Q&A With Langer’s Delicatessen’s Norm Langer
There’s nothing quite like a good ol’ deli sandwich and there’s nothing quite like the famous No. 19 pastrami sandwich at Langer’s Delicatessen in Los Angeles. It’s perfection in the form of a sandwich. If you haven’t had it, you have no idea what your missing (and you should probably read the review I wrote up a few weeks ago). Langer’s, which is across from MacArthur Park, has been owned and operated by the Langer family since 1947. The deli has been in the family for three generations: Founder Al Langer, then his son Norm, and now Norm’s daughter Trisha (above).
Langer’s was recently named one of the 10 best delis in North America by ShalomLife, an LA deli worth visiting by Thrillist, and one of Eater’s 38 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants list in July 2015. But don’t just listen to the lists — you gotta try and enjoy the delicious sandwiches for yourself, too.
During a recent visit, Norm Langer was nice enough to take some time out to speak with me about sandwiches, breads, and the history of his family successful deli.
What do you think makes the No. 19 the most popular sandwich?
Advertising! (Laughs.) No, it’s a very, very, very good blend of flavors. That’s what makes it the most popular. The flavors meld together and it eats well. All of the sandwiches are available on choice of breads.
What do you recommend — are their certain sandwiches that go better with certain breads?
Yes. If we go back over the years, everybody eats a club sandwich on white toast. To me, a club sandwich is better on sourdough toast. It’s a hair larger in circumference, but it’s got better flavor to it. It holds together better. White toast has a tendency to fall apart. The majority of our sandwiches are recommended on rye bread.
As far as your dip sandwiches — your French dip roast beef, French dip brisket and beef, and French deep pastrami, we recommend the French roll. A lot of people will have it on an onion roll or a kaiser roll. That’s our recommendation. We have a California Chicken breast, which is chicken, swiss cheese, and avocado on a French roll. We make the majority of the tuna melts on rye bread — I happen to think it’s better on sourdough. Again, it’s a little larger in circumference and it’s just got a different flavor to it.
Tell me about how Langers has changed over the years.
This is the third iteration of it. The original store was 12 seats. The second generation was 65 seats and now we’re at 135.
How did Langer’s originally begin?
When my dad [Al Langer] was 12 years old, in the Jewish religion, you have your bar mitzvah at 13. He was in Northern New Jersey and my grandmother didn’t have enough money to pay for his bar mitzvah, so she got him a job at Sydney’s Delicatessen in Newark, N.J., at 12 years old selling hot dogs. And he sold hot dogs so he could make the $35 he needed for his bar mitzvah. And that’s how it started.
From there, he had several different shops in different industries. He finally settled on a deli in the 1940s in Palm Springs for one season. In the early 40s, Palm Springs was very seasonal — you only worked eight months a year and for four months you closed up. He left there and opened up a deli on 8th and Irolo, which is off of Normandie, and they were there for four years. We came over here in 1947. This was originally called the Famous Deli — D-E-L-L-Y. That’s what the sign was on top and he didn’t have enough money a new sign, so he took the “Famous” off and put Langers. From there, here we are.
Photos by Eric Shin