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Johnnie's Pastrami (review+pics)

Having heard off and on about Johnnie's Pastrami for awhile now, I decided to check it out for lunch since I just happened to be in the neighborhood. I've definitely heard mixed reviews about Johnnie's pastrami sandwich, everything from "tasteless", "gristly", "cold" to "lean", "juicy" and "tasty." There didn't seem to be a middle ground, but than that can be said about how we all tend to view food in general. We either like something or we don't.

Even before looking at the menu, I liked the feeling of Johnnie's as I walked inside. It was a classic diner to the max. There were brown vinyl booths, green vinyl counter seats, a jukebox you could feed quarters to and I even liked how the pies were stacked in this cylindrical glass container. A pie for every taste, whether it be Mom's apple pie, blueberry pie, cherry pie or peach pie!

Once I ordered at the counter, I opted to sit at one of their outside patios, specifically where the fire pit was blazing away. Upon sitting down, I was served with a silver bowl of chunky pickle slices. Generally, I like pickles, but I didn't care for these too much. They weren't very crunchy and tasted bland.

Soon, the Johnnie's Deluxe Pastrami Plate I ordered was placed in front of me. For a minute, I stared. Don't get me wrong. I was hungry, but there's no way I would have been able to finish everything on that plate. I didn't even try. Half of the sandwich ended up going home, but the other half I enjoyed there.

When I took my first bite, I honestly felt like I was eating air. Sounds funny, huh? In comparison to the pastrami I've had in the past at Langer's, The Hat's and other noted pastrami restaurants, which tend to be meatier, denser, more chewy, more peppery, Johnnie's pastrami was definitely lighter and leaner than I'm used to. Johnnie's pastrami was also more moist as opposed to how oily pastrami meat can get sometimes. The moistness is probably due to the fact that Johnnie's pastrami is steamed. It took a couple more bites before I realized that I was actually enjoying the sandwich.

What I noticed about Johnnie's pastrami is that it's just a different eating experience from a Langer's or The Hat's pastrami sandwich. While I think Johnnie's pastrami lacked a much needed peppery/zingy flavor, I was quite taken with the lean, tender and moist quality of the meat and I liked how the half sandwich I ate didn't leave me with a heavy feeling, that sometimes happens when you eat a sandwich with greasier meat.

Now would I choose a Johnnie's pastrami over a Langer's or The Hat's pastrami? Not necessarily. It just depends on what my tastebuds are craving and when they're craving flavor, sometimes only Langer's or The Hat will do, but if I want something lighter and leaner and am willing to make the trek Westside, than Johnnie's may just have to come on top.

To see pics, go to:

Johnnie's Pastrami
4017 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 397-6654

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  1. Nice review, but I'm having a hard time getting my head around the repeated use of "Langer's and The Hat" as some kind of natural pair. That's like saying "Mozza and Pizza Hut", or "Pann's and KFC". Which is not to deride either Langer's or The Hat, as I know how one can be in the mood for cheap and chewy instead of expensive and blissful. And it does sound a bit as though Johnnie's pastrami falls somewhere in between these two. I'll just have to give it a visit - thanks.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Will Owen

      Langer's is awesome, and The Hat is a notch above.

      Go to both now.

    2. I find Johnnies and the hat to be very similar with my nod Johnnies.

      1. Wow, that is a thick stack of pastrami, particularly if it continues on to the back of the sandwich rather than being a baseball-shaped portion that immediately thins out. But $13.75 for the plate?!? that is as dear as Langer's.

        For better value sandwiches in that area, I'd consider:

        Markie D's for philly cheesesteaks or pastrami, Washington just east of Sepulveda.

        Ham sandwich at Honeybaked, on Sepulveda near Slauson. Maybe its just me, but I think they prepare and serve a superior product.

        Pastrami or beef sandwich at Harvey's, on Palms at Motor. Solid neighborhood family-run place, which also has delicious-looking asian rice and meat plates.

        Hot pastrami or roast beef at Togo's, north side of Venice across from Wendy's. I'm a big Togo's fan -- half the price of Johnnie's and beats Subway or Quizno's handily.

        3 Replies
        1. re: nosh

          I have to confess, I'm a sucker for the pastrami at Togo's, too...

          1. re: a_and_w

            I love Togo's too, but I have been going to them for over 20 years. I think their first one was in Long Beach and we use to go there after class (CSULB) for our fix.

          2. re: nosh

            Harvey's also has veggige pastrami that pretty good. When i was eating meat I always thought Johnnies was ok but way overpriced. good burgers though

          3. I like your close-up picture of the meat in the sandwich. Nice shot. :)

            1. My memories of Johnnie's include sitting outside around the fire pit on warm summer nights, as well as cold winter nights. If I recall correctly, the restaurant had sliding glass panels that they would open on the warmer nights. This place used to be a staple for me in high school as well as my early college years but I haven't eaten here since the mid-90's, for to do so now would ensure a cardiac arrest. I used to get the pastrami dip with a slice of swiss, fries with ketchup and hot mustard, and occasionally an order of onion rings on top of that. I would always be amazed at how much pastrami the chef could stuff into that french roll, and how this same guy worked behing that counter for decades. The pickles would give one the illusion that these would be the vegetable-part of the meal, while the little hot peppers were a great palate cleanser between bites. No one walked away hungry from this place, and the beer was always cold. Yeah, one could find a better or different pastrami at a handful of delis around LA, but to be able to have that experience of pulling in late at night, filling one's gullet and shooting the breeze with the CHP guys while my favorite 70s music was playing off of those tabletop jukeboxes was a great time that can't be replicated elsewhere in the Westside.

              6 Replies
              1. re: bulavinaka

                Same here! Johnnie's is a classic. I haven't been there in years and years but I loved looking at the pictures from the OP - nothing has changed there! The pics of the pastrami made me drool. Well I guess one thing has changed - it sure was a whole lot cheaper when I used to frequent that place but I guess you could say that about pretty much everywhere.

                1. re: monkuboy

                  I've been wanting to give Johnnie's a try, it is a lot nearer than The Hot or Langers (but Markie D's is even closer for me).

                  Chili-cheese frys at Johnnie's??? (I love them at the Hat)

                  1. re: monkuboy

                    I think the higher prices are worth it for those of us who have racked up alot of time there. For me, it's once in a blue moon now (the last time was the mid-90s) as my metabolism is but a fraction of what it was when I used to eat there at least a couple of times a month. It's kind of a strange place too, as it is the only place that I could actually sip a beer while talking with the cops and CHPers!

                  2. re: bulavinaka

                    Haha! Same here as well!! I even hauled everybody over there at 4 a.m. for breakfast at the tail-end of my bachelor party in 1982! The CHP's laughed their asses off when I pulled the no parking sign outta the curb and tossed it into the middle of Sepulveda! Johnnie's was the second place I ever ate solid food... First one was the old Jefferson Bowl Coffee Shop.

                    1. re: guu

                      Were the cops lauging their asses off before or after the arrested you for drunk & disorderly? :)

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        1982 was a different world in LA. Cops had a lot more discretion back then. Some times, this was good, some times, not so good. Typically though, they didn't bust your nuts for every little thing like they do now, by decree.

                  3. They also have some really excellent fried chicken. The crust is really good 9not heavy or greasy) and the chicken very moist. My husband is the deli fanatic and I usually get the fried chicken. Both are excellent. It's amazing that the outdoor space is so nice right on Sepulveda but it is.

                    1. I have to agree with Will, that the phrase "Langer's and the Hat" is awkward for me. Johnnies and the Hat are very similar in style (thin slice and sort of watery) whereas Langer's is thick hand-cut and moist. Also Langers is the only one to use rye bread instead of rolls (unless requested, and who would ask for a roll in place of that double-baked rye?). I prefer the Hat to Johnnies but really it's a geographical choice if I'm in the mood for that style of sandwich.

                      1. After looking at the photos, I realized that I don't think I've ever seen Johnnies in the light of day. I've always been there at night (usually late night) as a place to wind up for some nourishment. The pastrami is OK to me, but I normally go for other things on the menu. It's all familiar stuff, but you can get better versions of all of those at other joints around town. But I still do like the vibe.

