LANGER'S: TAKING THE #19 TO MACARTHUR PARK.
For as long as I have been coming to L.A, in recent times, my good chum, John Haskell has been telling me “one day, I’ll take you to Langer’s for a pastrami sandwich”. Today after over eighteen months of promises we both manged to sculpt time from our schedules to finally share that lunch at one of L.A’s most famous diners.
Langer’s Delicatessen opened in 1947, with just twelve seats and still sits in the same location at the corner of Seventh and Alvarado, near the famous MacArthur Park, in what is now a predominately Latino part of the city. The opening of a subway station less than a block away in the 90’s is credited on its website as one of the main reasons for its survival, both in the face of several economic downturns and threats from encroaching gangland culture. Now, after over sixty years of serving what many consider to be the best pastrami sandwiches in the country, it is now very firmly established as a treasured local institution and was already filling up with people as we arrived and squeezed into a booth a little before 11am.
John has been a regular at Langer’s since he was first taken there in 1970 and has never veered from his usual selection, Langer’s most famous sandwich, The #19. This comprises hot pastrami, coleslaw, Russian dressing and a slice of Swiss cheese on baked rye bread. Although the menu is vast and the plates being carried by the waitresses to other tables all looked tempting, there was little chance I was going to try anything else on my first visit.
We shared an ice cream scoop mound of chopped liver while we waited. It needed a good dose of salt, but was a pleasant enough way to distract ourselves until the sandwiches arrived ten minutes later. When they did, it was easy enough to understand why John had warned me to “come hungry”. The #19 is a challenging plateful with excellent rye bread sandwiching thick slices of warm hand cut Pastrami, beef which is cured, smoked and steamed to produce that distinct colour and those darkened edges. The end result is moist and juicy with the creamy slaw adding a crunch to each bite and the slice of Swiss cheese giving the whole thing a slight tang. Only the pickles let the side down, needing more sharpness to cut through the richness of the meat.
Comparisons with its East Coast rivals in the “Best Pastrami Sandwich” stakes are inevitable and the pastrami at Langer’s certainly bears a closer resemblance to the Katz’s pastrami than the wafer thin, but delicious light pink slices I tried recently at Johnny’s in Culver City. It’s hard to make a call on the meat without another visit to Katz’s, but the rye bread used at Langer’s is certainly streets ahead of its rival. It is prepared for them, I am told, by a baker out in The Valley and then baked one more time on site to give the sandwich an extra crunch to the crust. A far cry from the poor effort made on the Lower East Side.
Good pastrami, it would appear does not come cheap and our bill including the chopped liver, two sandwiches and two terrific chocolate malts came to just shy of $60 including tax and service. A lot to pay for a quick lunch, perhaps, but not too much to sample a piece of local history and certainly not too much to spend time in the company of one of my favourite people in Los Angeles.