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Canter's - what happened?

Am I losing my mind, or was Canter's - esp. the pastrami sandwich - always this bad?

I just returned, after arriving starving and prepared to eat anything. Ordered half pastrami with swiss, chicken noodle soup, and a cel-ray.

The pickles arrived - sour, not snappy. But that's ok, they're not my favorate normally. The soup came, and though the broth was a pale yellowish, it was indistinguishable in taste from water. Believe me, I wish I were exaggerating - I was very, very hungry, and couldn't finish what was basically like un-drained pasta. Oh yeah - little pile of crumbled bagel chips. How nice.

The sandwich - completely gristly and greasy. It was like each piece had something sinewy in it. Totally gross. I actually became briefly nostalgic for The Hat (which I feel is a totally different species of sandwich).

Of course I know "the deal" about Canter's, having grown up here - the nasty floor, jarring decor, lighting, service (waiter asked three times what I'd ordered and ended up forgetting the cheese in the end).

But has it even declined in the past year? I'd been away for about that long, and remember a half-pastrami and soup at Canter's pretty much like Jerry's - though certainly not the best in town, a fairly satisfying combo, at least late at night when hungry.

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  1. I've noticed Canters go in cycles. Perhaps they're undergoing turnover with BOH staff or product purchasing.

    1. I haven't been to Canter's in several years, but I always found it entirely vile. For the record, I found Jerry's entirely vile also -- possibly worse than Canter's (first tried Jerry's in '95 or '96 and threw in the towel at least five years ago).

      You've done me a favor; I'd been considering a return to Canter's to see if it was still as godawful as I remembered.

      1. I had dinner at Canter's tonight and it was just fine. I didn't have any of the same things but I enjoyed what I had.

          1. Since Canter's is out of our normal orbit we probably haven't been there for 20 years. Sounds like it has not been time wasted. We go to Junior's on a regular basis. The food seems fine to me. Not brilliant, but deli food doesn't typically get that sort of reaction from my taste buds in any case. As I said in the m ball soup thread, Junior's has a pretty darn good one and their pastrami and corned beef both seem equally good most anytime I have them. I noticed some recent posts panning Junior's outpost in the South Bay, called Deli Boy's (sp?) however so maybe the West L.A. locations quality didn't transfer for some reason. I guess my main complaint with all deli's is the prices seems pretty high for what the food is - but I know what I am getting into when I go to one so I might as well just shut up about that aspect of things.

            We used to go the Jerry's location in the Marina, but finally the food was just so bad that we gave up on it completely. Their only redeeming feature is that they are open 24 hours if you have no other option.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tony michaels

              most deli fare is pretty disagreeable. canter's pastrami is no exception, especially ever since i had my first bite at langer's. although i do like canter's limp, musky pickles. i must be a masochist.

            2. I prefer Juniors and Brents.

              1. Hm. Canter's to me was always one of those "whatever, OK" places -- if you were passing by it and you had a need for a sandwich, you could do worse. Sounds like I may need to reƫvaluate that.

                I have the same "it's fine, whatever, let's go" reaction to Tallyrand in Burbank, by the way... now that they've cleaned it up.

                1. In my humble opinion...

                  Canter's blows. It "could be" glorious - a solid, old-school deli in Hollywood - but the food is terrible. It's been terrible for a long time.

                  If Canter's served decent food, that place would be packed 24/7. With tourists AND locals.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: blacksab67

                    It was one of the most depressing and awful places I have ever been. Everything about it was just the worst, from the decor to the smell to the service to the food.

                  2. When I moved to LA from NYC in 1990, Canters was a place I had high hopes for.

                    I hated it.

                    I still hate it when forced to go.

                    It's never been good IMHO... at least since 1990.

                    1. agree with the rest... never a reliable deli, just a good option late at night when nothing else is open - although if i'm in the area at that hour, i'm going to damiano's.

                      for a much better pastrami or corned beef, try label's table on pico near beverly. unfortunately, not open for dinnner. but kick's canter's in the tuchus.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ddyouandme

                        I think Brent's sets the standard for LA. Everything there, from sandwiches to fries to pickles to whitefish to baked goods is outstanding. Even NYC natives I have taken there have been impressed. I've tried Langer's pastrami and think it is more hype than reality. Brent's pastrami and corned beef are outstanding. The corned beef is especially good... has just the right aroma of peppercorns from the cooking liquid, and is extremely flavorful and moist even when requested lean. Combine all this with friendly service and portions which are designed to accommodate normal eaters rather than impress someone with the enormity of a pile of meat, and I'd say Brent's beats even the NYC favorites.

