Classic Tables: Langer's Delicatessen-Restaurant

The best pastrami in Los Angeles (if not the country)

"That's what you want."

So said our waitress, Joan, as we oscillated between ordering a plain pastrami on rye or the #19 at our most recent visit to Langer's Delicatessen.

Joan's dictate, delivered with the brusque, knowing efficiency of a veteran waitress, was to order the latter: pastrami with cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on thick-crusted rye (pictured; $14).

It's the Westlake restaurant's most popular sandwich, and a sign declares it so in the waiting area. Outside, another sign, affixed to the lamppost at Alvarado and 7th, labels the intersection Langer's Square.

The city's recognition of this Jewish deli, opened in 1947, and customers' love of the #19 sum up the restaurant's standing nicely: Langer's is one of Los Angeles' grand dining institutions, and despite its massive menu, pastrami is its siren song.

There are meat slicers in the kitchen, but the brined, smoked, pepper-crusted briskets are never submitted to the whirl of their blades. Instead, each thick slice is cut with a knife, a laborious task that preserves the meat's soft texture and halo of spiced crust.

Is adding more than mustard to such excellent pastrami sacrilegious? Maybe. But we're not going to argue with Joan.

Langer's Delicatessen-Restaurant, 704 S. Alvarado, Westlake; 213-483-8050 or langersdeli.com