Wednesday, January 6, 2010

LA - Pastrami Capital of the World!

Part 1 : Fast Food Pastrami

Los Angeles is the Pastrami capital of the world. I was born in San Pedro, went to high school in Palm Desert and I'm proud to say no other city in America can compete to the number restaurants that serve pastrami in the Southland. Take this into consideration: I looked up the word pastrami on one of my favorite sites - yelp. SF yielded 317 results (I swear it's not just me, but I may have skewed the SF #s), Chicago lagged out at 79, Philly a mere 22, NYC only 289. Los Angeles beats them all out with a whopping 476 results. That's over one hundred more than the Bay Area and More than NYC/Philly/Chitown combined. How could this be? Why does LA have more pastrami than any other place in America?

Johnny's Pastrami

The simple, correct answer - the pastrami dip. The Hat is probably the most notorious place to serve this type of sandwich. The first "Hat" was in Alhambra, CA and my dad go there often as a high schooler to go down cheeseburgers with his buddy Bill. He currently works in Alhambra (only for another year old man! tough it out!) and today there is one about 5 minutes from my Dad's house on Atlantic Ave in East Los Angeles, however I did not visit the Hat on this journey - I wanted to try some different takes on the pastrami dip. I made it to Johnny's Pastrami after a night of chilling with my college buddy. I took the 110 South to the 10 West and got off on Crenshaw, pulled into the parking lot and approached the small grated window. "How may I help you." a lady asked, I could tell she had a bit of a chip on her shoulder. "May I get a pastrami sandwich." then she asked the key question "Do you want it dipped?" "Yes, please Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am." I told her minding my Ps and Qs while being in Mid-City on an unusually chilly, windy LA night. She took out a medium sized roll put some mustard on and proceeded to PILE the pastrami mile high on it till it was bursting out of the bun then she grabbed more and put extra on the top, just so it was beyond bursting...I'm talking alot of meat here. I took it to my car in the parking lot and took a bite.

Johnny's Pastrami Sandwich (only about half pictured!)

Mmm...that's pretty good. The pastrami was fatty, very fatty....the taste bordered on hot dog and that's what my hand smelled like when I was done - like a hot dog. Still pretty damn good - no way they leave you hungry - by far the largest pastrami sandwich I've ever encountered under 10$ and yes they have very good pickles. The Hat and Johnny's Pastrami are probably the most popular fast food pastrami dip joints, but one place has been turning some heads with their take on pastrami.

I had to do some business in Pasadena and finished around lunch time. I thought to myself, "Eagle Rock is pretty close from here." Oinkster is located in an old Wienerschnitzel building in the Eagle Rock Neighborhood of Los Angeles, which is currently thriving after once being a rougher part of town.

This place is very much a fast food joint as they also serve burgers, chicken, shakes, and even some sneaky good cupcakes, but their true passion is their in-house cured pastrami. "We're the only ones that sell this pastrami" the manager behind the counter told me. The Oinkster pastrami is smoked over applewood and cured for two weeks then sliced and served into a roll - fast food style. There is one version that is served with gruyere cheese- how gourmet! I ordered the regular with the Belgian fries which were crispy and delicious.

Oinkster Pastrami W/ Fries

Applewood Smoked Pastrami

So how did the Oinkster taste? Imagine the texture and smokiness of pastrami crossed very much with the taste of applewood smoked bacon you get on some high price burgers. It had a lovely brine and perfect color. Oinkster has truly perfected the fast food pastrami sandwich.

Many fans of Jewish delis just gagged at the first part of my LA post. This version of the pastrami sandwich had to be represented for Los Angeles. It's unique to the area and I have not seen it outside of LA - sorry to say to my new reader Mr. Kirsonis. If you're looking to match this in the Bay Area - I'd say the closest I've had so far would be an AK sub pastrami or Tommy's Joynt (Tommy's review coming soon). They'd probably even dip it just tell them you want a roll and mustard only. It'd be your best shot to get this style pastrami in the City of San Francisco until I find or hear of a pastrami dip in SF.

