Lunch Break: The Healthiest and Worst Sandwiches and More at DGS Delicatessen

The menu at this new spot is high in fat and salt. Is there anything our dietitian can recommend as a healthy lunch?

Registered dietitian Joni Rampolla says DGS Delicatessen's pastrami sandwich is a healthy winner. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

DGS Delicatessen in Dupont Circle is a welcome reminder of DC’s mom-and-pop-style grocery stores. The deli pays homage to the many Jewish immigrants who owned and nurtured these community hubs and brought their home cooking to the masses.

Today delis have become an American staple, but can DGS’s artisanal offerings be a healthy lunchtime staple?

Registered dietitian Joni Rampolla says, “Their menu—and any Jewish deli menu—is usually a high-salt, high-fat menu. They tend to brine things, smoke things, pickle things, whether it’s a vegetable or a meat. If you’re on a heart healthy diet, it’s not the place to visit.”

Read on to find out how to try this new spot without blowing your healthy diet.


Worst—Corned beef Reuben: “Corned beef is one of the highest-fat meats they cook, and it’s soaked in a salt bath,” Rampolla explains. The meat contains five grams of fat (two saturated) per ounce of meat. The Emmentaler (also known as Swiss cheese) and Russian dressing pile on the cholesterol, as well.

Better—Roasted turkey: With its avocado, peperonota, provolone, and lean turkey, this sandwich almost beat the other options. “Avocado has fiber, folate, vitamins C, K, and B6, and good fat; peperonota, stewed peppers, is high in vitamins A and C.” The issue? “Gribenes are fried chicken skin,” our expert explains. “That’s high cholesterol and high fat—without that, this would’ve been the healthiest sandwich.”

Best—DGS pastrami: Rampolla chose DGS’s signature sandwich as the best option. “While it’s still a fatty meat, the sandwich is just meat, mustard, and rye. Pastrami has 41 calories, two grams of fat (one saturated), 248 milligrams of sodium, and six grams of protein per ounce. It’s not a bad meat for you, and rye is one of the best breads because it’s whole grain.” Plus the house-made mustard adds flavor with minimal sodium and no fat.


If you want to try something other than a sandwich, DGS offers other Jewish staples to savor. For entrées, Rampolla recommends the shishlik —grilled kebabs DGS makes with fish, served with fregula (pasta reminiscent of couscous), and tomato-eggplant stew. “It’s probably the healthiest thing on the menu,” she says. “Overall, the ingredients seem low-calorie and nothing stands out as high-fat. There’s a little sodium in the tomato stew, but it’s still a healthy choice.”

The house salad is also a great choice—it goes beyond your standard iceberg and cucumber blend to include chickpeas, carrots, wheatberries, and caraway. As our expert points out, “It’s great that there’s a protein source with the chickpeas, which are also high in fiber, and wheatberry is the entire grain of wheat with all of its vitamins. Caraway is also rich in vitamins and minerals and aids in digestion.”

When you’re ready to check out this new lunch spot, be sure to compensate for the high sodium by drinking lots of water throughout your meal. Skip the creamy sauces and add-ons, and pair your meal with the roasted cauliflower or house salad.

Another tip: “They have an extensive alcohol list,” Rampolla says. “So if you have a high-fat meal, some red wine can protect your heart by helping stop fat from blocking your arteries.”