“Anytime a person goes into a delicatessen and orders a pastrami on white bread, somewhere a Jew dies.”–Milton Berle

I can see why a lot of people might find the trek to Langer’s a bit unnerving. It’s just one block from the parking lot to the actual restaurant, but you have to share that one block of sidewalk with a lot of brown people from South America. It’s located in a “shady” area of LA; 7th and Alvarado, kitty-corner from McArthur Park.  I tried to convince my lunch companions (native Angeleno brown girls themselves) that they were safe by pointing out that even though there wasn’t an immigrant rights march going on at the moment, the LAPD was always near looking and ready for opportunities to beat up or shoot someone.

I have driven past Langer’s many times since I moved to Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until last week that I found out it was a local and international icon. As soon as I saw the classic diner décor of 70’s-brown pleather booths, counter stools, fake wood tables, light fixtures with old beige lamp shades, and crunchy, sticky floor, I knew the food was going to be really good.

We managed to get there before the lunch rush, so we scored a booth. I did not spend too much time reading the menu. I was there for the notorious #19. The #19 is Langer’s best seller and it’s what everyone who isn’t a pastrami sandwich (bread and meat with a dab of mustard) purist orders. The #19 is pastrami on rye with a slice of Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing. When it comes to food, mob mentality rules and I wasn’t there to be a dissident. I ordered the #19 and a cream soda.

What was put in front of me was simply brilliant. There is no better word to describe it. I bit into the deliciously smoked pile of lunch meat, and was immediately transported into a different dimension of Sandwich Nirvana. I was home. Langer’s pastrami is perfectly cooked, sugar cured and peppered, and slightly fattier to give it more good flavor during the smoking and steaming process. The hand-carved, thick pile of meat is encased within a tender rye with a crackling crust that’s easy on the mouth and is accompanied by two pickle halves. Definitely one for the Best Things I Ever Ate file.

Because feeling privileged makes me uncomfortable and sad, I immediately thought about the people out on the street. Here was something utterly delicious, so close to them, but so far from their grasp. The people who work and live in this neighborhood cannot afford to eat much beyond the dollar menu, let alone a $14 sandwich.

Many claim that Langer’s pastrami sandwich is the best in the world. I haven’t been to Katz or any other legendary New York deli, but it’s hard to imagine any other sandwich beating the  #19. I had finally arrived at my pastrami Mecca and it was only 4 miles from my house. I unburied my face from the sandwich and took a moment to tell my companions, “I’ll have this over French Laundry any day.” They gasped. Oh the sacrilege. “Don’t tell that to your sister!” they replied. “It’s ok. She already got miffed at me for liking the Chez Panisse experience better than French.”

I decided two weeks is long enough a wait to eat another #19. I won’t even have to park and walk along 7th. Langer’s has curbside service and I’ve already saved their number in my cell phone contacts.


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