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Philippe the Original

1001 N Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA - (213) 628-3781
Posted By Michael Stern on 12/6/2010 12:40:00 PM
Philippe’s (pronounced Phil-ee-peez) claims to have invented the French dip sandwich nearly a century ago. The story is that a carver accidentally dropped a sliced roll in beef gravy and the customer was in too much of a hurry to wait for another roll to be cut and more beef to be sliced. So he took the sandwich “wet.” Today Philippe’s makes French dips from beef, pork, lamb, ham, or turkey. Beef is the classic, available single-dipped or, for serious juice-lovers, double-dipped.

Philippe’s moved from its original location in 1951 when the freeway was built, but the new location scarcely seems new. Its floors still are strewn with sawdust, coffee remains nine cents per cup, and much of the clientele looks like they have been patrons since before the move.

The French dip sandwiches are delicious as delivered at the counter, but connoisseurs know to slather them with Philippe’s roaring-hot mustard (available for sale in jars by the cash register). The menu also lists such stalwart lunch room fare as chili and stew and a hearty soup every day; and you can still come to this old joint to eat pickled spiced eggs, which are hard boiled and displayed at the carving counter in big glass jars.

I am particularly wowed by the antiquity of the Philippe's experience because my most recent meal there was during the same weekend I ate at chef Jose Andres' ultra-modern Bazaar restaurant at the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. Here, instead of hunky beef sandwiches, I dined on such curious morsels as pate de foie gras wrapped in cotton candy, Brussels sprout salad with apricots and lemon air, itty-bitty squids in their ink, and a molecular-gastronomy gloss on the Philly cheese steak for which my plebeian vocabulary has no adequate descriptors.

Delicious as the French-dip sandwich is, Philippe’s also is worth visiting just for its people-watching opportunities. Like a through-the-looking-glass version of Bazaar, the downtown institution is crowded with only-in-Los-Angeles characters, but in this case they are not the beautiful people who flock to the hot restaurant of the moment. Yes, there are culinary tourists in search the city's signature sandwich, but there also is a regular cadre of customers that includes municipal employees from the nearby post office and court house as well as Santa Anita touts with racing forms in hand (or on their cell phones).
“We got the Rodney King jurors on a few occasions,” recalled proprietor John Binder when we interviewed him several years ago. “They came during lunch hour and we sequestered them in an upstairs dining room. Let me tell you though, you wouldn’t want to be judged by them. They had real attitudes. They always demanded extra cups of gravy. I said, ‘You can’t talk to me. You want more gravy, tell your bailiff.’”

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
French dip sandwich
Macaroni Salad
Pickled Egg
Baked Apple
Pickled Beets
Coffee
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

Nice weekend afternoon pleasure.
"Nice weekend afternoon pleasure."
Dean Olson





Baked apples are available at Philippes only during apple season, from October through June. Not that this big hunk of sweetness has any fresh crispness left. It is soft and sugary, lolling in a pool of syrup.
"Baked apples are available at Philippes only during apple season, from October through June. Not that this big hunk of sweetness has any fresh crispness left. It is soft and sugary, lolling in a pool of syrup."
Michael Stern


A trayful at Philippe's: double-dipped French dip, a pickled egg, a baked apple, and a cup of coffee.
"A trayful at Philippe's: double-dipped French dip, a pickled egg, a baked apple, and a cup of coffee."
Michael Stern


A huge and delicious slice of coconut cream pie in the foreground, a smaller but no less delicious slice of pumpkin pie to the rear.
"A huge and delicious slice of coconut cream pie in the foreground, a smaller but no less delicious slice of pumpkin pie to the rear."
Patricia Beninato


Pickled eggs have been a staple at Philippe's for decades and you know something: they're good! Sweet and sour pickly, and a nice companion for a sandwich.
"Pickled eggs have been a staple at Philippe's for decades and you know something: they're good! Sweet and sour pickly, and a nice companion for a sandwich."
Michael Stern


Phillipe's mustard, available in squeeze bottles set out on the tables, is a great companion for the beef, but beware. It is ferociously hot!
"Phillipe's mustard, available in squeeze bottles set out on the tables, is a great companion for the beef, but beware. It is ferociously hot!"
Michael Stern


My standard order: pork dip, dill pickle, pickled egg, and coleslaw.
"My standard order: pork dip, dill pickle, pickled egg, and coleslaw."
Marlene Steinberg


A nine-cent cup of coffee on a vintage Philippe's tray.
"A nine-cent cup of coffee on a vintage Philippe's tray."
Michael Stern


A juicy home-style sandwich.
"A juicy home-style sandwich."
Dale Fine


A double-dipped lamb sandwich with just enough of Philippe's good mustard to complement.
"A double-dipped lamb sandwich with just enough of Philippe's good mustard to complement."
Patricia Beninato


Jury duty takes me to Philippe's for breakfast.
"Jury duty takes me to Philippe's for breakfast."
Marlene Steinberg


The French dip menu
"The French dip menu"
Marlene Steinberg


Colorful neon signs light up the serving counter while L.A. residents enjoy an early-morning meal.
"Colorful neon signs light up the serving counter while L.A. residents enjoy an early-morning meal."
Donald Thompson


Philippe's is not fast food. You likely will wait in one of the lines at the counter (at left of photo), and it takes a few moments for each sandwich to be made and tray assembled.
"Philippe's is not fast food. You likely will wait in one of the lines at the counter (at left of photo), and it takes a few moments for each sandwich to be made and tray assembled."
Michael Stern


Sawdust makes it easy to sweep the floor.
"Sawdust makes it easy to sweep the floor."
Michael Stern


Wish this photo could have been taken at night, old time neon signs for the win!
"Wish this photo could have been taken at night, old time neon signs for the win!"
Patricia Beninato


Is this really the home of the French dip sandwich?
"Is this really the home of the French dip sandwich?"
Michael Stern


Philippe's, circa 1935. Even then, it was a pretty old restaurant.
"Philippe's, circa 1935. Even then, it was a pretty old restaurant."
Michael Stern


Cole's P.E. Buffet in downtown Los Angeles disputes Philippe's claim of having invented the French dip. I wanted to do a one-after-another comparison of the two sandwiches, but mysteriously, Cole's was closed. It has had some rocky years recently. I hope it isn't gone for good.
"Cole's P.E. Buffet in downtown Los Angeles disputes Philippe's claim of having invented the French dip. I wanted to do a one-after-another comparison of the two sandwiches, but mysteriously, Cole's was closed. It has had some rocky years recently. I hope it isn't gone for good."
Michael Stern



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