Part II: The San Fernando Valley

When I was a young child living in the South Bay of LA, I remember my parents referring to the Valley as if it were another country. Things have changed - for one I have a good friend who lives in Woodland Hills - so I had to get over my Fernandophobia. Also, several more very trusted sources have told me great things about Brent's. Save the Deli spoke of their unique homemade kishke dish and Al S. told me "For overall quality on everything - I think Brent's is the best deli of all." As I looked into it more and more I've realized the San Fernando Valley has become a deli Mecca. Brent's has expanded into a new huge location just down the road in Westlake Village. Almost as a direct response, Nate n' Al's of Beverley Hills expanded into the Valley with a location in Thousand Oaks rounding out the already saturated deli scene.

I went to Brent's on a Saturday afternoon with my dad. We met up with his friend and former co-worker, Melinda, who exclaimed to me "I haven't been to Brent's in years!"

Cabbage Soup

She ordered the cabbage soup, which I had the pleasure of finishing. It had small pieces of beef in it and it tasted very good at first, but then seemed a little too sweet as I continued. I still finished the thing down to about nothing because the small pieces of beef were quite succulent.

Stuffed Kishke

The kishke made my dad squirm. You mean you'd eat this over lobster? I'm not a big seafood eater - sorry. My thoughts on the kishke - it was alright, but I don't think I would order it very many times, maybe to show someone who hasn't tried it, but not as a regular thing.

Half Sandwich - Brisket

The #1 - Pastrami, Tomatoes and Russian Dressing

As I looked over the menu I saw that my favorite way to have a pastrami sandwich (pictured above) was the first way they offered it. They read my mind! I found out at Brent's they use something called "black" pastrami, which is extremely lean. Our waitress told us "We can even cut it leaner if you'd like." To be honest I wanted more fat, more flavor. The bread, the dressing, everything else was perfect, but for pastrami it was very good, but short of perfect because of it's lack of fat content. This is however my opinion, some more health-conscience delis might find this information useful. Let me ask a question though - if you wanted lean meat, why didn't you just get the corned beef, a naturally less fatty cut of beef? Despite the leaner pastrami, overall I had a great experience at Brent's and I would definitely return. My dad said his Reuben was "the best he's ever had" which was surprisingly quite easily admitted by an LA guy like himself. I thought the dishes and sides were up there with some of the best traditional Jewish items that I've had - so Al was spot on about overall quality of Brent's - it's top notch!

The next day was Sunday and I headed out to Woodland Hills to meet up with my friend Chris D to watch the football games. After the games, we made it to Nate N' Al's new location in Westlake Village.

As we pulled in the mall parking lot adjacent to the AMC theaters, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this deli - located in the shopping mall center in the SFV. Before we ordered they brought us pickles and rye bread.

Nate N' Al's Rye Bread

As I took my first bite of the rye bread, I gasped - it was some of the best rye bread I've ever had. It had a nice crispy crust, chewy, but not too chewy with just the perfect amount of warmth and rye flavor. I ordered the New York (pastrami, Russian dressing, and coleslaw) and my buddy ordered half corned beef with french fries. He kinda grumbled at the fact they charge more for fries instead of a side salad.

The New York

Potato Pancake

Half Corned Beef w/ Fries

Nate N' Al's pastrami was lovely. It had the right amount of fat content with a smoky brine. The presentation as a whole with the superb double-baked rye was something to behold. Both my friend and I agreed - it was pretty damn amazing!

The next place I went to was on a solo mission - Fromin's in Encino. It's a pretty cool spot I think may have fallen through the cracks in the Valley because of the prolific number of spectacular jewish delis.

Mile-High Pastrami W/ Coleslaw

The sides at Fromin's were damn good! The potato salad pictured above was very creamy and rich. Out of all the potato pancakes I had - I liked the Fromin's one the most.

Fromin's Potato Pancake

The pastrami at Fromin's was proper. Thinly sliced - good flavor. The only thing I can know a point for would be the rye bread. It was good on the softer parts, but the crust was very lacking that chewy goodness that Nate N' Al's had. I still highly recommend Fromin's for lunch. They have a very large menu that could accommodate lots of tastes - sort of like Canter's in West LA. I did visit Canter's but I did not have a pastrami. I only bought things from their bakery, some more of those poppy seed rugelah. My dad and I ate the bag slowly of about 20 small bakery items. It might have lasted about 3 days! Their bakery is one of the main attractions, don't miss it on your way out - you'll thank me.

