Philippe the Original – The Mustard Made Me Hot

philippe the original, downtown los angeles, ca - french dip beef sandwich
In general, I am not a sandwich girl.

I don’t mind eating a sandwich, and strangely, I love bread. However, when two slices of even the most delicious, crusty, chewy, fragrant bread are slapped on either side of meat, cheese, and vegetables, I don’t love it the way some people luuuuurve it. I take the sandwich apart and eat the insides, piece by piece, then eat the bread separately. Sometimes I get spontaneous and do it the other way around, with the bread first. It’s not even that I feel the proper, princess-y need to use a fork. I’ll go right ahead and pick up a slippery roasted red pepper, a messy leaf of arugula dipping with dressing, a slimy, fatty slice of meat, with my fingers. No, it’s not about decorum and manners.

I’m just not a sandwich girl (unless it’s a pastrami Reuben, in which case, you can just call me Dagwood XL).

philippe the original french dip
Frounsh dipped, like Frounsh fries

But I couldn’t let my non-love for sandwiches stop me from trying Philippe the Original in downtown LA, the home of the original French Dip – a sandwich of thinly sliced meat shoved between the halves of a crusty French roll that’s been dipped in the greasy, meaty, flavorful juices that have collected in the bottom of the roasting pan.

Everyone talked up Philippe the Original French Dip to me. When they find out I had not yet been there, their eyes widen and their mouths hang agape. Woman, are you mad?!?! How could you live in LA and not have tried the French dip sandwich at Philippe’s?!?! Get thee downtown! Everywhere I looked, the reviews were glowing. No, they were shamelessly gushing, as if the restaurant had paid them off with marketing dollars. Everywhere I turned, someone was raving about the roll, the beef, the jus, the place. Not only is Philippe’s an institution, but the sandwiches are so incredibly amazingly fantabulawesoyummylicious!

philippe the original french dip
philippes, everywhere i look

I had great expectations for Philippe the Original. How could I not? But….there was a big “but,” and I don’t mean my big, fat behind that’s spreading faster than Hollywood gossip.

French Dip is not new to me. However, a proper French Dip, and one that calls itself “the original,” is new to me. You see, my sister Jenn has had a lifelong love affair with French Dip sandwiches that started with Arby’s. Yes, Arby’s. Since I haven’t set foot inside one of those 100-gallon cowboy hat-topped restaurants in years, I couldn’t tell you if they still have it on the menu, but if they don’t now, at some point in its history, Arby’s served its fast food, processed “meat,” just-add-water-to-this-powder concentrate jus (that’s French for “jus”) version of a French Dip that certainly never really allowed you to “dip,” since the jus comes in a tiny plastic condiment container the diameter of a silver dollar. In case you’ve forgotten, an Arby’s sandwich is much bigger than a silver dollar, so your French Dip was actually a French PourJusOntoYourSandwich. I am familiar with French Dip, but didn’t indulge in them much, opting instead for the much tastier Beef N’ Yellow Vinyl.

Surely Philippe the Original would be better than Arby’s.

We went there for lunch. Dinner would have been a possibility since Philippe is open until 10 PM, but I am not hip to downtown happenings after dark, especially near Chinatown. Hey, I don’t mean to offend if C-town is your ‘hood. I just don’t know that area very well, and much prefer to navigate unfamiliar, scary, ghetto, freaky locales during daylight.

Philippe had a lot going for it from the outset because they have a parking lot. It’s not ample parking, and nothing as fancy as the “2 spots left!” warnings on each level of The Grove, but parking availability is a huge plus. We parked and trotted around the corner to the restaurant. I have to admit that though I am not a sandwich girl, I was a little excited. Just a little.

philippe the original french dip
parking alone puts it ahead
philippe the original french dip
shall i bust out a process flowchart?

The restaurant is sunken a few feet below ground level, so when we walked in, we got a good landscape view of Philippe’s. If ever I doubted the originality of the sandwich, at least I could be assured that Philippe’s location sure was original. The place, the decor, the furnishings, the staff, even the operational process flows at the counter were about a bazillion years old.

Ambience (or lack of), outdated decor, even crumbling architecture never bothers me (that much). But bad process flow makes me want to whip open my laptop, start up Visio, and go through a flowcharting exercise. There is just one long counter at Philippe’s with somewhat crusty women set at evenly spaced intervals. However, there is no single line. In fact, it doesn’t even appear that there are multiple lines. It’s just one big clusterpoo of waiting people, wild-eyed and watchful, shifting their visual aim from one register to the next to see which one will open. I hate the uncertainty. I hate free-for-alls. I hate wondering if I am next “in this line,” or if I am “next overall, in any line.” I hate having to punch an 80-year-old lady when she “cuts” in front of me, pretending like all she wants to do is see what’s in the case. Yeah, right.

I didn’t punch anyone, but I hate thinking that I might have to.

