Kibitzing about Los Angeles' top 5 old-school Jewish delis


L.A. is loaded with historic restaurants and some of the city's finest gustatory time machines also happen to be Jewish delis. You know the stereotype: Bustling "nosheterias" with cramped vinyl booths, gut-busting corned beef sandwiches, all-day breakfast, surly waitresses, and, in L.A.'s case, Hollywood power brokers cutting movie deals over gefilte fish (yuck!). Strap on the kosher feed bag and get ready to go meshugganah for five of the city's oldest delis.

Langer's Delicatessen-Restaurant
Don't let the sketchy location across from MacArthur Park scare you off. Step inside the 1947 time warp that is Langer's, slide into an old-school naugahyde booth and sink your teeth into what even many die-hard New Yorkers begrudgingly admit is the country's best pastrami sandwich — a masterwork of thick hand-cut, fork-tender meat stacked on double-baked rye. Want slaw, tangy Russian dressing and Swiss cheese on that beauty? Order the signature #19.

During the lunch rush (roughly noon to 2 p.m.), LAPD cops, hungover hipsters, City Hall suits, tourists and everyone in between pack the joint. Friendly to a point, the waitstaff has no time for menu indecision and your annoying "dietary concerns," so hurry up and order already! Every famished soul standing in line outside is tired of fending off street urchins hawking bootleg Star Wars DVDs.

Canter's Deli
Since 1931, this 24/7 legend in the historically Jewish Fairfax District has been feeding matzo and cured meat to everyone from neighborhood rabbis and U.S Presidents (Obama) to drug-addled rock stars. Guns N' Roses were once late-night regulars, begging the question: Since when does "Dancing with Mr. Brownstone" work up an appetite for knish destruction?

Canter's current location dates to 1953, and while many kvetch the pastrami falls far short of L.A.'s best (that would be Langer's), the retro deli vibe can't be beat. From the vintage neon sign and prehistoric banquettes to the octogenarian waitresses and acid-trippy ceiling panels, this is the bizarro deli of time machine dreams. Even weirder, the adjacent, divey Kibitz Room offers a full bar (rare for a deli), live music and stand-up comedians. Before stumbling into the night, grab a treat from Canter's excellent bakery.

Factor's Famous Deli
Bring your Yiddish-to-English dictionary to this West L.A. throwback, in business since 1948, where you'll dine on bagels and lox alongside local, yammering yentas seated beneath framed posters for Mel Brooks movies. Yes, it's that comically authentic.

Thankfully, the dining room hasn't seen a significant update in decades. Perched on an old-school counter stool, noshing on corned beef, sports page spread across the wooden countertop — the comforting nostalgia factor makes Factor's a must.

Nate 'n Al
The great equalizer, this 72-year-old deli in the heart of the 90210 proves that even the richest of Beverly Hills Jews will sit next to a poor schmuck like you if there's sublime matzo ball soup on the menu. Living fossil Larry King eats breakfast here nearly every morning. And it's not unusual to spot a current A-lister like Amy Adams tucked into one of the old brown booths after a Rodeo Drive shopping spree. On weekend mornings the table waits can be epic so strive to arrive before 9 a.m.

Greenblatt's Deli-Restaurant & Fine Wine Shop
Not just a vintage deli, but also one of the oldest restaurants in L.A. period, West Hollywood classic Greenblatt's opened its doors in 1926 when Sunset Boulevard was still a dirt road. Behind the building's brick facade, the two-level eatery isn't a busy, boisterous affair like Canter's. Instead you'll relax in a decidedly subdued setting with dim lighting, dark woods, potted plants and stained glass windows.

Generations of movie stars and stand-up comics (the Laugh Factory comedy club is next door) have sworn by the stacked sandwiches (the pastrami and rare roast beef are tops), homemade latkes and superb matzo ball and chicken noodle soups. Skip the Dr. Brown's soda and pair your meal with one of the 28 wines available by the glass. On the way out, pick up a bottle to-go from the wine shop on the ground floor.

Eli Ellison is a Southern California-based travel writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times and Travel Channel.com.