Part 3 : Langer's Hot Pastrami

With Norm Langer

Langer's is the pastrami institution of Los Angeles. As my friend James put it "How many restaurant's have a square named after them?" For their 60th anniversary an area right outside Alvarado and 7th just adjacent to the restaurant was given to Langer's by the City of Los Angeles. Sax said it was the best pastrami sandwich anywhere - many have expressed the same opinion. I made two trips to the famed deli on my vacation to Los Angeles.

The first time I went was with my friend James, just before christmas. When we walked in the place was packed, barely enough room for us to stand in there to put our name down on the list. We went outside of the restaurant to kill some time, take some pictures and grab a soda. When you exit Langer's, you enter a war zone. It's loud, heavy foot traffic, and rather unappealing, definitely not the most glamorous part of Los Angeles. After about 15 minutes we entered and our table was ready.

As my friend James and I sat down to me he continued to talk about his fondness of Langer's "Katz' has nothing on this place. They herd you in there like cattle, here you sit down at a nice, roomy table and waitresses call you hun." It was true, the scene inside was much nicer, friendlier than what's going on just outside the front doors. "You're getting the #19, right?" James asked me. Normally I get the #29 which comes with just tomatoes and Russians dressing, but I was obliged to do the most popular, famous sandwich at Langer's the #19 which comes with swiss cheese, cole slaw, and russian dressing on rye.

Most Famous Sandwich in LA - Langer's #19

As we scarfed down our pastrami I just thought to myself about all the delis I just had tried. Nate N' Al's really does come close, but nothing in LA beats Langer's pastrami. It's a deeper red than all the others and the bread is a killer double baked rye, crust is perfect. I said to James "You know they hand slice the meat here?" He didn't believe me, "The pieces are way to uniform". On the way out we looked into the window and a guy hand slicing the meat James was stunned. We went back up to his place on the top of Figueroa and started watching Jeopardy. The last question came up and the guy that was in the lead was far ahead and bet 0$ on the last question which he did not know the answer - he simply wrote "Hot Pastrami Sandwiches". I think that made my day even more than the #19.

The next time I went to Langer's was with my father the day after christmas. We drove from his house in Monterey Park to the new Gold Line stop at East LA Civic Center. The red line stops just by Langer's - the first time I went to Langer's was on the train with my Grandfather and I swear to you I remembered the right way out of the subway fifteen years later because of that. I ordered the #29 and a cel-ray. My dad said he would have whatever I was having. I guess I've earned his respect, he now trusts me to order for him. He actually said "I think you may have something with the #29 - I think it's better than the 19." I think it is too. You simply don't need cheese on that tasty pastrami. Russian dressing, tomatoes, and some Gulden's mustard smeared on when you feel and you're perfect.

Ted's LA Favorite - Langer's #29

If you read this whole post (it got a bit lengthy) you've earned a very special thanks from me. There's still lots to explore in Los Angeles and the Bay Area (Wood Tavern, Manhattan hub, and lots of Irish spots)! I'm going to NYC at the end of the month and I hope it can live up to the hype. It couldn't be as good as Langer's or The Refuge my favorite California pastrami - could it?


Eric Riback said...

Fantastic post. Man am I hungry now!

Sam said...

Awesome! Really... One of these days when you have a minute, come and see my blog. I'd be proud and honored to have you as a friend/follower. Happy New Year, Keri (aka Sam)

Melinda said...

Very professional vacation, Ted! Thanks for doing the research for me...I'll be going to Brent's more often now. Keep up the good work - there's lots of hungry folks out here looking for advice. And Happy New Year!

yausser said...

I love Brent's and may make it to Nate and Al's soon. Susie isn't eating bread lately, and on a Sunday, I can get the rye from Canter's. and have been thinking of that motorcycle run. Tonight, we're going to see Al Kooper at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.

Some day, we'll have to try the Burrito tour of LA, which may have the best as well.

I am very much looking forward to taking you to Chaya San Francisco as well.

Ellen said...

A whirlwind tour of L.A. Pastrami!!! WOW !!

