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Philippe the Original

1001 N Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA - (213) 628-3781
Posted By Michael Stern on December 6, 2010 12:40 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.’”
5 star rating
Overall Rating
French dip sandwich
Pickled Egg
Pickled Beets
Macaroni Salad
Baked Apple
Coffee

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Posted By Patricia Beninato on October 10, 2011 8:04 PM
You have one day in Los Angeles. You have tickets to that night's Dodgers game and a picky-eating husband. Choose your eatery wisely. Or, best yet, just throw in to L.A. tradition and hit up Philippe the Original. Park at Union Station, the last of the old school train stations, and walk up Alameda a couple of blocks to a true Los Angeles institution.

We came in at roughly 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon and there were lines at the counter, a mix of tourists, locals, and, judging from the large number of royal blue Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp t-shirts, Dodgers fans grabbing a bite before the game. I'd briefed my husband on what was available and confidently placed our order--a lamb sandwich and a beef sandwich, both double dipped; cole slaw and potato salad, a Dr. Pepper and a lemonade.

What surprised me at first was that the sandwiches seemed small. They were roughly six inches long, but they were decently filled with meat. Then there was the fabled mustard. I warned my husband to let me taste it first since he doesn't do spice. Yes, there was a brief burn but no worse than your average Dijon mustard, very tangy and flavorful. The lamb sandwich was absolutely delicious, the mustard adding just the right note to the juicy meat as it did for the beef. The sides tasted fresh and homemade, as did the lemonade. My husband went back for his own lamb sandwich--I'd let him try mine--and got me a slice of coconut cream pie. When they say "cream" they're not kidding: I don't think I've ever had a richer slice of pie. I savored every bite.

The atmosphere at Philippe is cool too. Communal tables lead to chatting among customers, and a nice rousing baseball conversation broke out at my table among an extremely varied group. Good food and good conversation is one of the best of mixes. If I get out that way again, Philippe will definitely be a planned stop.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
French dip sandwich
Lamb (Double) Dip Sandwich with Bleu Cheese

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Posted By Debra Lampson on December 11, 2010 11:32 AM
We took the time to stop at Phillipes for the famous sandwich. What a mistake. First of all, we had a long line to wait in. Which is ok, if the food is great. But the food was not great, and the people behind the counter were not friendly. We got the pickled eggs, sandwiches, lemonade. It was a bare bones sandwich, with more bread than anything else, and little meat. The pickled egg was just ok. The lemonade had no ice...and was tastless. As we ate, we noticed the mess of other eaters no being picked up. I do not like to eat surrounded by the trash of others, on the tables, and on the floors. I would tell everyone, STAY AWAY from this place. Not worth the drive. They only survive on their past glory...yucky place.
1 star rating
Overall Rating
French dip sandwich
Pickled Egg

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Posted By Glenn Dixon on September 9, 2008 12:26 PM
Visited Philippes for the first time. My son and I had the beef and lamb dip sandwiches. Sides were potato and macaroni salads. Dessert was cheesecake and coconut cream pie. Dr Peppers to drink.

Although there is a lot of history at Philippe's, I was not impressed. I actually feel bad saying that for two reasons. #1: Is it me? Why don't I like this? #2: Everyone else raves about this place. I liked all the nostalgia, the decor, etc. The sandwiches were bland, except for the hot mustard. Salads were OK, Dr Peppers were warm. Dessert was good; can't knock that.

Will I go back? Probably, just in hopes that it is better the second time around. By the way, this review is by someone who stops in the middle of the night for a convenience store cardboard burger, for what that's worth. Too bad they don't have a BBQ dip sandwich.
3 star rating
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Posted By Jeff Broadwater on July 11, 2008 5:30 PM
Philippe's Original is one of those rare gems that are few and far between these days. This is a restaurant that stands on generations of good family management, and service to the Los Angeles community. It is an experience not to be missed.

But besides the wonderful beef, pork, and lamb dip sandwiches (all of which I highly recommend, and have already been extensively reviewed), Philippe's has some other great menu items as well. For example: their beef stew, chili, and soups of the day are excellent, and a great alternative to sandwiches on cold and rainy days. I'm also a big fan of their tuna sandwich and chicken Caesar salad, and I never pass on some sliced pickles and beets. I even like Philippes as a place to just meet friends for coffee and dessert. They always have a big selection of fresh pies; the banana cream is my favorite.
0 star rating
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Posted By Mark Simpson on October 1, 2007 4:12 PM
As long-time residents of Los Angeles my wife and I finally decided to try Philippe's Original awhile back. Parking was difficult, and once inside we had to endure 20 minutes of waiting in a long, cramped line. The inexpensive French Dip sandwich was good tasting, but contained a fair amount of gristle and fat, which made for an unspectacular eating experience. As I see it, this glorified fast-food is not worth the trouble.
0 star rating
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Posted By dewey webb on October 1, 2007 4:11 PM
An over-rated head-scratcher. Philippe's fabled French dip is no better (and certainly a good deal saltier) than any you've ever eaten anywhere else. Ice cream tasted like it'd melted, then been refrozen.

Granted, there *is* atmosphere (or extreme lack of it - the place is reminiscent of a prison-adjacent diner in a 40's film noir) but you can't eat that. May be the only joint in the country where you can buy a video cassette of a TV interview with the same disinterested cashier who's ringing up your check.
0 star rating
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Posted By Richard Brooks Alba on March 15, 2007 6:17 PM
I have to confess: against all the advice I was given to avoid Cole's (several blocks from Philippe's) French dips, I DID give it a try for the sake of objectivity. While the naysayers had overly dramatized their objections, I do believe they were correct: Philippe's was still the champion.

