The Best Pastrami in Los Angeles

The Best Pastrami in Los Angeles

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  1. How do you gauge “the best” when it comes to pastrami? Do you look for a sandwich that drizzles flavorful juices all over your brand new Eton Egyptian cotton dress shirt? Probably not, unless you’re ridiculously wealthy or you quickly develop the habit of wearing a bib when you eat. Is it the bread that makes the sandwich? Most pastrami aficionados would say that if it doesn’t come on a good, fresh-baked sour rye, it isn’t worth eating, but what’s wrong with sourdough, or even a French roll? I think that everyone would agree that taste is paramount, but is that the only thing that matters when it comes to a mouthwatering pastrami sandwich? What if the restaurant only adds two or three thin slices of the most flavorful pastrami in the world to the sandwich and then buries them with pickles, onions, tomato slices and lettuce—and who in their right mind would want such condiments on their sandwich, other than those utterly committed to the Subway franchise?

    For me, quality and quantity of the meat take turns as the most important aspect to great pastrami. I know where to go when I want the most flavorful sandwich that won’t stuff me; I also know where to go when I want to strain the buttons on my shirt with a belly-gorging sandwich. Finding one deli that provides both seems impossible, but the search for the perfect pastrami restaurant is never-ending.

     

     The Eastside Market Italian Deli (1013 Alpine St., Los Angeles, CA 90012; 800-964-2464) gets mostly good reviews and reputedly has some of the best tasting pastrami around. I would tell you about my experiences with this restaurant or its food if I had any, but finding this place ain’t easy for those living anywhere but in the immediate area because it lies right in between three major freeways, and isn‘t close to any of them. But, aside from being impossible to find, it’s an Italian market, which just doesn’t jibe with kosher pastrami. Go for the meatballs, but if they try to put marinara sauce on your pastrami sandwich, run away!

     

     Johnnie’s Pastrami (4017 Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90230; 310-397-6654) knows how to pack in the meat. The bread (a French bun usually, unless you order otherwise) is only fair and tends to fall apart and the meat, while plentiful, is not too lean but is not particularly brimming with flavor. Still, it’s good, and the spicy pickled peppers served with every order (but never enough of them) make the sandwich. For those who enjoy kosher pickles, you’ll love this place because they never skimp on the pickles; but as I prefer sour dills, I’m always a tad disappointed.

     

     Canter’s Delicatessen (419 N Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323-651-2030) is possibly the best-known pastrami place, and for good reason. While the lean meat is good, perhaps better than Johnnie’s is—and they always pile it high—what really makes the sandwich is the bread, which they bake fresh on the premises daily. I strongly recommend the twice-cooked sour rye, with a nearly crunchy crust and a good, strong sour flavor. The restaurant is a bit pricy, but one bonus is that they are open 24-7 and feature live music at night.

     

     Phil’s Deli in Farmer’s Market (6333 W. 3rd St. Ste. 540, Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323-936-3704) serves an affordable and delicious sandwich. The smaller sandwich does not explode with meat, but contains enough to satisfy diminutive people like my wife (who can’t eat even half of it), but I go for the mega-sandwich every time; it doesn’t overflow with pastrami and litter the patio with slices of cured beef like some of the lesser delis, but the pastrami has more flavor than either Canter’s or Johnnie’s, mainly because it isn’t as lean as those others (here’s a hint: never brush your teeth immediately after eating at Phil’s; take some time to suck your teeth and relish in the aftertaste). If you visit Farmer’s Market and fail to stop at Phil’s for lunch, you’ve made a terrible mistake.

     

    Langer’s  (704 S Alvarado St., Los Angeles, CA 90057; 213-483-8050) is, in my opinion, the tastiest pastrami in the city, but it does have a few drawbacks. First, they skimp on the meat if you order a pastrami only sandwich (the house specialty is covered with Thousand Island dressing and coleslaw; as I am a fan of neither, I don’t bother ordering the house special). Second, it’s rather pricey—as expensive as Canter’s ($14 for a sandwich alone), though with less meat. Lastly, the restaurant is in one of LA’s worst neighborhoods, and the parking lot is around the corner. I would not recommend going there after dark, unless you can park on the street right in front of the deli. Be careful when ordering if, like me, you aren’t a fan of coleslaw: sometimes they pile it on without thinking, so be sure to order your sandwich meat only. One nice thing is that they package their pickles (boring kosher dills, as usual) and peppers in airtight plastic pouches and because the sandwich isn’t stuffed with meat, it’s not a messy meal; furthermore, their twice baked rye is nearly as good as the bread at Canter’s.

    If you want a filling sandwich, Johnnie’s is your best bet. For the very best quality in pastrami, however, head toward MacArthur Park—in broad daylight, please!—for a less filling but more satisfying sandwich at Langer’s.

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