to the meat, thinking it was too dry. I wasn’t quite as harsh, because the meat was flavorful. I look forward to trying Paddy Coyne’s corned beef and cabbage. Offsetting the dry meat was the bread, which seemed more like Texas toast because it was completely saturated in butter. We’re talking dipped. The judges looked a bit cranky as they scrambled for napkins to wipe the grease from their fingers, and it was ultimately the sandwiches’ downfall.

Overall: Simple. Meaty. Buttery. Small. 18.6

Doyles Public House -

Menu Description:
“Corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and 1000 island dressing. Served on rye bread.”
Great. Do yourself a favor and eat this at some point. If you don’t, Adam will find you. It will be unpleasant. Tall sandwich loaded with corned beef. The meat is flavorful and tender, just like it should be. The sauerkraut is fresh, the cheese melty, the bread toasty, nearly perfect. When you try a reuben as good as this you can’t help but marvel at the simplicity. Why is this difficult for some places to get right? Damn.

Overall: Just damn good. Eat one now. 26.8

Top of Tacoma -

Menu Description:
Organic whole grain bread with New York style pastrami, 1000 Island dressing, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Grilled.”
Another winner. Top’s sandwiches are all amazing in part because the bread is baked fresh daily from Essential Baking. Other sandwich-heavy restaurants should take note. The organic rye bread was amazingly fresh, coated in seeds, and flavorful. The pastrami was the best of all the sandwiches – so flavorful and tender, just delicious. Top lost a bit of ground with the sauerkraut because it was fairly strong. I personally like a funky pickled sauerkraut, but the ladies in our judging audience did not. A bit smaller than some of the others, but really very tasty.

Overall: Very fresh and very tasty. 25.2

House keeping

It’s only fair to throw our vegetarian brethren a bone now and then (although they may be offended by that clearly non-vegetarian turn of phrase). My wife might have an aneurism if I don’t add a vegetarian category soon. This one’s for you my darling.

Cafe Dei - Vegan reuben

Cafe Dei is surprisingly accessible for meat eaters despite their confounded obsession with eating non-living things – that was tongue in cheek people, I don’t want to wake up to my car covered in tempeh and Vegenaise. Their sandwiches are big and flavorful enough to almost make you forget about the meat….almost, the Field Roast was killing me after a while. The one down side is the price on these vegan beasts. Most sandwiches are $10 or $11. Ouch.

The Red Hot - Reuben Dog

Haven’t had it yet, but I bet it’s damn good. I have a hard time straying from the Murray Morgan. I’ll work on it.

And as always, mention us and get…nothing. Just reubens…that you have to pay for.

Dock Street Sandwich Company

1701 Dock Street
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 627-5882

Doyle’s Public House

208 Saint Helens Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402
(253) 272-7468


709 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402-5207
(253) 383-3388

MSM Deli

2220 6th Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98403-1049
(253) 272-4814

Paddy Coyne’s

815 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402-5229
(253) 272-6963

The Swiss Tavern

1904 Jefferson Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402-1608
(253) 572-2821

Top of Tacoma Bar and Cafe

3529 Mckinley Ave
Tacoma, WA 98404-2162
(253) 272-1502

5 Responses to “GRITTY CITY SHOWDOWN: Reubens”

  1. Stephanie September 19, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    When Pastrami’s closed, it was complete and utter chaos. Anarchy. The thought of never again sinking my very large teeth (thanks dad) into a juicy, tangy, crispy Reuben again was enough to send me into a closet of anxiety. You very possibly may have saved my taste buds from Reubenicide. Thanks for a great forum. You guys rock! I’m off to Top of Tacoma. Will check back in.

    • Derrick September 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

      Not reubenicide!

      • Stephanie September 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

        Reubenicide diverted. You have saved me from myself. Top of Tacoma makes, by far, hands down, the best Reuben in the history of the world. The service was great to boot. Thank you I look forward to many more articles.


  1. Top of Tacoma « grittycityfood - January 6, 2012

    [...] Top of Tacoma achieved a quasi-tie for best reuben in Tacoma in our first Gritty City Showdown last year. It ranked so highly in part because of the amazing quality of the ingredients, [...]

  2. Happy St. Paddy’s Day! « grittycityfood - March 18, 2012

    [...] a good track record with corned beef sandwiches – after all, they did score highest in our Reuben Showdown last summer – and this was no different. The bread was fresh and perfectly toasted, the meat [...]

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