Crawling southbound on the Hollywood Freeway at a little over 15 mph, it suddenly hit me that it's open season for tourists in Los Angeles. The cars entering and exiting the Lankershim and Highland exits are backed up all the way to what seems like Ventura County, carrying people who have come from all corners of the world to get the ultimate LA experience: Universal City, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, maps to stars' homes. Recently, its been unusually busy--the traffic has not eased up even after this busy area and has remained stop and go all the way to downtown, adding at least 20-30 minutes daily to my late-afternoon commute. Traffic has even gotten worse on weekends. So where on earth is everyone going?
If everyone thought like me, then the obvious answer would be that everyone is on their way to get food, right? After all, there certainly is no shortage of landmark restaurants in the Southland, and why wouldn't people think like me? (yeah right) Letting my imagination run amuck, I decided to test my theory on a historical downtown eatery, since the traffic seemed to move at a snail's pace the whole length of the 101 South. If I was indeed correct, then I'd find everyone at Phillipe's The Original eating French Dip sandwiches. Yeah, that's it. The 101 has been jammed up because everyone is heading downtown to Phillipe's.
Crap. I hate it when I'm wrong. Not only is Phillipe's not filled with the entire tourist community, but there aren't even that many locals here today. To my surprise, the lines at the counter were only 1-2, as opposed to the usual 5-8, people deep. I spotted a few folks whose attire screamed tourist, lost amongst a few Average Joes here and there. There was no excess of cameras and fanny packs, no excess of local civil servants--DA's, deputies, and the like. No excess of old locals who have seen better days. Nope, everyone seemed to be elsewhere on this lovely July day, a phenomenon which I will still one day set out to solve, but also one which made me take advantage of the short lines today.
I did not have to stare long at the jar of bright magenta pickled eggs that sits atop the counter before it was my turn. "What can I get for you?" asked my counter lady as I shuffled over the sawdust covered floor up to the counter. With almost robotic speed and efficiency, she prepared my order, and I was on my way to grabbing a stool at one of their many long, counter-like tables. I decided to haul my tray from downstairs, a former machine shop, to the upstairs dining room, formerly a hotel, to take advantage of its brightness and airiness.
Scary magenta pickled eggs...only 65 cents each!
Supposedly, Phillipe's is home of the original French Dip sandwich, a claim which has long been debated, as many think that Cole's P.E. Buffet, about a mile away, is the originator. No one really knows--both stories date back to 1908--but whatever the case may be, Phillipe's should still be proud. They make a mighty fine sandwich. Crusty on the outside, but warm and fluffy on the inside, the French roll on my single-dipped beef sandwich is dipped in just enough au jus to make the sandwich moist without falling apart. The crispy edges soak up some of the au jus and provide a perfect textural compliment to the pile of thinly carved roast beef. If more au jus is your thing, you can also ask for your sandwich to be double dipped. Also on my light grey paper plate was a scoop of potato salad, creamy yet crunchy from bits of onions and pickles, and sprinkled with a few dashes of paprika. To top it all off, a snappy pickle spear and a cool glass of house-brewed iced tea. Phillipe's also has a good selection of desserts--pie slices, New York style cheesecake, puddings. Today I chose one of the tiny plastic-wrapped bowls of tapioca pudding which was somewhat geriatric, but classic nevertheless. If you're brave (which I am not), each table has a jar of Phillipe's famous hot mustard with which you can lace your sandwich or whatever else you may care to put it on.
Phillipe's Famous French Dip Sammich
Geriatric, but a classic...Phillipe's tapioca pudding
Not much has changed at Phillipe's since its early days. Though the prices have gone up with inflation, its menu pricing is still very much old school. My sandwich was less than five bucks, the scoop of potato salad--90 cents, the pickle--80 cents, the pudding--a buck seventy-five, and the iced tea--50 cents. For 65 cents you can get one of the brightly colored, but scary, pickled eggs. For 10 cents, you can get an olive. For a two-ten, a bowl of chili. For a buck eighty, a pickled pigs foot. And a cup of coffee at Phillipe's costs only nine cents. It's no wonder both Angelenos and non-Angelenos flock to Phillipe's to get a taste of LA history. But not today. Where is everyone? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Phillipe's The Original
1001 N. Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012