Los Angeles (last visit: October 2010).
Located near downtown, this Los Angeles institution has been around since 1947. They're open for breakfast and lunch; Los Angeles expatriates can get their pastrami fix via overnight delivery.
The menu is enormous, offering most if not all of the Jewish delicatessen standards. However, if this is your first visit, go directly to the section on pastrami sandwiches. As far as I'm concerned, pastrami (with a passing nod to corned beef) is the item by which a deli should be judged. If you're a traditionalist, order your sandwich with nothing but pastrami and a swirl of mustard. If kosher (-style, that is) is a word you apply only to salt, you might consider Langer's most popular sandwich: the #19 consists of pastrami, cole slaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese.
I have previously admitted to a (oxymoron alert) serious peccadillo: when I'm alone, and no one is watching, I've been known to eat pastrami on white bread. With mayonnaise. However, on this occasion I remained traditional: hot pastrami on rye bread with mustard.
The sandwich was a revelation. First, the pastrami. If you don't live in Los Angeles or New York, you may never have experienced thick sliced pastrami. Most delis slice it thinner than bacon - perhaps because the meat is too tough to eat if sliced thicker. At Langer's, pastrami is sliced much thicker: at least one quarter inch...and the meat is not tough! The slices fall apart, are juicy, and have just enough fat to provide excellent flavor. It's OK to add mustard, but I don't think it's even needed.
Next, the bread. Rye bread is frequently disappointing: dry, or flavorless, or both. Not here. The rye was crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, and had real sourdough flavor.
I washed the sandwich down with an egg cream, which contains neither eggs nor cream. It was a good, traditional version.
I've spent decades eating delicatessen in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and have sampled several places in Las Vegas. To that, add Langer's in Los Angeles, and Katz's Deli in New York. Applying the gold standard - the best pastrami sandwich - Langer's is the best. It combines juicy, flavorful meat with excellent bread, for a sandwich that's hard to beat.
The sandwich was $13; the egg cream was $3. To this, add tax and tip.
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