                        1. I'm just not a fan of the pastrami at Johnnie's. To me it is pretty bland and tastes like all the flavor has been boiled out of it. I do like the nostalgic atmosphere, though, and they have some of the tastiest pickles anywhere. If you are in range of The Hat, that is a much better choice IMO. Or even much better is Dino's on Pico, which is more notable for it's Chicken Maniaco. But Dino's serves up a really excellent pastrami sandwich in the same style as The Hat and Johnnie's. The downside with Dino's is that it's located in a gritty area and has zilch atmosphere.

                          And I have to agree with the previous comment about apples and oranges comparisons between pastrami in the style served at places like Johnnie's or The Hat with the kind of pastrami sandwich you get at a Jewish style deli restaurant.

                          1. Well, apples and oranges comparisons aside, the pics alone are enough to make me want to visit.

                            1. My goodness, I didn't realize that putting The Hat and Langer's in the same sentence would be such a controversial thing. :) I'm by no means a Pastrami expert. I just go by what I like and I happen to like both the pastrami at The Hat and Langer's. Maybe, it is like comparing a kid's drawing to a Mona Lisa when comparing the two, but I can only trust my own tastebuds and to me, there is a distinct difference between Johnnie's steamed pastrami and either of the pastrami sandwiches from the Hat or Langer's and that's the only point I was trying to make.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pleasurepalate

                                The difference is that Langer's is much more of a New York/kosher deli style pastrami whereas The Hat and Johnnies are both very much Los Angeles/burger and coffee shop style versions of pastrami. Totally different beasts.

                                Mr Taster

                              2. I have Johnnie's every now and again when i'm in the neighborhood (although as previous posters have mentioned, the proximity of Markie D's makes going to Johnnie's sort of difficult) and I agree that it's a lighter, leaner sandwich. I think the one at Langers' is superiour due to the flavor of the meat and the quality of the bread, but I do like the atmosphere at Johnnie's.

                                Johnnie's has your standard chilli cheese fries... pasty, oily chilli and a generous helping of cheese. The fries are on the well-done side, and I like my CC fries kind of goopy, so I tend to let them soak in the grease and cheese for a while. Wow, I can feel my arteries clogging just thinking about it.

                                Last time I was there, the waitress mentioned that diners have recently taken to ordering extra dip with their sandwich, so it's something to consider if you like to dip your sandwiches.

                                1. Vanilla milkshake at jonnies is freaking unreal btw...

                                  1. I always drive by Johnnie's every single day, but I've never actually gone in. I think these pictures have just convinced me to at least give them a try.

                                    1. I can't believe that nobody has mentioned the pickles.

                                      1. Johnnie's for me is a fixture of the Washington on Washington on Sepulveda epicenter of amazing dives. While the quality of food of all these establishments such as Tito's Tacos, Cinco de Mayo on the corner, and Johnnies can be called into question, the experience is invaluable. Johnnies reminds me of Pie 'n' Burger in Pasadena for the elements that have remained untouched by these ravages of time and real estate values, right down to the googie architecture of the sweeping roof canopy and pole sign. When you sit outside with some friends on a cool night, keeping the winter or summer cold at bay by the fire pit, and sharing a pitcher of cheap draft, few things can be better. I'll split the sandwhich as they are large and priced as such. I love the fresh quality of the pickles. And I will then go visit one of the adjacent dive bars like the Cinema or the Cozy for a few more libations.

                                        1. "Leaner" than what? Mybe I'm delusional, but sure looks much fattier than the product dished up at Langer's, Nate'N Al's, Brent's & most full scale delis. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

                                          1. To the poster above who asked if Johnnie's has chili cheese fries, the answer is a resounding yes, and they're great. They have great regular fries; always hot, always done just right, and when they put chili cheese and onions on it, its heaven.

