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Los Angeles Pastrami Crawl

  • k

Early in 1998, three deli-loving friends and I were arguing over which deli had the best pastrami in LA. The debate led to a plan to spend a day crawling from deli to deli across LA and comparing their pastramis on rye. We discussed over a few weeks whom to include. We knew the hype about Langers, but we had all eaten Langer's pastrami, and we agreed their pastrami was too fatty and very overrated. We knew there was no way it would top any of our lists. We settled on four. In each we ordered our favorite non-pastrami thing to eat there, and a lean pastrami on rye, hold the mustard, to go. Here was our itinerary:

(1) JFD Studio City (where we had matzo ball soup)

(2) Art's (where we had a reuben)

(3) Nate 'n Al's (I think we had blintzes there, not a fan, I must have passed)

(4) Canter's (where we had latkes)

Once home, we put Beaver mustard on each sandwich, cut them into four, marked the plates underneath and mixed them up before taste testing them. These were our results:

(1) JFD: fine, nice texture, not a lot of flavor

(2) Art's: dry

(3) Nate and Al's: the best texture by far, got the vote of the two men

(4) Canter's: nice, peppery flavor, but not too overwhelming, got the vote of the two women

It's been almost 10 years, all of these friends have moved on to other parts of the world, and my new crowd doesn't like delis. I'm left wondering if anyone has done anything like this more recently, and if so, what do you have to say about these results? Can Canter's or Nate and Al's still stand up to the rest? Are there others we were crazy to leave out? New contenders?

And for the record, Nate and Al's black and white cookie won hands down, it wasn't even close.

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  1. Well, since neither Brent's in Northridge nor Langer's at 7th & Alvarado in the Westlake neighborhood were on your first list, you missed the best and one of the two or three others in the running for 2nd place - omit Jerry's Deli and Art's, and try the test again with the new additions, and report back.
    ps - on the search function on the LA message board, the subject comes up about every 30 days or so, and thus you have much history on the subject at your mouse or touchpad!!!

    8 Replies
    1. re: carter

      We did consider Brent's, not sure why we ruled it out, and as I mentioned, none of us liked Langers to begin with. I read several of the pastrami discussions on the board before I posted, and it's obvious that Angelenos are passionate about their pastrami. I'm wondering if anyone else has tried a side-by-side as we did, and what conclusions they came to. The people I eat out with now are deficient in pastrami sensibility (the original group had two New Yorkers, they knew their deli meat), so the test can't be repeated again by me. I'm hoping someone else will take the hit and do a new deli crawl. For humanity.

      1. re: kicah

        One additional place I would suggest is the Oinkster in Eagle Rock, which is not a Jewish deli, yet has very very good pastrami, among many other things including burgers, belgian fries, ube shakes, high end root beers, etc.
        www.oinkster.com for details

        1. re: carter

          So, would you consider the Oinkster "not the same pastrami" or what?

          1. re: Fru

            Oinkster is modeled on Langers and does a good job of getting it close to right as Norm Langer was Andre's teacher while learning all the ins and outs of pastrami.

            1. re: Fru

              An interesting point, per Jonathan Gold: Oinkster makes their pastrami from scratch, whereas Langer's buys commercially-made pastrami.

              The Langer's difference is in how they steam and slice their meat.


            2. re: carter

              I found the pastrami had a LOT of pepper, Just below the threshold for really good.

              I do not consider it to be "pastrami" but a tasty pastrami like sandwich.

          2. re: carter

            We also like Victors Liquor & Delicatessen.

            the pastrami is very good as is the rye bread.

            Victors Liquor & Delicatessen
            1915 N Bronson Ave, Los Angeles, CA
            (323) 464-3752‎

            1. re: Wes

              Bad news: Victor's Deli closed in May:


              Good news: Victor's Square Restaurant, just north of the ex-deli on Bronson, is still there, and still serving good pastrami.

          3. Doing an LA pastrami comparison without Langer's is like doing a history of English literature without mentioning Shakespeare.

            1. I've eaten a lot of pastrami, so I can presumably offer some insight. However, I'm hesitant to do that, given that my overwhelming favorite (Langers) is not highly regarded. It sounds like I've just got a different criteria for evaluating pastrami than you do. That's fine. Different strokes for different folks. It seems like you like a much leaner pastrami. Here's one suggestion about that. When I go to Katz's in NY, I get my wife the lean or extra lean cut of pastrami, which she loves. I wonder if they'd do the same at Langers for you? Just ask -- I find them pretty friendly, especially by the standards of curmudgeonly deli employees.

              1 Reply
              1. re: glutton

                Langers will do it for an extra charge of $2 or $3 dollars.

              2. Although I'm not a pastrami sandwich eater, I've heard people rave about the pastrami sandwiches served at The Hat. Everytime we've visited their Brea location the place is packed with many nawshin' down on their huge pastrami sandwiches. They must be doing something right when it comes to pastrami sandwiches We happen to like The Hat for their many other sandwich offerings. Oh and don't get me started on their fries. No matter the size you order, they just throw the fry bag in a big brown paper bag and dump a huge amount of fries in it! I don't think they have a location in Los Angeles proper, but they do have them in Pasadena, Alhambra, Monterey Park, Simi Valley, and Temple City for those in the Los Angeles area.

                5 Replies
                1. re: crt

                  Not the same pastrami at all, nor is Connal's in Pasadena/Altadena.

                  1. re: crt

                    I love The Hat's pastrami, but it is definitely a completely different animal than Langer's (which I also love).

                    1. re: WildSwede

                      We then agree that it is completely different, and should never be compared!

                      1. re: carter

                        They are apples and oranges. Langers/Brents/Jewish delis have pastrami sliced from a cooked pastrami hunk.

                        The Hat/Johnnies etc are sliced when raw and boiled.

                        Both can be quite good but quite different.

                    2. re: crt

                      The last time I ate at Hat for the pastrami sandwiches there were a lot more fat than meat in that sandwich. Definitely not the same stuff.

                      I mean if you don't look at it and douse it with horseradish it tasted fine. But if you pick it apart and examine it? Yuck!

                    3. Johnnie's Pastrami on Sepulveda Blvd. near Culver City. It rocks.

                      1. Jerry's food is inedible. If you are absolutely starving...wait a little longer and you'll find someplace else.

                        Langer's is hands-down the best deli pastrami around. And according to many, not just the best in town, but best in the country. If you don't care for it, perhaps deli pastrami isn't for you, in which case I suggest comparing fast food-style pastrami served at places like Johnnie's, The Hat, etc.

                        Brent's is an easy second-place finisher, and there's no shame in being 2nd to Langer's.

                        Canter's, on a good day, and Nate 'n' Al's are solid entries.

                        I've never liked Art's. I've been there many times over the years. Never really liked it. But it easily wins out over JFD.

                        Junior's - love their matzoh ball soup. As for their pastrami...they make really good matzoh ball soup. Seriously, if you're doing a comparison of deli pastrami also-rans, might as well include them. They're no worse than Jerry's.

                        1. I Like Langers for Deli Style pastrami. Beats Carnagie deli. Best CHEAP pastrami Dino's

                          Dino's Chicken and Burgers
                          2575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90006, USA

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Skunk2Racer

                            So is the Carnegie Deli meat available at Costco the same quality, flavor as the actual deli? If so, yuck, yuck, yuck. Is Langers reg. pastrami (vs. lean pastrami) less fatty than Carnegie's & hopefully more flavorful? I personally prefer sandwiches where the meat to bread ratio is decent as opposed to a mile high pile of meat.

                            1. re: ceekskat

                              Most NYC style deli sandwiches are supposed to have a huge pile of meat. You order 1 and split the sandwich.

                              Langer's is good but it's less as piled on (actually I rather have it MORE piled on).

                              I don't think anything you get that's previously refridgerated and presliced is going to taste anything like the real thing. Haven't had carnegie deli in NYC but had it at Las Vegas. Decent, but not as good as Katz in NYC nor Langer's. Use the one from Costco's in a reuben sandwich - by the time you put in the dressing, sauerkraut and stuff you won't notice what's missing so much.

                              1. re: notmartha

                                If you go to Langer's, get the pastrami platter-- it's about the price of 2 sandwiches but it comes with a lot more stuff and you can pile on the pastrami as high as you like.

                                Mr Taster

                              2. re: ceekskat

                                Never tried the Carnegie meat at Costco. I've eaten at the Carnegie in the Mirage. At langers I ask for the Fatty pastrami.EXCELLENT

                                1. re: ceekskat

                                  Maybe that is one reason why Carnegie Deli closed many years ago in Beverly Hills!!!

                              3. Langer's is moister, hence fattier, and i find, quite flavorful

                                Arts is good for corned beef, the pastrami is terrible imho.

                                Brents is good but tends towards the tastes of Polish Jewry, so everything is a bit sweeter and less peppery. taste the chopped liver and you'll know what I mean.

                                That said, at other delis I tend to avoid the pastrami. At langer's that's all i will order.

                                Greenblatts is a good deli, but i 've never had their pastrami. Knishes were tasty though.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Jerome

                                  That's an interesting point re the chopped liver... I never realized that the sweetness of it was a prop towards my Polish ancestors. I actually much prefer the more savory chopped liver at Langer's (and it is one of the only things I'll dab my sandwich with other than a little bit of Gulden's... get that Beaver mustard away from my plate!)