My nieces and nephews are now the fourth generation of my family to indulge in a Philippe sandwich. My dad (and his dad) ate their beef dips before Philippe's moved the whole shebang over to Alameda, to make way for the construction of Union Station, back in the day.

I go there pretty much any time I'm in LA, even if it's only to restock on my favorite mustard in the world. I typically get my pork sandwich double-dipped, add enough mustard to feel the burn in my sinuses, and have some coleslaw and a "beeted" (beet-pickled) egg. Chicago has its Italian beef, Philly its cheesesteaks; and LA has the Philippe French dip sandwich: my all-time comfort food favorite.

¡Buen provecho!
0 star rating
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Posted By Stewart Wurtzel on December 18, 2006 12:09 PM
I am pleased to report that Philippe has not lost any of its charm or quality. Lunchtime on a Friday found it to be quite busy but the lines moved at a brisk California pace. The restaurant is divided into many rooms, and whether you eat at the counter or one of the many communal tables, your senses will be inundated with the smell and taste of the food and some good ol' fashioned California people watching.

Sandwiches are not particularly large so it's a good opportunity to sample several different kinds. In all cases, double-dipped is the way to go, and don't forget the mustard. Very similar to Chinese mustard, it packs a wallop of heat, clearing the sinuses as it goes down. However, it does not overwhelm the meat or the sandwich. The beef double-dip is excellent, lean pieces of meat dipped in an excellent natural gravy. I also tried the lamb double-dip (sandwiches are available in ham, chicken, and pork versions as well). The meat was chunkier but still very tender and extremely tasty.

The purple eggs on the counter also beckoned. A hard boiled egg soaked in beet juice made for a tasty snack. My son raised his eyebrows when I ordered one. Good thing I took the first bite becuase he knocked off the rest of the egg in two quick bites.
0 star rating
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Posted By Leslie Powell on February 1, 2006 9:02 PM
I absolutely love Philippe's. I've been going there since I was a little girl (the 1970's). My great aunts worked there, and it has been a family place to go to for years. To this day when I smell sawdust (the floor was covered in it) I want a French Dip.

The French Dip juices, hearty and not too salty, are hot enough to soften the bread without being so hot that you would get burned by a spill. The roast beef was always tender and full of smoky flavor. I don't eat red meat anymore and I truly miss it.

I recommend the side macaroni salad, simple enough so as not to overpower the sandwich, and a light palate refresher between bites of the roasted beefy goodness.

Philippe has character, the food is cheap, and oh god, try the Lamb French Dip as well, it's just wonderful. I am getting hungry just writing this.
4 star rating
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Posted By Shelley Kresan on January 24, 2006 10:59 PM
I've been eating at Philippe's since the mid 60's. My grandfather ate there before it moved into its new location (the 1940s?). Those who grew up with it swear by it. These French Dips set the standard for all others. Even Cole's (another Los Angeles institution) does not measure up.

My favorite Philippe meal is a pork dip, with hot mustard from the table, macaroni salad or cole slaw, coconut cream pie or berry pie ala mode, and a 9 cent cup of coffee (it used to be 4 cents). The premium ice cream is from a local dairy. Breakfast at Philippe is delicious too, but I rarely go there in the morning because of those sandwiches.

Philippe, sitting right next to Union Station and Olvera Street, is reminiscent of, no, an actual example of old Los Angeles. It is a step back in time. Generations have carved their names into the brickwork. Nothing seems to have changed in years - same stools, same chairs, old candy counter ... new sawdust. My only complaint is that they've taken down the old HUGE chalkboard menu in favor of a more modern version. I wonder where that old menu is.

My advice is to spend a day walking the whole area, including Pio Pico's old hotel and the original Los Angeles plaza.
5 star rating
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Posted By Don Heegel on November 5, 2003 2:30 PM
I have been going to Philippe's since 1960 when my family would take me there after a Dodger's baseball game. I always order a double dipped Beef Dip with a slice of Blue Cheese served on a sturdy paper plate, a side of potato salad, a pickled egg or two, and two glasses of lemonade. Once at the table, I would add Philippe's famous hot mustard, from a jar on the table, to the sandwich. Water is self-serve in glassware at the fountain. The women building the sandwiches behind the counter are polite and quick, and most have been there for many years and others are second and third generation. After fourty years, I still love to go there and take famly and friends too.
4 star rating
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Posted By Tim Griffin on August 3, 2003 2:07 PM
I have to respectfully disagree with Big Glenn ...

Going to "The Big P" is one of the highlights of going to Los Angeles. I guess he didn't try the proper combinations of sandwiches. Try a beef French Dip with crumbly Blue Cheese. Add a soda - remember to ask them for ice, they'll give it you if you tip them - and a big piece of pie for dessert.

My favorite part of P's is the stuff you can find on the walls if you take a look. The stories of the last days of the late great Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and how the staff used to congregate there. The maps of the Los Angeles rail system from back in the 1930s. You can almost hear Jack Benny's show with its "Last Stop in Cucamonga" if you look and listen close enough.

Try it again. I don't think you will be disappointed if you get the "right stuff."

Tim G.
0 star rating
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