                                            As to the Langers, Hat, Johnnies debate, one can't compare a deli pastrami to a Johnnies pastrami, but I see nothing wrong with discussing each in one thread. There are days when I want a deli pastrami. If so, personally I would head to Langers or Nate N Als. But more often than not, when my wife and I are in the mood for pastrami, we are off to Johnnies for 2 pastramis, and an order of chili chees fries. Usually, at LEAST half of one pastrami comes home, which we use to make pastrami and egg sandwiches within the next couple of days. Finally, I love the feel of Johnnies, and the pickles, and the guy that stands there tending the pastrami. The whole package is just great. (I do admit however that even after eating there for 20 years, the ever increasing price always draws a comment from my wife or I. I think its up to , gulp, $9.25 for a sandwich which is a lot. But then, a pastrami at Langers or Nate N' Als aint cheap these days either. By the way, chili cheese fries I think are about $6.00. So two sandwiches and a chili cheese fries, plus tax and tip is $30-32)

                                            Finally, as to the world of non-deli pastramis, my vote is entirely for Johnnies. I've tasted pastramis all over town, and none comes close. With due respect to everyones own personal taste, I think the Hat is OK, but doesn't have that "light" feeling the author of this thread mentioned. Dino's I thought was greasy, and the pastrami tasted like it had been heated up two or three times. Harvey's used to have the best in town but in the last 5 years, I'd describe it as adequate. Markey D's has a great cheesesteak but I thought their pastrami was slightly less than adequate. By the way, the biggest pastrami, but certainly not the best may be at Arry's on Whitter blvd, if quantity, not quality, is the measure.

                                            1. I have never had Johnnie's or Langer's. I came on here to find out about Johnnie's. A lot of people comparing Johnnie's to The Hat which is fine because I like The Hat very much. Now i'm thinking going to Johnnie's may not be worth the drive, because I can go to Billy's in Glendale and I know exactly what i'm getting (they are probably both really good) but Glendale is closer to home. If i'm in the area of Johnnie's and if people can talk me out of Tito's i'll try it.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: wyatt3290

                                                Y'all talking 'bout the wrong Johnnie's:

                                                4331 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90018

                                                1. re: broncosaurus

                                                  the pastrami at johnnies is good, not as fattty as other places. prices are high but the location cant be beat. Again i think everyone has different tastes when it comes to pastrami.

                                                2. re: wyatt3290

                                                  talk you out of tito's? i would never pick tito's over johnnie's....being from east l.a., i really don't know what is the big fuss about tito's?

                                                  1. re: rickym13

                                                    i agree about titos and i'm not even from east LA!
                                                    grease balls of bland, strangely colored stuff. . .

                                                3. I don't eat Pastrami but my family memebers love to eat at Johnnies. I can tell it's good and flavorful by the scent of it. Johnnies is legendary.

                                                  1. Pastrami is like a lot of foods that can be made any kind of way from chicago-style pizza vs ny style, or bbq. It all depends on preference. If you're an L.A. native, and have been to the classic eateries, then you SHOULD know there are TWO Johnnie's pastrami joints, which are NOT chains. You have the Culver City location on Sepulveda, and the L.A. (proper) location at Adams & Crenshaw. Many will say the Crenshaw location is the better of the two, and vice versa. Go to both to figure it out for yourself. I like both, but Crenshaw's is MUCH better. It is nothing like Canters' pastrami sandwich. They pile on pastrami to the point where you can't find the rest of the sandwich bread. THIS IS AWESOME!!! But, if you like the "conservative" type of pastrami sandwich, go to the other places like Langers, The Hat, or Canters.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: brownbear324

                                                      "If you're an L.A. native, and have been to the classic eateries, then you SHOULD know there are TWO Johnnie's pastrami joints,"

                                                      This is incorrect. A LA native WOULD know that there is "Johnnie's Pastrami" in Culver City and "Johnny's Pastrami" on Adams.

                                                      So much for resurrecting ancient threads.

                                                      1. re: The Old Man

                                                        damn, somebody just got served by the old man

                                                    2. Nice to see such beautiful pics of Johnnie's! I have been happily eating here since about 1994 and always have a great meal. The pastrami is delicious, the fries are crispy and the portions are huge. I find the atmosphere at Johnnie's to be one of the most relaxing in West LA. I think I'm gonna go soon. Thanks!