Customers wait for their chance to order during the lunch time rush at Bay Cities Deli on Lincoln Boulevard Thursday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

Editor’s Note: This is a series in which Daily Press writers overhear and observe happenings around Santa Monica.

LINCOLN BLVD. — A blond woman in black jeans strode purposefully down Broadway on Wednesday, quickening her pace as she approached a flashing orange hand at the Lincoln crosswalk. After crossing, she headed to the right, past a man in white sweeping the already clean-looking sidewalk. She climbed a few steps and entered Bay Cities, a well-known deli that has served Santa Monica since 1925.

Bay Cities is popular with locals as well as newcomers, said manager Hector Padilla.

“It’s the only deli around that’s a real home deli,” he said, “especially for people who transplant from the East Coast.” The deli serves Italian, Greek, Argentinean, Middle Eastern, French and Hungarian foods, among others.

It’s 11 a.m., but the lunch hour rush has already begun. Ten patrons have pulled numbers and wait in line to place sandwich orders.

“Number two. Number two, number three. Number four,” calls a man behind the sandwich counter. A girl in tight jeans and black boots leans against the glass display as she places her order. Level with her waist, mountains of salad and pasta await hungry mouths.

“We make a really good sandwich,” Padilla said. The Godmother — with salami, mortadella, capicola, prosciutto, ham and provolone — is by far Bay Cities’ most popular sandwich, and Padilla said the fresh-baked bread with a hard crust but chewy center is also a draw.

The clink of bottles cuts in over the music playing in the background and the sizzling noise of something frying. One customer stocks up on imported drinks, which are refrigerated along the back wall of the store under a banner that reads “Budweiser Select: Best Sandwiches in Town.”

Narrow aisles are crammed full of bottled pickles, hot sauces, salad dressings, fresh and packaged pastas, chocolates and nuts. There are separate departments for cheese and wine.

A couple, arms around each other, examines the drink selection. Her dyed bangs match his blue sweatshirt.

“If you buy two, that’s like getting the big one,” he says.

By 11:15 a.m., the line has swollen to about 25 people. Girls in spaghetti straps wait alongside a woman with a stroller and several men clutching drinks. One wears swim trunks.

Padilla says the worst is yet to come.

“If you really want to see the rush, come on Fridays,” he advised. “And when it’s sunny outside? Oh my god, it’s sick. Let’s just say you can’t see to the other side — you literally have to push through the crowd or go around back just to get a drink.”

A woman in workout gear and one in professional clothes wander the aisles, texting. Two women in high heels debate a cheese purchase. A man in sweats listens to his iPod as he unloads a basket of breads at the register.

“This is an odd size,” remarks a girl holding a 16 oz. can of Coke.

“It’s a good size,” her friend replies. “You never see that.” Both women are wearing fashionable tops and flat sandals.

Two boys in Dodgers gear stand across the store from a man in a Lakers jersey. A little girl sports an Angels cap.

“Everything in here is glass and not OK to touch,” she says to her dad.

“That is a great idea, my friend,” he replies.

A man carrying pasta, tuna and bread examines the soup selection carefully before making his choice. Padilla said that a lot of customers come in with recipes, cooking up fancy Italian dinners at home for half the price of an expensive dinner out — including wine.

The girl in the Angels hat picks up her dad’s basket — it’s about the size of her. The man’s number — 30 — has just been called.

“Light on the lettuce,” says one customer.

“Barely any dressing,” requests another.

A woman in a blue printed skirt texts while her male companion watches. He pulls out his phone to make a call, and heads off in the direction of dishware and appliances.

A bleached blond man in a red polo mentions the Squirrel Nut Zippers, then remarks to two girls, “Let me show you this hot sauce, yo.”

The girls — one dressed in a basketball jersey and heart-shaped sunglasses and the other sporting jean shorts with leggings — are more interested in potato chips.

“Just get your damn vinegar.”

“I don’t want it, can we get lightly salted?”

“OK, but they are not lightly salted.”

The register line folds awkwardly along the front of the store, spilling up one of the aisles. A woman discusses her fear of commitment. A basket containing three packages of pasta lies abandoned near the cheese department. It’s almost noon.

Outside, several groups eat at two lines of tables, one along the front of the store, facing Lincoln, and one along the side, facing the parking lot. The automatic doors hardly ever have time to close.

“Will she make it?” a girl asks, aiming her sandwich wrapper toward the garbage. “She scores!”

The line for hot food is now about five deep. The sandwich line hovers around 30. A woman in overalls wanders the aisles, clutching a diet Coke with lime.

“Number 67? Number 67.”

By 12:15, the rush seems to have died down slightly.

“You can do whatever you want to the sandwich, just make it fantastic,” jokes one customer.

A little boy makes a sound like an Olympic weight lifter as he hefts his mother’s basket. A woman in gray sips from a liter bottle of water as she waits. By the time she checks out, the water has dipped just below the label.

“Number 99 in the house?”

At 1:15, the rush inside is beginning to fade, but front and side tables are still at capacity. A man discusses his beard-growing prospects. The woman with the neck brace departs with a younger man. A man in white sweeps the sidewalk — which has now begun to need the cleaning.

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