Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Classics: Philippe the Original

Philippe the Original has been in business since 1908, which would make it a landmark in any American city, but in Los Angeles, that makes it a living legend as ancient as the pyramids. Philippe is famous for its French Dipped sandwiches, which involve beef (or lamb, turkey, pork or ham) sandwich on a roll dipped in meat juices. Philippe and Cole's have both claimed to be the originator of the dish, a dispute which I do not claim to be able to settle.

I have been to its current location (since 1951 according to the Phillipe website) countless times. Following the Natural Wine Symposium I went for a late lunch and got the classic beef french dip, double dipped, as well as a pickle. The beef sandwich is $5.75 and the pickle is $1.05. The french dip sandwich was appropriately wet and the roll was nicely soggy. It was good but not as delicious as on my prior visits. It was just not as flavorful. Having been so many times previously I will judge this an anomaly until I obtain "further evidence" of a decline.

Even after 3 pm on a Sunday, the lines stretched long from each order taker (not cashier as they never touch the money) to the back wall. Some tourists at an adjacent table commented that they thought the sandwiches were small. Yes, half or more of the customers are likely to be tourists, but just because it is in every guidebook doesn't mean it isn't good. I agree that they are on the small side and recommend that two people share 3 sandwiches as I have found 1.5 sandwiches to be the ideal amount of food at Philippe. Personally I recommend 1 beef french dip each and to split a lamb (with or without blue cheese) but that is up to personal preference.

I also sampled the chicken tortilla soup, which confirmed my hypothesis that the best way to enjoy a meal at Philippe is to stick to the sandwiches, chips and beverages. The roast beef au jus is a signature dish of Los Angeles. In addition to their classic lemonade and iced tea, they have beer (including Fat Tire on draft) and a surprisingly large selection of wines by the glass.

Philippe is located adjacent to Chinatown and across Alameda from Union Station at 1001 N. Alameda @ Ord, in downtown. Phone: (213) 628-3781. Website:

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