                        OK, now I'm ready for the avalanche!

                          1. re: FoodieMcFood

                            Northridge (original) and Westlake Village (new).

                      2. As someone raised on real NY deli, I must join the chorus of Canter's bashers. The place is a dump and the uninspired food is truly run-of-the-mill (although some of the bakery products are exceptions). I've never had a single meal there that tasted better than what I could get at any Jerry's, and at least every Jerry's appears to be sanitary. IMHO Canter's is another example of a run-down restaurant that too many people claim is "authentic" when they mean "a dive."

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Arthur

                          While Canter's may not be fabulous, it's SO much better than Jerry's it's not even funny. Jerry's deli hasn't been any good since about 1992.

                          1. re: Arthur

                            True enough, but Canter's adjoining bar, the Kibbitz Room, is both authentic and a dive. Hardcore martinis and coctails for boozers, where a knife on your belt is more reassuring than American Express in your wallet. Sometimes, one needs to feel the bar stool bite back, and danger goes with your pastrami better than mustard. At the Kibbitz Room, the fat and gristle is the least of your worries when the sun is closer to daybreak than it is to sunset. And that can be a good thing...

                          2. I have been eating at Canter's, on and off, for almost a quarter-century, and in my experience it has ALWAYS been erratic--one night everything is sub-par, barely adequate for stoned rock-n-rollers who couldn't tell the difference, and then the next time it might be terrific, holding its own with ancestral memories of haimish places on the Lower East Side. Based on many reports from others, the serendipitous meals have probably become rarer over the years, but they do still occasionally happen.

                            Unfortunately, and I don't have to tell you this, the late night alternatives are scarce--during the day, the extra miles to Langers or Brents or Nate-n-Als or the extra dollars to Barney Greengrass will be rewarded, but late night--? Maybe Greenblatt's? (I haven't been there in years.) If stuck between Jerry's and Canter's, I think I'd still go for Canter's (although Jerry's chicken soup ain't bad, everything else is.)

                            Alternatively, you could always upgrade, and head downtown to satisfy your munchies at Pacific Dining Car! (Or, less extravagantly, head into Koreatown for some soon tofu?)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: PayOrPlay

                              I have to agree with PayOrPlay. Although I still like the pastrami there, I absolutely love the fruit cup -- probably one of their signature dishes. Worth trying to get the taste of all that salt down a ways.

                            2. I have liked the original Brents. The new one in Westlake Village has been a huge disappointment. The chicken soup with matza ball tasted like the chicken was waved over the water. When I complained to the waiter he said the chicken soup there is just that...water and chicken. The blintzes were cold 2nd time I went. The veggie burger smothered in chili was very good. So far it's not worth waiting in line for.

                              1. canters is absolutely dreadful and has been for quite a while.
                                HOWEVER, some of the bakery items at the bakery counter are good.
                                pulling over in the green loading zone at 1:30 in the morning for a poppy seed danish to go does the trick!

                                1. Canter's was never a destination place for me. It was considered the weakest of the delis and the one that catered the most to non-Jewish clientele. That said, there are some decent things there, the bakery isn't all that bad - I LIke the chopped herring sandwiches there. Some hot dishes are decent. Stick to simple stuff, soups, etc.
                                  But it's open late and at 3am, in Hollywood, driving to northridge is out of the question, and brent's is closed.

                                  1. Some restaurants aren't supposed to be great.

                                    Cant'er's, IMO, is one of those.

                                    I used to live walking distance from Canter's and used to eat their fairly often.

                                    But the attraction was never the "great food." There are better delis.

                                    But Canter's served a purpose.

                                    Like many delis, there are a million menu items. So, it's a great place to go with friends, because everyone can find something they feel like ordering.

                                    The waitresses are cool and fun to talk to and joke around with.

                                    It's open late and that's a huge part of the appeal. After a night at a club, drinking and working up an appetite, how many other places are open? There is a reason why there is a bigger line at Canter's at 2 in the morning than during the dinner rush.

                                    Personally, I think the criticisms of Canter's food is overkill, an exaggeration.

                                    Is there matzoh ball soup great, the best? Nope. But it's okay. And a bowl of it at 2 am with a bagel and smear on side takes the edge off the next day's hangover, thank you very much.

                                    Their breakfast dishes are fine, I like their fries, too, well done.

                                    Their deli sandwiches aren't the best, either, and frankly, I wouldn't waste the calories/fat on corned beef/pastrami that wasn't great, but that's just me. For others, it's good enough at the moment.

                                    Convenience is a big part of Canter's appeal and so is the history. Sure, Brent's is better. But I never find myself in Northridge on purpose; I eat at Brent's if I go and visit my mom. But I live in the city, I don't drive 35 miles for a sandwich all that often; Langer's is great, obviously, but it closes at like 4 pm ... that's sort of limiting, IMO.

                                    Canter's is also a great place to people watch and also a great place to get all nostalgic.

                                    Okay, this board is about a search for deliciousness and maybe Canter's -- to many or most -- doesn't qualify. But restaurants sometimes offer more than just deliciousness, they offer other things and some of those other things are offered by Canter's.

                                    I haven't been in the place more than a couple of times in the past few years ... my life and lifestyle have changed ... but I'd feel very sad if it wasn't there ... just in case.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. If Canters was not open 24 hrs, I'd probably never end up there. Sometimes their Ruben is ok. For Pastrami, I like Langers, I just wish they were open longer hours

                                      1. The drive from Canter's to Swingers on Beverly isn't too terribly long, and I'd much rather deal with the crowd of almost-rockers at Swingers than the gristle and tasteless soup at Canter's. Plus, Swingers has quinoa.

                                        1. im still a fan of this plcae, i love their open late and dessert is always so good.

                                          1. I think there is some serious exaggeration going on in this post. To call Canter's "vile" or "absolutely dreadful" seems a bit harsh to me. Canter's is what it is. And in my opinion it's fine. I don't drive across town to eat there, but it's an option when I'm in the area and crave a sandwich. We have always had good service too - especially from Pablo in the Kibitz Room!

                                            ...and yes, I realize this is an older post, but it has been brought back to the top.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: tykapfh

                                              I'm a food-first person (I hate reviews, like those in the SF Chronicle, where the first several paragraphs are dedicated to decor) and have been a devotee of Canter's for years.

                                              When we visit LA, we stay nearby. (BTW, it's less than a five minute-walk from Swingers to Canter's--not a drive!), often have breakfast/lunch there, as well as a pastrami sandwich on arrival.

                                              Last time, instead of one of the post-retirement-age, ball-of-energy wonders who've usually waited on us, we had some middle-aged fellow who held up our entire meal because I'd moved my borscht to the side to enjoy with my (presumed) forthcoming sandwich. He never asked, just assumed. My BH's Reuben was much the worse for having been kept waiting. A nice guy, but a waiter not.That experience notwithstanding, I've marveled often at the contrast between the accommodating servers at Canter's who seem to know only "yes" and the jerks at most NYC delis.

                                              I agree that the late-night factor is important.

                                              Last time--9/08--I have to say it was close to lousy. We will check it out again in hope someone there reads Chowhound or is simply paying more attention.

                                              We do like the old-time ambiance, the ghosts of Old Hollywood.

                                              BTW, there's a bagel place on Beverly, just beyond (before?!) Fairfax that I like. Can't think of the name of it.

                                              As for Swingers, it seemed markedly improved last summer as well as far "greener" than in the past.

                                            2. yikes, i'm glad i happened upon this post before going here. ever since moving to the area i'd been wanting to go here, to try the whole "deli" thing.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: ceviche

                                                I grew up on real NYC deli and I know the good stuff from bad. That said, I think the criticism in this thread is overly harsh and undeserved.

