According to Nora Ephron - and if anyone would know, it would be Nora Ephron - the hot pastrami sandwich at Langer's Delicatessen, in the Westlake District of Los Angeles, is "the finest hot pastrami sandwich in the world."
There are some who would disagree. Katz's Deli, on New York's Lower East Side, has its champions. Certainly having a pastrami sandwich at Katz's can been a stimulating experience.
But I'm with Nora. I like Langers.
I read an article written in 2009 comparing the two, and it made me laugh right from the start as it compared the settings of each establishment.
Katz's Delicatessen, said the article, is in the "once seedy, now trendy" neighborhood where the diner feels safe and secure, while Langer's is in "the most densely populated area of the city" rife with "shabby characters."
A photo caption for Katz's notes its "quaint East Village" location with tree-lined streets. The Langer's photo caption calls out the Hispanic shops, run-down park and "illegal stuff" for sale.
What made me laugh was how opposite my experience has been. I used to go to Katz's Deli in the mid 1970s, when that part of Houston Street was the ass-end of the Bowery, and no one in their right mind would call the East Village "quaint."
And although I know that Westlake and the MacArthur Park area had some notorious gang activity in the '80s, it's now home to an amazingly diverse community, including Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Korean families. My deli-going experience as a young woman at Katz's was far more risky an undertaking than my middle-aged dining excursions to Langer's, where I've encountered aging moguls of the music industry having a nosh on their way to court-side seats at Lakers games.
Langer's is so popular that at lunchtime, they have a stanchion line set up outside, just like Disneyland. Once you get inside, it's a retro feel. There are brown tufted-vinyl booths with formica tables, some vibrant tiles in '70s-era colors behind the counter, hanging brass coach-house-style lighting fixtures.
I love sweet-and-sour cabbage soup, so whenever I go to a deli, I have to start with a cup. I won't say Langer's cabbage soup is outstanding, but it's comforting and exactly as I expected it.
The main event at Langer's is the sandwich. The menu is lengthy, with many possibilities, but I don't think I've ever known anyone to order anything that's not pastrami. You can get a turkey sandwich, or a skinless chicken breast sandwich, but who would want to? It's all about the pastrami here.
You can be a purist and get a plain hot pastrami sandwich. Or you can get their most popular sandwich, the Number 19 - hot pastrami, swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing. That's my favorite.
Always get your sandwich on rye. Langer's bread is warm, crusty, and delicious enough so that even those who prefer Katz's east coast style of pastrami have to concede that it makes a better sandwich. All you need is an egg cream or a Dr. Brown's soda, and you're in Sandwich Nirvana.