Restaurant Review: Philippe the Original (Los Angeles)
Phillipe-the-Original is the kind of place I love to go.
Unpretentious and genuine — this is a bona fide Los Angeles institution located just north of downtown (right across the street from Union Station at 1001 N. Alameda St.). It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find in two of America’s most authentic restaurant cities — New Orleans and Memphis. With its unfinished cement floors, memorabilia hanging on the walls, and fresh, delicious, consistently outstanding food — it’s easy to see why this place has been around for more than half a century.
Indeed, one of the early indications that a restaurant has great food is examining its clientele. Fact: When you see people from all walks of life lined up and huddled together at wooden tables — bankers sitting next to construction workers, young hip-hop party goers scarfing down sandwiches along with retirees — you know the food is going to be good.
And it is.
Best known as the origin of the world-famous French Dip sandwich, there’s really only one reason to come here. And that’s for (drum roll please)….the French Dip. Few decisions are to be make. In fact, the menu hangs on the wall. The big dilemma is what kind of meat to order — beef, lamb, ham, or chicken. Less than a half-dozen side options exist (potato salad, coleslaw, etc.), and each is homemade. There’s also plenty of fresh desserts and beer/wine available. But the real stars of this long-running attraction are the sandwiches.
Oh, and they cost $6.50 each. That’s right. Six-fifty.
What a bargain!
When I travel, most people think I prefer fancy restaurants. It’s easy to understand why. Everyone knows I’m a snob. Everyone realizes that I’m almost impossible to please and wronging Nolan Dalla risks triggering the wrath of an angry rant.
Truth is, I love authenticity. It’s one of the many reasons I abhor nouveau cuisine with its sprigs of whatever infused with tiny portions of this or that served at criminal prices by snooty waiters.
Instead, I love good old-fashioned, great food. It’s why New Orleans will forever stand as my spiritual Mecca. It’s why I refuse to visit all the pretentious places on the Las Vegas Strip. One thing you can’t fake is sincerity — either with friends or with food.
Let’s be clear. Los Angeles is a great restaurant city — arguably the third of fourth best city in America (my expert opinion) for extraordinary dining options. Contrary to its reputation as a synthetic substitute for anything that’s real in society, fact is — Los Angeles is bustling with wonderful hole-in-the-wall places like Phillip the Original.
Good food deserves even better company. Fellow professionals who all work within the poker industry joined me on this Saturday night for a pilgrimage to French Dip Mecca. Standing beside me in the photo (above) from left to right are — Jessica Welman (WSOP..com senior editor), Sam Quinto (Floorman at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles), and Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum (longtime writer and reporter for various websites, including WSOP and WPT). Actually, Jessica Welman deserves all the credit for this dining choice, and she did not disappoint.
Actually, dining is a misnomer. Rather, it’s counter service. Your order is taken and instantly whisked from the back of the house through a small window onto a plastic tray, which is pushed over the counter as you pay. Think of a cafeteria — except that you’ve only got one option as your main course. “Would you like the French Dip or the French Dip or the French Dip?”
I ordered the following: One beef French Dip sandwich, one side of Coleslaw, one slice of fresh cherry pie, one iced tea, and one 16 oz. Red Truck (amber) beer. Total cost with counter tip — $19.
We were in an out in 45-minutes.
Free and easy parking in the rear. I presume this is not always the case at busier times. I expect this place is packed at lunchtime.
The French Dip is a special sandwich that’s matchless in terms of simplicity. And because it’s (three) ingredients are so simple, they must be of exceptionally good quality.
Oddly enough, the French Dip didn’t originate in France. As stated, this old building is its native soil. All that’s required is French bread (forget about substituting anything else — it doesn’t work), tender sliced meat of your choice, and Au Jus (the light beefy sauce that’s essential for full flavor).
Let’s talk more about each of these ingredients.
French bread is not what you get in the grocery store. That’s garbage. Real French bread is usually baked early in the morning. It has a shelf life of perhaps 8-12 hours, and even that’s a stretch. French bread is noticeably “airy,” meaning that it’s not dense or heavy. You can eat considerably more French bread during a sitting than other varieties of bread. Again, that’s just the way it’s made. When I’ve dined in restaurants that bake it fresh, it’s not unusual to eat two loaves (by myself). That doesn’t mean I’m a pig. It means the bread is light enough to enjoy without feeling overly stuffed.
The bread must also be crusty, but never burned. That’s a delicate balance. It actually makes a “crunching” sound when you bite into it. But it’s still soft. These are fond memories that I’ve enjoyed in only two American cities (New Orleans and New York) — that is, until tonight.
The meat must be lean, but must also contain a little marbling for full flavor. Sliced thin, the meat should be tender so it’s easy to chew and digest. The beef I enjoyed was so tender, it rivaled the best Texas barbecue brisket.
Phillipe the Original bastes its French bread in the Au Jus just prior to serving, so there really is no “dipping” process. Even though you eat the sandwiches with your hands, dining is a clean and effortless experience.
Comparisons: You may think you’ve had a French Dip at Denny’ or some other industrial conveyor belt of sadness. I can assure you, that’s not the case. You were fooled. Rather, you were served a three-day old sub roll with processed roast beef and some kind salty sauce on the side in a cup. That’s crap. You’ve really have not the real French Dip until you’ve visited Phillipe the Original.
One last thought: Check out the old-fashioned wooden telephone booths located inside the main dining area. I have no idea why these musty relics of yesteryear remain on the premises. But in an odd sense, they very much belong here. This is their perfect home.
I’m not sure if it’s Phillip the Original’s intent. But by gazing upon those five telephone booths, I’m reminded that while the world around us changes — both good and bad — some things always stay the same. Alas, some things never change — whether a phone booth or a traditional French Dip sandwich.
And thank goodness for that.
To see more, check out TRIP ADVISER — PHILIPPE THE ORIGINAL.