When I was a child growing up in Southern California, we went to a lot of LA Dodgers games. While the game was fun, my sister and I focused on the food. In addition to ballpark food, one of our favorite things about going to the games was the stop at the nearby Philippe, The Original. It is a restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles which has been open since 1908 and is famous for its French Dipped Sandwiches.
When you enter Philippe’s, cross the sawdust floor and choose one of ten lines to stand in, each in front of one of the “carvers”. The carvers are mostly women, and mostly fairly gruff. “Find one who’s smiling,” I heard the guy behind me say to a friend. I usually stand back and look for the most efficient one and then stake my claim in that line.
The main reason to go to Philippe’s is the French Dipped Sandwich. The restaurant owners claim to have invented the sandwich in 1918 when the owner accidentally dropped a french roll into a roasting pan with juices in it. Though the roll was soggy and ostensibly ruined, the patron said he’d eat it anyway. Then he returned again the next day and ordered it again. Thus the French Dip was born.
In the interest of full disclosure, a restaurant across town — Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet — also claims to be the birthplace of the French Dip. I’m not sure who’s right, but I’ll leave that up to the food historians.
At Philippe’s, you can choose between French Dips made of beef, pork, lamb, ham or turkey. I always order mine the same out of a long-held habit: “Beef French Dip, double-dipped, with swiss cheese please. And a pickled egg.”
I take from the counter a tray with small paper plates containing a delicious French Dip and a bright, neon purple, pickled egg.
Sitting down at a long, communal table in the large restaurant, I reach for the amazing Philippe’s mustard and dress my sandwich. “All around the restaurant you can see nostrils flare when people hit little depth charges of Philippe’s hot mustard in their sandwiches,” describes Jonathan Gold in his book Counter Intelligence. I always have a pot of Philippe’s mustard in my refrigerator, ready to put on anything and everything.
Philippe’s is a Los Angeles institution that is worth trying when you are in town. It’s a great place to get a feel for the real Los Angeles, as you will see a very large cross-section of the community here dining together.
Philippe, The Original
1001 N. Alameda Street
Open 6 am – 10 pm daily
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas