The Dodgers. The Bradbury Building. The Dresden. These institutions stoke regional pride in Angelenos, right alongside French dips and cemitas.
Anyone can appreciate the transformative power of a great sandwich—one crafted from top-notch ingredients, with a sensible ratio of bread to filling and a studied balance of flavor and texture. But we’re not just talking about any sammies here, you see; we’re talking ones that define a part of L.A.’s collective food consciousness, and are deeply woven into the city’s identity.
From pastrami that rivals New York’s vaunted delis, to Thai fried chicken on a hamburger bun, the following sandwiches have left imprints in Los Angeles’ culinary walk of fame.
NOTE: For the purposes of this article, a hamburger is not a sandwich. Now let’s get to it.
Lamb French Dip with Blue Cheese at Philippe’s
Address and phone: 1001 N Alameda St, Chinatown (213-628-3781)
Much to the chagrin of rival Cole’s in DTLA, Philippe The Original claims to be the originator of the French dip—that delectably soggy sandwich featuring French bread soaked in a mixture of pan juices and stock. The story goes that one day in 1918, Philippe Mathieu began fixing a customer his sandwich, and accidentally dropped the sliced roll into the roasting pan filled with juice still hot from the oven. The man came back the next day with his buddies requesting the au jus-soaked creation, and the rest is L.A. history. Some folks go for the traditional beef dip, but savvy veterans know to stick with the roast lamb leg sandwich topped with a big creamy slab of Glenview Farms blue cheese for .80 cents extra. Don’t forget to order a side of potato salad, and always slather your sandwich with Philippe’s signature sinus-clearing horseradish mustard. With sawdust floors and a cafeteria-style ordering system, there’s not a better way to soak up L.A. history.
The Godmother at Bay Cities Italian Deli
Address and phone: 1517 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica (310-395-8279)
Bay Cities’ soft, chewy Italian bread is baked throughout the day; eaten hot out of the oven, it is quite possibly one of the best loaves in the country. So it’s easy to understand why this Santa Monica deli is known as a sandwich nirvana. Opt for The Godmother and your loaf will come stacked with five kinds of hand-sliced deli meat: Genoa salami, pistachio-studded mortadella, capicola, ham, and prosciutto—plus a slice of Provolone. (Pro tip: If you’re a meat lover, go for the off-menu “Godfather,” which is the Godmother with twice the amount of cold cuts.) An essential phrase that all Bay Cities Deli goers must know is “with the works,” which means you want your sandwich with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and onion, pickles, spicy or mild giardiniera, mustard, mayo, and an herbed vinaigrette. For a one-of-a-kind L.A. sandwich experience, take a Godmother with the works to go, bring it a couple blocks to the beach, and devour it while letting some of the filling drop onto the sand. (The seagulls will be forever grateful.)
Cemita de Milanesa at Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita #1
Address and phone: 3010 E 1st St, Boyle Heights (323-881-0428)
Stringy quesillo cheese is a beautiful thing. When it’s made fresh in house and stuffed into Mexican sandwiches—like it is at Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita in Boyle Heights—it is downright glorious. The hole-in-the-wall serves sesame-flecked rolls stuffed with proteins like juicy carnitas and shredded chicken in mole poblano, but our personal favorite cemita is the milanesa, featuring thin steak cutlets that have been breaded and deep fried, topped with a mound of quesillo, raw onion, chunks of avocado, and the fragrant, cilantro-like Mexican herb called papalo. Suggested beverage pairing: any flavor of Jarritos soda.
Address and phone: 704 S Alvarado St, Los Angeles (213-483-8050)
If New York was the blueprint for Jewish delis, then L.A. perfected them. The go-to move at Langer’s is what’s familiarly referred to as the #19: hot pastrami with coleslaw, Russian dressing, and Swiss. Like the much-adored Katz’s in NYC, the deli hand-carves thick, fatty pieces of pastrami, but only Langer’s serves the double-baked, caraway-flecked rye loaf that is sliced for each order. It sure didn’t hurt the deli’s reputation when L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold went on record saying he’d like Langer’s to cater his funeral.
Fried Chicken Sandwich at Night + Market Song
Address and phone: 3322 Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake (323-665-5899)
Night + Market chef Kris Yenbamroong’s Thai-inspired fried chicken sandwich is Los Angeles in 2015: a cheffy, cross-cultural take on the classic form that doesn’t stick to the rules, and doesn’t have to. The sandwich—which features “Chiengrai-style” fried chicken thigh, shredded green papaya marinated in lime and fish sauce, homemade ranch, raw jalapeño, cilantro, and tomato—started as a staff meal before becoming an off-menu item that patrons could actually order. Now, it’s permanently on the menu at lunch and served to those in the know at dinner. It’s a circus of flavor and texture—spicy, creamy, crunchy, tangy—essentially, the perfect drunk food to order after you’ve downed a few too many Ray’s Mistakes at Tiki Ti down the street.