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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.

              http://www.laweekly.com/eat+drink/cou...

            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:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/500679

              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.