Classic Takeout: M&L Market

A 32-year-old place for pastrami pileups

We have nothing but respect for a 32-year-old establishment where the signature item is pastrami, steamed in rice cookers.

M&L is a quirky Castro gem where the shelves are bare, the sandwiches are made one at a time, and the Byzantine ordering structure (bread first) has confounded many a neophyte.

Judy May makes the sandwiches, piling your choice of filling on Oroweat bread or Dutch crunch rolls. The egg salad is exemplary, and the hot, thin strips of pastrami are piled high, best accompanied by Swiss cheese and yellow mustard.

Judy's brother runs the slicer and restocks the tiny cups of mayonnaise-rich macaroni salad (50 cents extra) for the four and a half hours a day the shop is open.

And Judy's mother, stooped and cheery, rings up the orders on an ancient register and dispenses complimentary almond cookies.

By all accounts, a place like this should not exist in modern-day San Francisco. The most expensive sandwich is only $7; all are large enough to feed two. Every year when the shop closes for an annual vacation, as it will this Friday, October 28, we hold our breath and hope it reopens. It always does, in mid-January.

Just in case, though, you might want to head down there before Friday.

M&L Market, 691 14th St.; 415-431-7044