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Jun 15, 2007 09:03 AM

Langer's Sixty Years In The Pastrami Business

Apparently they are doing some sort of promotional event and closing of the street in front of Langer's this afternoon, as noted in LAObserved:

More about Langer's here:

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  1. I have eaten at Langer's for over 40 years and their sandwiches have always been the best. So big you can barely get your mouth around them. However the last time I was in L.A. (I currently live in the South Bay) I picked up a Pastrami sandwich to go. When I got home I was extremely disappointed in the meager quantity if Pastrami in what is now a $10.00 sandwich. In my estimation less than one quarter inch. Embarrasing actually!!

    23 Replies
    1. re: bigdog2241

      Something is Wrong? I've only been going to Langer's for 30 yrs, monthly, and I've never experienced a meager amount of Pastrami between the Rye Slices?
      There is no question it's not the biggest sandwich on the Planet but a Quarter Inch of Pastrami??

      1. re: russkar

        I have had that happen to me in NYC and and in L.A. at Nate'n Al. It never happens when you eat there because they know you would raise hell. If you get a take-out you better look at the goods before you drive away. I have found not only smaller amounts but also the greassy small bits of crap from the bottom of the greasy bucket -- no nice slices. I agree that it is embarrasing because you know that they know they just took you for your money and could not care less whether you enjoy your sandwich. If they cut corners in a way the customer can see it then I must wonder what they do behind my back.

        1. re: JeetJet

          I've had skimpy sandwiches at Langers even when I ate in. I still think only special people get the big ones. There was one sandwich that had (IIRC) 5 slices of pastrami on it.

          --that's 5 small slices. a slice of their bread was thicker than the thickness of pastrami on my sandwich.

      2. re: bigdog2241

        "In my estimation less than one quarter inch."
        Are you sure you weren't using the man's ruler for measuring his favorite body part?
        Less than a quarter inch is thinner than 1 slice of their pastrami. I can imagine the disappointment in driving all the way back to the South Bay in anticipation of a fantastic thick Langer's pastrami only to be disappointed. Did that influence your measurement judgment?
        I just had the #19 yesterday at Langer's and the amount of pastrami I got was a little less than in the photo of the sandwich on the placard on the table and on their home page (link below) but pretty close. Not enough to complain about, and I would've, esp. with the photo staring at me on the table. Perhaps it was the Nate 'n Al's phenomena JeetJet mentioned.
        Let's here fr: other Chounders- Is there less meat on a Langer's sandwich when it's take out? Has Langer's skimped on the meat on the your sandwich(es), eat in or take out?

        Anyway the #19-Pastrami, Swiss cheese, slaw, Russian dressing, in between 2 slices of that fantastic rye bread w/ sum spicy mustard added is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.

        1. re: burger

          No, lose the cheese, get a number 1, besides not being Kosher, you don't want some cheese disturbing the other flavors which are already perfect harmony, pastrami, coleslaw, Russian on good corn rye.

          1. re: ChinoWayne

            I agree, No. 1 is No. 1. The added cheese is unnecessary gilding of a pastrami lily

          2. re: burger

            Actually, keep the cheese. I'm sure that it's delicious that way.

            1. re: PommeDeGuerre

              For my tastes, with cheese, coleslaw, Russian dressing, and pastrami, the No. 19 is just one too many of a good thing. Either the cheese or the slaw could go for me; I lose the slaw myself, but it's all a personal preference thing. (Checking the menu again, I see it's not the No. 1 I've previously gotten the other times but the No. 10.) The slaw does help cut the fattiness of the pastrami a lot.

              Does anyone go for the more exotic ones, like the No. 44 (grilled with "nippy" cheese and sauerkraut)? Or the corned beef?

              1. re: Woolsey

                I've had the grilled pastrami and nippy cheese sandwich... very good, like all the pastrami sandwiches at Langers. I am sure nippy cheese is not something that everybody would enjoy, of course, but it worked for me.

                1. re: glutton

                  Holy cow.

                  Jewish soul food was never meant to drown in heaps of cheese and russian dressing!

                  If you're going to kaibosh the culinary efforts of hundreds of years of Eastern European immigrants, why not just slather the pastrami with ketchup and mayonnaise and serve it up on Wonder Bread and be done with it.

                  Langer's pastrami really is divine. It stands on its own and needs no embellishment, save a tiny dab of Gulden's deli mustard.

                  Mr Taster
                  Protect Chowhound
                  Boycott Avatars!

          3. re: bigdog2241

            My experience has been somewhere in between. They've never been as huge as you describe, nor as skimpy. Langer's is good, no doubt, but I have yet to experience the orgasmic levels of greatness that Jonathan Gold seems to find there. (Langer's is yet another example of both that critic's propensity for hyperbole and unwillingness to change his opinion on a beloved restaurant's quality, no matter how much its merits may have slipped over the years, which makes me wonder how often he actually visits these places. See also: Pho 79.) If Langer's prices were half or even three-quarters what they were charging - or if the sandwiches were twice the size they are - I'd say it was one of the very best joints in the city. But the price-versus-quality ratio just isn't there. After a cup of coffee, tax, and tip, one is hard-pressed to walk out of there without dropping a twenty for a sandwich. A sandwich! And I'm fortunate that I can walk there, not having to pay for parking, too. But, in all my years of living within walking distance, I've gone to Langer's maybe three times, just because I can't justify spending so much on a sandwich with any sort of regularity. (Their being closed on Sundays - when I most want to go - doesn't help.)

            1. re: Woolsey

              I am puzzled by the complaints about the supposedly high prices at Langer's. High compared to what? For the area? Perhaps. For a Jewish deli pastrami sandwich? No. Putting to the side the quantity vs. quality issue (is "overstuffed" just "overrated?"), I did a quick check comparison of the on-line (your actual prices may vary) menu prices for the pastrami sandwiches some of the other delis around town:

              Art's = $12.50
              Brent's = $11.75
              Canter's = Not Available (oddly the non-sandwich portion of the menu is)
              Factor's = $12.50
              Jerry's Famous = $14.50
              Junior's = $11.50
              Label's Tables = $9.45
              Langer's = $11.60
              Nate 'n Al's = $11.75
              Roll 'n Rye = $11.95

              At $11.60, Langer's falls very comfortably into the range. I have not included The Hat or Johnnie's Pastrami because they are not delis and do not serve the same type of pastrami sandwich--not that there's anything wrong with that.

              1. re: New Trial

                Canter's is right in that range as well.

                1. re: New Trial

                  I'm inclined to think Canter's could be a nickel and still be too expensive, the way their quality seems to have gone downhill.

              2. re: bigdog2241

                Yeah, I like that #19, but ordered just for pickup (so no gratuity), without a drink or anything else, it is now over $13.00 after tax. The cost/benefit ratio is starting to get a little steep for a sandwich, even if it is possibly the best of its type.

                1. re: PommeDeGuerre

                  90% of my Langer's visits are take out. Partly due to the 15 minute travel time back to the office and to a new appreciation of the sandwich in its purist form, I've converted from a #19 guy to a pastrami, rye bread, mustard on the side guy.
                  We get Langer's about once every month or month and a half. I've never had a small sandwich from takeout. The meat is always piled about an inch to inch and a half high.

                  1. re: Wolfgang

                    It is definately a luxury meal imho. 15 bucks for a pastrami sandwich is a grip, when you can get one for the hat for 6 bucks. But goddamn a langer's pastrami sandwich is good

                    1. re: ns1

                      Please, do not compare a Hat pastrami dip to a Langer's pastrami sandwich, two very different animals. Each is good in its own context, but they are very different experiences.

                        1. re: Burger Boy

                          like the poster above said, I could get a giant hat sandwich + a giant box of onion rings for the price of a langer's sandwich. That being said, I think the langer's sandwich is leaps and bounds above the hat in taste. I think it's the combination of russian dressing, cole slaw, and rye bread...

                          1. re: ns1

                            I think the Hat's just fine for what it is, but it's a whole different beast than a Langer's pastrami sandwich. You might as well be comparing steaks at The Pantry, or even The Sizzler, with steaks at Cut or Mastro's or Morton's. Sure, they're all steaks but that's as far as it goes.

                      1. re: Wolfgang

                        Re: your conversion........

                        Mazel tov! You've made my mamela proud.

                        I simply can't understand why Langer's even has a #19 and their ilk on the menu! You'd think that goyim were running the joint.

                        Mr Taster
                        Protect Chowhound
                        Boycott Avatars!

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          So I take it you won't be adding salsa to your pastrami?