                                  Mr Taster

                                2. Well, I'm in the majority in loving Langer's pastrami, but I never order it lean. Quite the opposite -- I'm a purist and prefer just pastrami with their twice-baked rye, and I don't even put mustard on. So sometimes in the past I've found Langer's to be too lean, so now I tell the waitress to have my pastrami handcut and not trimmed of the succulent fatty exterior.

                                  For the less expensive, thinner presliced pastrami, I also like Dino's, though I find it extremely difficult not to order their chicken special. Johnnie's to me is way too salty and much too expensive -- I think a sandwich there costs more than Langer's. But I also give kudos to Togo's -- delicious, a good value, specify the onion roll.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: nosh

                                    I too have found Togo's pastrami to be a pleasant surprise -- but only at the Pass Ave. location in Burbank, in the same mall as Bistro Provence. The same sandwich at their Atwater location was gristly and almost inedible.

                                    It occurs to me that any best-pastrami thread on CH is likely to go in the same conflicting direction as our many best-burger discussions. There's a difference between what I'm going to call "deli pastrami" of the Langer's/Brent's variety, vs. food-stand pastrami a la The Hat, Togo's or Johnnie's.

                                    The Oinkster is a symbiosis of the two worlds -- they're to pastrami what Tops on Colorado is to burgers.

                                    Just as I think there's room in the world for In-N-Out and Father's Office, I think there's room for Langer's, the Hat and the Oinkster. I'd hate to be without any of them.

                                    Langer's Delicatessen
                                    704 S Alvarado St, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                                    Brent's Deli
                                    19565 Parthenia St, Northridge, CA 91324

                                    The Hat
                                    491 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101

                                    Johnnie's Pastrami
                                    4017 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

                                    353 N Pass Ave, Burbank, CA 91505

                                    2005 Colorado Blvd, Eagle Rock, CA

                                    1. re: maxzook

                                      Funny you should mention Tops (original at Pasadena). I had their pastrami sandwich this weekend and it's much better than The Hat in the 'food-stand' style.

                                      1. re: maxzook

                                        "There's a difference between what I'm going to call "deli pastrami" of the Langer's/Brent's variety, vs. food-stand pastrami a la The Hat, Togo's or Johnnie's."

                                        Yes, very different (not in a bad way). The Hat, Togos, Johnnies, are all similarly thin sliced, fatty and dipped in jus (IIRC) before placing in the sandwich. Don't think delis do that.

                                      2. re: nosh

                                        Yeah The Smell of the Chicken plate at Dino's! I always get both. The Only thing I like at Johnnies are the Pickels and Yellow hot peppers.

                                      3. Nora Ephron called Langer's "the best pastrami in the country" (paraphrasing) in an article in the New Yorker. Not only does that take balls, or ovaries or whatever, but it says a lot for Langer's!

                                        1. Original Tops in Pasadena is much better than the Hat for fast food style Pastrami. I think Langer's is the bomb though. Will now check out the Oinkster. Have been meaning to for a while, but this seals the deal! :-)

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: mbh65

                                            I totally agree regarding Tops vs The Hat. I love the pickles and mustard!!!. I was just at The Hat because a fellow mom requested it. Not wanting to one up her, I went along after not going for years. I was unimpressed and underwhelmed with everything at The Hat. I too need to try The Oinsker!

                                            1. re: Fru

                                              What? No love here for Billy's Deli in Glendale. I think they serve one of the best Pastrami sandwiches ever. I usually get the Sky High on Rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing, with a side of Potato Salad. Their Potato salad is some of the best I've ever had, plus you get a little bowl of delicious pickles almost as soon as you sit down!

                                          2. I think one thing you may want to consider is that some of the lip-smacking succulence that comes from Langers' pastrami is actually not fat... it's gelatin, which comes from the long, slow steaming process and can be mistaken for fat by people who are unaware. Having said that, I've had many pastrami sandwiches at Langer's, and occasionally they do come out with fattier cuts of meat than others. One tip is that you can specifically order "lean cut" where all the fat is trimmed off (and it costs a few bucks more), but I discovered that the flavor is snipped off with it. The lean cut was dry and flavorless by comparison.

                                            Mr Taster

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                              One should consider the new Ken and Ken't's deli in Hermosa Beach. Delicious piled high pastrami, pickles and sauerkraut are served when you sit. Great atmosphere and waitresses.

                                            2. Langer's #44 is the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: wienermobile

                                                wienermob: Which one is that? I also love Langer's and know that Mimi Sheraton, then the food critic for the NYTimes (on my suggestion) went to Langer's years ago and reported back that their pastrami and rye bread were among the best she'd ever had. She also said that NY delis were seriously sliding down the scale of greatness. So it's not just that Langer's can't please NYrs, but that for some reason Langer's didn't agree with the OP.

                                                1. re: oakjoan

                                                  Langer's #44 Hot Pastrami, Sauerkraut and Nippy Cheese Grilled on Rye. Heaven.