                                                Keep in mind it's a deli and order appropriately. That means pastrami or corned beef, period. If you want something else, go elsewhere. No, Canter's isn't the greatest deli, but it is *far* better than most places that call themselves delis out here.

                                                If you live close, ceviche, don't be afraid to go. Just don't order chicken parm. I still go there for my deli fix a few times a month.

                                                1. re: ceviche

                                                  in my opinion, speaking as an ex-new yorker, the closest good place to you for any legitimate 'deli' thing is nate 'n al's in beverly hills.

                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                    Their blintzes are top notch. Parking is a pain, though. You're forced to valet.

                                                2. We're transplanted Chicagoans who live in the deli wasteland of San Diego county. We go to Cantor's on average 9 times and year and almost always have a good experience. Our 10 year old loves (what else?) their matzo ball soup. I always have the corned beef on a kaiser and my wife does corned beef or a rueben. We would rate our food at a 87 to 91 points in regards to delis. We're happy.

                                                  Cantor-bashing is a long time LA occupation. I was glad to note that in this year's Zagat's it hit a record high, for it, 19 points. It ain't Brent's, but it does it for us.

                                                  1. The angry Canter's threads keep popping up from time to time or, as in this case, old threads get new life.

                                                    I go to Canter's at least twice a month. My experiences have been good enough to keep me going there at least twice a month. The corned beef is as good as it is anywhere in town. The service is fine. The potato salad is in the best in L.A. So is the turkey pastrami. I prefer corned beef to beef pastrami but when I've had the latter, it's been fine. The chicken soup is great, especially when I have the sniffles.

                                                    I don't know why some people don't have a good experience there. I always do.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: Hackenbush

                                                      "I don't know why some people don't have a good experience there. I always do."

                                                      As with everything, those who aren't happy complain the loudest (or on CH, the most often).

                                                      I've had my share of marginal experiences at Canter's, but after 30 years in L.A., they are FAR outweighed by the positives. For me - and most every I know from back east, Canter's is great.

                                                      1. re: Briggs

                                                        One of Canter's many charms is the unpredictability factor -- will the matzo-ball soup be transcendent, or unfit for a transient? Will the pastrami melt like butter, or choke like sea-grass? Will the waiter live out his/her shift, or die right there on the floor (probably before I get my chef's salad)? Will -- or will not -- parking be available?

                                                        Yeah, they're hit and miss. One of the best cheeseburgers (of all things) I've EVER eaten came from Canter's mysterious kitchen; I've ordered the burger another half-dozen times since, hoping for a similar experience, but, alas, have never experienced that particular happiness again.

                                                        But Canter's is always good for the deli basics, the breakfasts, the bakery sweets, etc.

                                                        I truly hope this institution never, ever closes its doors -- even if I might get a gnarly pastrami 3 out of 4 times.


                                                        1. re: CucumberBoy

                                                          You sir, are a beacon of subtle yet humorous truth-speaking. I concur on all points. It's the deli equivalent of Lotto Scratchers, slightly skewed in the customer's favor. I will even go so far as to say that on any particular visit, one half of the pastrami sandwich could be celestial bliss and the other half, a mouthful of purgatory...

                                                      2. It's been bad as long as I can remember.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: dynamike

                                                          I went to Cantor's in Oct. 2008, while visiting L.A...
                                                          had'nt been there in a lot of years , and did'nt remember it being that great..
                                                          HOWEVER, I'm so glad I gave it another chance!
                                                          I'm a very tough pastrami critic, as I'm used to the Carnegie Deli in NYC!!
                                                          This Cantor's pastrami is about as good as you'll get in California!!!

                                                        2. deli, burgers, dogs, donuts, pizza....all totally subjective. that said, canter's is at worst mediocre (which is rare in my expereince) and can be close to the best. i say the pastrami is consistently second to langers, the potato sald the best in town and the chopped liver is very good (a bit sweet). i rarely have a bad meal and the deli basics are tastier than nate's, junior;s art's etc. in recent years i have found brent'[s to be the place that is most hit and miss. for the past couple of years i'm disappointed two out of three visits to brent's and it is totally no longer worth the schlep. the biggest short coming i find at canter's is the cabbage soup, which is still transcendent at brent's.