I also loved the DARK RED color of the pastrami meat at Langer's...
I had the #19 back in October, during my L.A. visit...
Langer's is currently my 2nd favorite pastrami, after my Carnegie #1 slot

Even though I loved Langer's, I thought the sandwich was skimpy for the price..
My buddy Arnie gave me $20 to take back a pound of pastrami to him; THAT was the "move", as he got a ton of pastrami ..

Ellen said...

Nice looking "New Yorker" sandwich from Nate 'n Al's...
have'nt been there in awhile...
looks like I'm due back!!

Those Potato Pancakes from Nate 'n
Al's have that nice homemade look..
& just the way I like them, thick
and lumpy!!

You'll soon find out (NYC !!!) if you'll be delegating the Carnegie
(or maybe Katz's?) as a new favorite pastrami spot !!
Maybe even your new #1 coveted spot!

Hope we can "meat up" for a NYC pastrami!

Mike said...

If you go to Manhattan, try the cafe at the Hotel Edison, in Times Square. The little cafe inside has the best Pastrami I've ever had. It's tender and melts in your mouth. Plus, the service is so quick, you'll have plenty of time for seconds before that Broadway show starts!

jeesung said...

Nice post, but there was something lacking . . . IMO ;-)

So you tease by saying talking about the Pastrami Dip, but then don't talk about what it is!?! And in no pictures do I see anything that looks like dip (ala French Dip).

So do they dip the meat prior to making the sandwich or do you get some gravy to dip the sandwich in? Inquiring minds want to know!

Forgive my ignorance. I'm from SF where, as you point out, you haven't found the elusive Pastrami Dip yet.


ps. I'm also stunned that SF has more pastrami places than NYC. I demand a recount!!

Ted said...

"How may I help you." a lady asked, I could tell she had a bit of a chip on her shoulder. "May I get a pastrami sandwich." then she asked the key question "Do you want it dipped?" "Yes, please Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am."

The picture of johnny's pastrami sandwich was a pastrami dip - they dip the bread like a french dip - not the meat. and you don't get a cup of au jus to dip it in - just mustard!

I hope this clarifies about the pastrami dip - sorry i took so long to get back to you.

Ted said...

From wikipedia - "In Los Angeles, pastrami is typically served, at fast food stands, sliced very thin, hot and overstuffed into a french roll. Typically, it is served a little wet, au jus, and topped with yellow mustard and pickles. The Hat is a chain in the Los Angeles area that specializes in this sandwich, typically called a "pastrami dip."

Mike Booty said...

I just stumbled upon your blog today. Awesome! I'm a big pastrami fan as well. Been to most of the places you mentioned except for a few. Anyway I just got back from NYC. Since my fam lives on the border of the Lower East Side I pretty much grab Katz's pastrami at each visit. This time around I checked out Carnegies, a big fricken sandwich and not bad. Katz in my opinion is better. But I agree with you nothing beats Langers! Anyway keep up the good work and I'll have to peep these other spots mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried the pastrami at a different "Johnny's Pastrami" in Culver City? It is on Sepulveda Blvd. between Washington and Venice Blvd's. Retro Fast food restaurant with an original Seeberg Jukebox system (updated of course) it has what i think is the best pure pastrami experience. A pastrami on rye with pickles...enjoy!

Anonymous said...

When we were kids in L.A., my dad would bring home after work some pastramis from a place called Jims (Tweedy & Long Beach Blvd.)in South Gate. Later I found a place in Downey, Mr. Pete's (Firestone at Rives)?
From my visits back to L.A. I have returned here to Stockton, Ca with pastrami from Mr. Pete's and they have been welcomed with hungry anticipation. I'm not an aficionado, but I do think they make a good sandwhich. I'd like to know how they campare with some of the places you mentioned. Marc

Jerry said...

And Label's in Woodland Hills has one of the best corned beef sandwiches, and great pickles. said...

Charlies Irish bar in Long Beach is top shelf

charlies sub shop in wilmington is pretty good and decent dip.

Anonymous said...

great blog brother….im from ny, living at the beach and have hit so far langers johnnys oinskters philippees by far langers…handcut…almost as good as katz deli in nyc…lower east side….tip the slice a buck get a few slices to taste while he cuts your sammi fresh.