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Nielsen’s Delicatessen in Houston built on secret family recipes – Tricks and Tips

Nielsen's Delicatessen in Houston built on secret family recipes

In a town where smoked meats and sizzling fajita platters tend to get much of the hype, it is worth noting that it’s rich in top-notch delicatessens too, with Nielsen’s leading the pack as the oldest deli in Houston. The still-family-owned deli, once known as “the delicatessen with the Scandinavian accent,” according to Houston Chronicle archives, celebrates 70 years in business in 2022.

The namesake restaurant of Danish immigrants Niels and Vita Nielsen opened in 1952 after the couple moved to Houston from Denmark with their daughters Ellen and Edith in tow. It wasn’t a completely novel idea for them, as the duo had operated three delis and a butcher shop back in Esbjerg.

When they opened Nielsen’s in a small retail strip on Richmond Avenue near Drexel, it was one of the city’s first delicatessens. Here, they wanted to introduce Houstonians to smørrebrød, traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches, meant to be enjoyed with a fork and a knife. It wasn’t long before they realized diners favored sandwiches built the old-fashioned American way, with a double dose of bread. And ones made with Vita’s housemade mayonaise were a big hit.

Nielsen’s Delicatessen’s turkey sandwich is made with turkey meat roasted fresh onsite.

Megha McSwain


Vita got her cooking skills from her mother, and they were put to great use at Nielsen’s. Her mayo, which she made fresh by the gallon daily, even became sought after on its own. Customers would (and still) buy it by the quart or pint to take home and slather it onto their own homemade sandwiches. All of the restaurant’s salads, such as the chicken salad and tuna salad, were created using the decadent mayo as a base. The potato salad in particular, with its large chunks of creamy egg, became widely hailed as one of the best in the city.

Niels and Vita found a home two blocks from the deli, and put all of their time and energy into it. He worked the counter, while she did the cooking, and eventually began offering catering services. She had a knack for building party trays layered with cold cuts, and her prized recipes for potato salad, brownies, and cheesecake made her a choice caterer among River Oaks party-throwers.

By 1963, there were a total of five Nielsen’s locations in Houston, including an outpost at 500 Jefferson Building in Cullen Center and in the Spring Oaks shopping center in Spring Branch. Today, only the original one on Richmond remains. 

When Vita and Niels sought to retire in Florida in the ’60s, it was their daughters’ husbands who partnered to operate the deli. Richard Andersen, husband of Ellen, and Martin Martensen, husband of Edith, continued their legacy together until Richard’s son, Richard Jr., became the sole operator. Along with his wife, Linda, they kept Nielsen’s Delicatessen a cherished part of Houston’s dining scene well into the turn of the century.

Owner Linda Andersen taking orders at Nielsen’s Delicatessen.

Megha McSwain

Linda is the face often seen behind the counter these days. Her husband Richard Jr, Niels and Vita’s grandson, passed away five years ago, but she has every intention of keeping the family business alive and thriving. And she’s got the tools to do it. “I’ve got all of the original recipes, written in Danish and in English,” she said. “People have tried to duplicate them for years, but they just can’t seem to do it like we do.”

Linda has two daughters, and she hints that they have shown an interest in taking Nielsen’s over. “My daughters were raised in this store,” she reminisced. “They know how to run it, if they choose to run it.”

Meanwhile, business is still booming at Nielsen’s. Time-honored techniques of roasting their own turkeys daily and offering hard-to-find extras like liver paste and Danish havarti cheese give their sandwiches a leg up. Linda shares that while many restaurants suffered losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deli remained busy as usual, thanks in major part to its loyal customers. As long as Linda and her daughters have that mayo recipe under lock and key, it’s safe to say Houstonians will be returning for years to come.

Find it: 4500 Richmond Ave., Houston, TX 77027; (713) 963-8005
Hours: Daily, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.