The Pastrami Showdown: NY vs. LA vs. SF

Three cities. Three sandwiches. ALL pastrami. When you think of a classic pastrami sandwich, you might immediately think of New York. While there is no doubt that New York is home to some of the best pastrami sandwiches in the United States, there are a few other metropolitan cities giving New York a run for their money pastrami. We headed to three different cities to taste test their classic pastramis in our quest to find the perfect sandwich. From Refuge in San Carlos to Langer’s Deli in downtown LA to Katz Deli in New York City, we tried them all. See how it went down.

Katz Deli (New York)

We began our sandwich quest with the most famous— Katz Deli in New York City. World renowned for their pastrami (and also because of When Harry Met Sally), Katz Deli definitely has that old school Jewish deli feel. It’s a bit like stepping back in time. The place is constantly bustling, and if you’re too slow, well you never know what those New Yorkers will do to you. Now, onto the important stuff. To be able to accurately compare the three, we got a classic pastrami sandwich.

This sandwich is ALL about the pastrami. It is served on plain, untoasted rye bread with some mustard. It comes with two kind of pickles. As you can see, the meat is piled high, which one would expect considering the one sandwich will run you back about $19. The pastrami was really good, but strangely enough, the piece of pastrami we sampled before getting the actual sandwich was more moist than the meat in the sandwich. The corned beef edged out the pastrami in flavor. All in all, the pastrami was good.

Langer’s Deli (Los Angeles)

Langer’s Deli, located in the heart of bustling downtown Los Angeles, is a formidable and famous delicatessen in its own right. They’ve been serving up pastrami sandwiches for 66 years, and show no signs of stopping. It has quite the hearty resume, constantly making appearances on all the foodie lists, including Eater LA and Infatuation.

Pastrami and corned beef sandwich from Langer's

Pastrami and corned beef sandwich

With an extensive menu that spans over four pages, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by Langer’s. However, they are most famous for the #19— pastrami, swiss cheese, and cole slaw on rye with Russian-Style dressing. I opted for #19 and added tongue, something you don’t often see on the menu. To ensure accurate comparisons, we also got the pastrami and corned beef sandwich. Lastly, I couldn’t resist also ordering the pastrami fries….

#19 from Langer's Deli

#19

The #19 was as delicious as its reputation. First off, the handmade, Jewish-style toasted rye bread was tasty on its own, spiced with fennel and rye. The pastrami and tongue were my favorite by far. It had the perfect amount of smoky, peppery flavor and enough fat to keep it moist, without me feeling like I needed to run fives miles afterwards. I love a good coleslaw, and appreciated that it wasn’t overly wet or doused in mayo.

pastrami fries from Langer's Deli

Pastrami fries

On to the pastrami and corned beef sandwich. Strong and peppery, the pastrami paired well with the aromatic fennel in the bread. While slightly drier than the meat at Katz’s Deli, the flavor of the meat held its own as a delicious, must-try pastrami in its own right. It comes hand sliced in perfectly thin pieces so it melts in your mouth. Not only is the pastrami great in a sandwich, it is also one helluva french fry topper. I will leave you with this— those french fries were as good as they looked.

Refuge Restaurant and Brewery (SF/San Carlos)

While San Carlos (about 30 minutes south of San Francisco), may not be where you think outstanding pastrami may be, it is home to Refuge Restaurant, home to “The Best Pastrami.” The claim is bold, but it seems that even Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives might agree. What’s unique about Refuge is that it’s not a deli. They describes themselves as an “artisan beer-pub”, serving over 100 ales, with 18 Belgian beers rotating on tap. What also struck me the most about Refuge is that the diners seemed to be mostly locals, rather than tourists like at Katz and Langer’s.

At first glance, Refuge’s pastrami and corned beef sandwich already looks like the other ones we’ve seen. Hearty with a thick pile of meat, this sandwich lives up to the best of the best. It has the most toasted bread out of all three, which meant it could carry the heavy meat without getting too soggy. Like the other, it was very tender and flavorful. What stood out the most was the meat ratio, it was the best balanced of the three in terms of amount of meat per square inch of bread.

The Toasted Slaw #19 Refuge Restaurant

The Toasted Slaw #19

Goofy fries Refuge Restaurant

Goofy fries

This doesn’t come as a surprise, but when I saw the Gooey Fries I had to get them. The Gooey Fries are garlic fries topped with their signature Refuge cheese sauce and chunky bites of pastrami. I am a garlic lover, so I’m happy to report that there was indeed enough garlic over the fries, and the chunky bits of pastrami were like a hidden surprise on the bottom. Definitely recommend eating these with a fork.

And the Winner of the Pastrami Showdown Is…

My personal favorite was Langer’s. I loved the texture of the meat (very tender) and the fact that it came with a light Russian dressing and slaw. They all combined perfectly to me and I literally salivate thinking about it. For A, he loved the Refuge sandwich the best. It was the most peppery, and as mentioned, had the best meat to bread ratio. We both loved Katz, but it is very expensive for a single sandwich, and not as moist as Langer’s or Refuge. A thought that Katz had too much meat on the sandwich, so that it seemed gimmicky. All in all though, the three are close and it comes down to personal preference (as food usually does). Fortunately for us, Langer’s and Refuge are much closer to us than Katz.

Have you tried all three? Which is your favorite?

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