                  2. What makes a Langer's pastrami on rye great, is not how huge it is - it isn't. It is the perfect balance of perfect ingredients: excellent rye bread with superb pastrami cut to an appropriate thickness to bring out the flavor and juices, in the perfect proportions and heated just right. Some people don't even slap on any mustard. I do - the brownish mustard, not the radioactive yellow stuff. That's all it needs, anything more is just extraneous matter. Some things just don't need to be gigantic, or complicated, to be perfect.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: estone888

                      Frankly, I wouldn't want it to be much larger. I agree that a quarter inch of pastrami is skimpy, but I've never had that experience myself. The size of the pastrami sandwiches I get at Langers seem just right. If it were much larger, then I could not bite it easily. I want to bite into the sandwich and get some rye bread, some cole slaw, some mustard, and some pastrami, all in a single bite. If the sandwich were piled hihg with pastrami, then I'd need a fork and knife to eat it and wouldn't that be a shame...

                      1. re: glutton

                        I certainly wouldn't want a larger sandwich if it meant a crappier sandwich. Yeah, the pastrami sandwich at Jerry's might be larger, but you're getting a larger quantity of an inferior product. And once again, this fascination with gargantuan sandwiches is yet another example of why Americans tend to be so overweight. The Langer's sandwich seems small only because it's an appropriate size, as opposed to the gluttonous excessive versions we've gotten used to seeing elsewhere. And you hit the nail on the head with your observation about balance - getting proper amounts of all of the elements in one bite.

                    2. After all this Langer's talk, I decided I'd stroll on over today and give it another go. Some observations:

                      - Even though the large room was plenty empty, I wasn't able to have a large booth to myself to read the paper while I eat. When asked why I could migrate from the tiny two-person booth, the waitress said, "They won't let us." That's a policy management should change, especially when they're not filling up the dining room to even a quarter of its capacity.

                      - Editing the menu might be a good thing, helping to steer the focus back onto Langer's primary dishes. The matzo balls were still ice cold in the middle; the kitchen hadn't taken the time to get them warm. Matzo ball soup is a staple of a Jewish deli; there's no reason they should have been cold. Their noodle kugel is obviously kept in the freezer and microwaved to order, though not very evenly. Again, when the room is relatively sporadically filled and mostly with people coming for the pastrami, perhaps cutting down on the entrées - How many people really order the spaghetti and meatballs, Salisbury steak, or red snapper? - would not only help the quality of the food but also the bottom line.

                      - I've never had the No. 19 before, but I figured that, it's supposed to be the most popular. I should try it once, right? I must say, it's a bit too complicated for me. It's good, no doubt, but the cheese and cole slaw and all does detract from the pastrami. I think I have to agree with all those here who say the No. 1 is the way to go. As for the amount of pastrami on the sandwich, it may not have been a mountain of meat, but I also didn't think it was negligible. I was certainly satisfied with what was on there. Langer's pastrami is, I think, incredibly rich, so more than what I had would have been overkill. (As it was, I should have stopped at half of the sandwich.)

                      - The prices are still ridiculous, but I felt like I got a show with lunch. The waitstaff can be entertaining as anything if you go on the right day. The older waitress with the Scottish accent is chatty with her customers - at least I assumed their were customers seated behind me she was talking to - and I got some little bits here and there about the place. Of course, bits about the 60th anniversary event yesterday were repeated several times, and I heard about the district attorney and sheriff, who often eat there. More interesting, though, was hearing about how Langer's would be packed even at 9:30 and 10:30 at night when they were open for dinner, but now they might have just one person in the place at 4:00 P.M. when they close. That makes me wonder how tied the place's fortunes (and prices) are to people's thinking they're closed all the time. (They take long breaks for holidays, are closed nights and Sundays - basically when many people are able to visit.)

                      - A Latino family came in and sat behind me, on their first visit to Langer's. The waitress walked them through some recommendations - I picked up that they got potato pancakes and a No. 19, as well as the Alvarado omelette. (All good choices.) Serving the food, the waitress said, without their prompting, "We have salsa!" I struck me as something halfway condescending (as if all Latinos must have salsa with their food) and halfway as Langer's way of coping with the unfamiliar new world that has overtaken their neighborhood, leaving them as the last vestige of the past.

                      I like Langer's, but the place clearly is living on borrowed time. Certain old-time L.A. landmarks seem like they can keep going forever: El Cholo, Pink's, Philippe the Original, The Pantry. I don't see those places' ever shutting down. They have solid business plans, loyal customers, good (if sometimes undeserved) word-of-mouth, are located in well-trafficked locations, and they constantly draw in new patrons. But Langer's seems the province of a dedicated few, and its poor location, high prices, short hours, and inconsistent quality - not to mention that it is relatively esoteric compared to, say, Roscoe's or Canter's or other such landmark restaurants - makes it seem just a matter of time until Langer's goes away.

                      The best hope of keeping it around for generations to come seems to be a change of management à la Cole's, but then comes the worry of what a change of management might do, à la Cole's...

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: Woolsey

                        I would disagree on your negative view of Langer's prospective future. Personally I'm not a fan of the place but for decades I've occasionally wound up eating there when I'm in the company of friends who have an ongoing love affair with Langer's. In the past few years, nearly every time I've been there I've seen the place packed to near capacity and frequently seen customers waiting for an open table even on Saturdays, usually before 2 P.M. Despite the location, the dismal neighborhood and their high prices, Langer's still has a very loyal customer base that is happy to support them.

                        If Langer's was not going to survive, its demise would surely have occurred sometime beginning from the 1980's until the mid 1990's. That was when the area most rapidly deteriorated and actually became much worse and far more scary than what it is now. Edward's Steak House, a half block away, closed down for good during that time and Langer's ended its night time hours of operation. The L.A. riots that followed created even more fear of travelling to inner city destinations. I remember being there at peak hour times when the restaurant was less than half full. But Langer's dug its heels in and survived its worse days during that era. Eventually it got a solid boost from positive changes in the neighborhood that began to reverse the damage, such as a stronger local police presence, more efficient enforcement against street crime and the opening of the nearby Red Line station.

                        I think Langer's will still be serving up their pastrami for many years ahead.

                        1. re: Sam D.

                          The third generation has already signed on for the challenge, so I think they'll be there for awhile.

                          And to the naysayers who claim the price is way too high for a sandwich, I disagree. Half of that pastrami sandwich is enough calories for most people -- especially all the people who sit at their desks all day and go to Langers for lunch. So, eat half at lunch, have a cup of soup or something else on the side, and then half the other half for dinner. Split between two meals, the Langer's is a veritable bargain.

                          1. re: Sam D.

                            I should temper this by saying that I don't see Langer's closing tomorrow or even in five years, but Westlake seems to be the one gentrification-proof neighborhood, and the owners seem to be doing everything that can to make sure that this could be its last generation in Little Guatemala with the high prices and sparse hours. I'd love to see a full room at Langer's. I don't go in the room often, but I do walk past. I've yet to see the packed scenario you described.

                            The other two higher-end restaurants around MacArthur Park, Chichen Itza and Mama's Hot Tamales, also seem to be having the same struggle to fill tables Langer's has. (Mama's Hot Tamales almost never seems to be open these days, and the great $1 tamale carts in the park have been gone for about two years.) It may be less a problem of management, then, than having to deal with the lack of support from the largely working-class Central American population in the neighborhood not wanting to patronize these higher-end places. (Westlake has been the de facto destination for every group displaced when Silver Lake, Echo Park, Downtown, and now Koreatown have gentrified.) It's got to be a struggle for a restaurant to survive almost entirely on visitors from other parts of the city, especially when that destination is, well, Westlake.

                            Perhaps they can cruise on selling $13 pastrami sandwiches with restricted hours in a sketchy neighborhood forever. I'm inclined to think not.

                            1. re: Woolsey

                              Didn't the LA Times just run a huge article about the gentrification of the neighborhood around MacArthur Park? Never say never.

                              1. re: glutton

                                I've been hearing that since I moved here five-and-a-half years ago. Chichen Itza and Royale do not gentrification make. There have been some building remodels, and, to pay for them, they take in low-income residents and evict higher-income ones, which has actually de-gentrified the neighborhood in certain respects. Westlake has, if anything, gotten more resolutely working-class and Central American in character over the past half-decade, with a smattering of poorer Koreans being pushed out of Koreatown coming in on the western edge.

                                Westlake and Pico-Union comprise the most densely populated area of America west of the Mississippi River, and even so, the four "nice" restaurants have a tough time filling tables or don't even bother opening at night. (Royale is essentially just a bar/club, which is fine as the food is shamefully expensive and fairly disgusting.)

