Eating good pastrami in Santa Monica does not involve much more than a quick bike ride up Wilshire Boulevard to Izzy’s or Fromin’s. Both establishments are classic Jewish delis with great family friendly atmospheres, and excellent pastrami.
However, if you are willing to go the extra mile (or 13) up Wilshire all the way to MacArthur Park, the neighborhood may not suggest that you died and gone to pastrami heaven, but enter through the pearly gates of Langer’s Delicatessen (www.langersdeli.com) situated on the corner of Alvarado and Seventh streets, and prepare yourself for a celestial experience.
While the sandwiches at Langer’s are nothing less than heaven sent, I am by no means unearthing a hidden gem. Langer’s Deli has been reviewed, documented, and profiled by every local news outlet, The Food Network, Huell Howser, even Santa Monica City TV’s very own “Cheap Eats.” They have received much acclaim including the restaurant industries version of the Oscars, The James Beard award in 2001. Not to mention the millions of patrons whom have walked through the doors from its humble beginnings 64 years ago.
So for me to tell you that they have good food may result with a big fat “duh!” But as an enthusiast of slow cooked meats and reporter of all things delicious, a cycling jaunt to Langer’s was a necessary pilgrimage.
What makes Langer’s great is the food. What makes Langer’s an institution is how it’s run. The delicatessen was established by Al Langer back in 1947. Three dining room expansions and 4 million pounds of pastrami later Al Langer’s son Norm has made a definitive point to preserve what his father worked all his life to build.
“I’m here six days a week. I’m here to watch the product, I’m here to tailor it, to make sure it goes out the way my dad originally prescribed it. The minute I walk away it’s subject to change,” Norm said.
I cannot imagine Mr. Langer takes many days off. Imagining the restaurant on one of Norm’s vacation days is like “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson when he had guest hosts. It just does not seem appropriate. Being the consummate professional Norm is, you will never hear him utter the “F” word — franchise.
“To open up more restaurants means the product is going to suffer. Anytime something is run by family, it’s a living, breathing part of you and that’s what makes it a success,” Norm said.
Steadfast and uncompromising on tradition and service, are qualities that hold true to Langer’s both inside and out. A stalwart establishment in a neighborhood that has witnessed much change for good times and bad, Langer’s has always been that community mainstay. Throughout the years, opportunities have presented themselves for the honored delicatessen to relocate, but like every other aspect of the business, Langer’s has stayed the course.
“This neighborhood has been very good to my family and there is no reason I should leave it. I owe the neighborhood for my existence today, l” Norm said.
Surprisingly enough in a place so set in tradition, there is a little leeway on the menu. Adjusting to the times, Langer’s has added salads and vegetarian selections for a more calorie conscious public. One item that you will never see on the menu, adamantly stated by Norm, are bean sprouts. While bean sprouts and soy pastrami are not in the restaurant’s future, their signature sandwiches have been the same since 1947. The most notable and famous creation at Langer’s is their Number 19. Its ingredients are hand cut pastrami, Swiss cheese, cole slaw, Russian dressing, on warm, crispy rye bread. A meld of flavors and a synergy of textures, the 19 enhances the pastrami rather than overpowering it with accouterments. This was original owner Al Langer’s creation, and for great reason, is still the deli’s best selling sandwich.
Whether it is the timeless pastrami on rye, a sky high club sandwich, or the dressed up Number 19, at Langer’s it is hard to go wrong. And with the 720 Metro Rapid practically taking you to the front door, public transportation is a viable option. Of course a brisk bicycle ride from the Westside is the best way to earn your lunch. Any which way, Langer’s Delicatessen is certainly worth the trip.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike. To reach him visit his Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek or his website at tourdefeast.net