                                1. re: Woolsey

                                  Woolsey- Since you live in the neighborhood I would normally defer to you on which way it's going, except for 2 things.....1. "There have been some building remodels, and, to pay for them, they take in low-income residents and evict higher-income ones" totally defies logic and common sense. 2. My own eyes tell me the neighborhood hasn't changed THAT much in 16 yrs.
                                  Langer's may not be there in 10 yrs, but it's had a pretty remarkable (esp considering the neighborhood for a good portion of that time) & justified run for 60, and we can all hope and trust the Langer's pastrami sandwich will live on somewhere.
                                  As for the cost, it's actually less than many other Jewish deli pastrami sandwiches. Some others have good meat and more of it, others just have more meat, but I'll gladly pay for the great taste and quality of a Langer's pastrami sandwich.
                                  As for the #19 vs. #1 - I realize cheese on a pastrami sandwich is.. well -sacreligious, but I'm not Jewish, fortunately for my taste buds and I think cheese just about always makes a sandwich better ( I lean more towards Dagwood than minimalism). But I definately agree, any sandwich with at least the Langer's pastrami, that rye bread and sum good mustard is a great sandwich.

                                  1. re: burger

                                    The remodels are paid for by government loans that are dependent on the buildings' setting aside low-income housing that are subsidized by local government, so no, my statement does not defy logic if you know how it works. The buildings are essentially a somewhat nicer form of Section 8 housing.

                                    1. re: Woolsey

                                      OK, thanks for the explanation, but considering the demographics of the area have been unfavorable to Langer's for a looong time, I wonder if the # of those units are really any more nails in Langer's coffin.
                                      I don't know how much effect it has on Langer's business but it's great to see MacArthur Park cleaned up. 16 years ago when 1st there I couldn't believe the drug activity, dealing, discarded vials, syringes, etc.

                          2. re: Woolsey

                            "I like Langer's, but the place clearly is living on borrowed time. Certain old-time L.A. landmarks seem like they can keep going forever: El Cholo, Pink's, Philippe the Original, The Pantry. I don't see those places' ever shutting down. They have solid business plans, loyal customers, good (if sometimes undeserved) word-of-mouth, are located in well-trafficked locations, and they constantly draw in new patrons. But Langer's seems the province of a dedicated few, and its poor location, high prices, short hours, and inconsistent quality - not to mention that it is relatively esoteric compared to, say, Roscoe's or Canter's or other such landmark restaurants - makes it seem just a matter of time until Langer's goes away."

                            Huh? Langer's is clearly not living on borrowed time. You cannot get to 60 in Los Angeles without doing something very very right. Their short hours make business sense and prices are in line with other delis.

                            I love establishments that do what they do so well that they can afford to have limited hours like that. As for being the "province of a dedicated few," it has always been busy during lunch hours which I am sure accounts for the majority of their revenue.

                            As for being in a "poor location," I think the opposite is quite true. They are steps from the subway and the area has a lot of energy and potential economic growth, not to mention the interesting history of the Westlake/MacArthur Park district.

                            1. re: Ernie

                              The "borrowed time" thing is hysterical, really. You'd think they guy was writing in 1987, not 2007. Back in the late 80s, before the Red Line, yeah, Langer's was on borrowed time. When the Red Line opened (1993), the place got a new lease on life, and I'd say it's a long-term lease. Go there any weekday during the lunch hour and it is BUSY. That's how the place stays in business. Going on off-peak hours and judging the place's viability based on that is, to put it charitably, unwise.

                          3. Can't really compare with some of the many more familiar responses listed here but two of us dropped by for lunch today (Saturday) for my third ever visit and we both agreed it was the best pastrami sandwich we've ever had. As ChinoWayne recommends the #1 was the way to go for us with perfectly fresh and crunchy rye, spicy and tender meat, tasty coleslaw and Russian dressing. At $11.60 and considering the current marketplace (not to mention validated parking) it was a great buy and I even got a free refill of cream soda. Nice to see Chief Bratton and the missus making the rounds as well.

                            1. An alternative to the Langer's #19 would be the the Oinkster "Oinkster" Pastrami Sandwich, in my book. Though the bread is a roll which is not up to the standard of Langer's Rye, the interior combination of Pastrami, mustard slaw, caramelized onion and Gruyere is on par in my opinion (and ~$4.00 cheaper to boot.) The owner/chef worships at the temple of Langer's Pastrami making techniques and his "homemade" Pastrami reflects the dedication to technique and patience.