The menu at Philippe’s is fairly simple. Pork, beef, ham, and turkey are all the same price. Lamb costs fifty cents more. Addition of various cheeses also cost a few cents extra. Philippe also has tuna sandwiches and cheese sandwiches, but who eats a tuna sandwich at Philippe’s? And if that’s a French-dipped tuna sandwich, that’s just nasty. Everyone recommends the lamb sandwich, but I don’t eat cute baby animals. Besides, you never get all kinky the first time. I ordered a plain beef French dip from the young lady behind the counter.

philippe the original french dip - menu
simple menu, compl
ex operations
philippe the original french dip - macaroni salad
stuck a feather in her hat, and called it…

Philippe’s also offers daily soups (that’s the “soup du jour” in French), salads, and traditional deli sides. I wasn’t really in the mood for pickled pig’s feet (!!!). I know, it must have been some crazy hormonal thing, so we went with a macaroni salad.

The best part of Philippe’s is their drinks list. A cocktail would have been awesome at noon with a sandwich, but Philippe’s only has wine and beer. I ordered a glass of wine, which is dispensed from what looks like a combination vending machine and wine tap. That is awesome. Now here is where the operatinal proces flow really needs a $600 per hour strategy consultant like myself. The woman who took our order also poured our drinks, then put on a pair of gloves, ran back to refresh her stainless steel tray of meat, changed her gloves, then dipped each slice of bread in jus, made our sandwiches and slapped some macaroni salad in a small bowl. We were standing at the case the whole time a little unclear as to whether we were supposed to wait there since she hadn’t taken our money yet, or retreat from the case to allow the next customer to step up. We waited. She removed her gloves and took our money from us. The whole thing was inefficient and irritated the process efficiency geek inside me.

We sat down at one of many long, narrow, burgundy Formica-topped counter/tables, and that is when I spotted the golden angel. I hadn’t even tasted the sandwich yet, but I ripped it open, revealing its thick, glistening meatiness inside. Without thinking, led only by instinct, I slapped that meat with a good spoonful of mustard, smearing and slathering the golden goodness from edge to edge. I might even eat fois gras if it were covered with mustard.

philippe the original french dip - hot mustard
a golden angel with a plastic halo
philippe the original french dip - french dip sandwich
slapped, slathered, and smeared

I bit slowly through the French roll which was crusty, but rather dry. Understandably, the bread has to be slightly dry in order to soak up more jus. I chewed. My mouth, and I imagine my face, went from 0 to 60 in 15 seconds on the Scoville scale. The mustard wasn’t just hot; it was fire. Let me say that one more time. The mustard was fie-yer. It cleared my sinuses so hollow I could have shined a flashlight up to my brain. I had to throw my head back to keep tears in my eyes from falling. My nose started to run. I had the back of my left hand held up to my nostrils, my other hand still holding the sandwich. I was a weeping, mustardy mess.

philippe the original french dip - wine
red wine pairs with fire

And I kept on eating. The burn was too good, only relieved every once in a while with a tiny sip of wine. Red wine seems to pair perfectly with a completely sterilized sense of taste and smell. Lovely.

The macaroni salad was made with little fat cylinders, not the usual elbow macaroni. The shape was cute and reminded me of some sort of Italian soup I’ve had once, but the taste was just *eh*. In fact, it tasted like noodles mixed with Miracle Whip. Or maybe that’s all I could taste with my now mustard-induced tongue de-sensitization.

Overall, Philippe the Original French Dip sandwich was good, but I don’t think I’ need to brave the downtown traffic for it. The mustard on the other hand? I am hot for Philippe’s mustard.

Philippe the Original
1001 N Alameda St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213.628.3781

www.philippes.com

** a year ago today, my babycakes went retro disco coconut **

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  • Xericx

    hey, i recently went there for the 1st time…..spicy mustard! I liked the place though….the whole restaurant was a bit depressing though.

  • david hong

    Phillipe’s is great! The servers are really nice, and the food is perfect for takeout to Dodgers games.

    The ice cream is really good, and you can’t beat the coffee for 9 cents?

    I like the lamb sandwiches, but the turkey is pretty good also.
    There are some really great places to eat in Chinatown, but Phillipes is a LA landmark!

    Oh, if you have any sinus problems, eat a big dolup of mustard on your sandwich, and you will be breathing easy.

  • FooDcrazEE

    that looks good..

  • Robert Konigsberg

    Love Philippe’s: one of the first places the wife took me. Given my complete lack of desire of absolutely owning any more coffee mugs, I still bought one from Phillippe’s because it was just that good.

    My wife says that she has had business meetings at Phillippe’s where they just continued to buy $.25 cups of coffee and talked for hours. Not an uncommon thing, I suspect.

  • Maure

    depressing atmosphere?!? phillipes
    rules if anything because of its’
    anti-atmosphere.

    the lamb sandwich with some of that hot mustard is an excellent
    way to start the day. providing your day starts around 5pm.

  • Maure

    depressing atmosphere?!? phillipes
    rules if anything because of its’
    anti-atmosphere.

    the lamb sandwich with some of that hot mustard is an excellent
    way to start the day. providing your day starts around 5pm.

  • Xericx

    Yeah, i don’t care so much for the downtown area/chinatown….the atmosphere is a bit….well….i dunno…just weird. Its not THAT bad, but I just remembered feeling all weird stuck in a timewarp up in there.

    French dip was reallly nice though….i need a big drink if I had that mustard.

  • abraxis

    That downtown area is the antithesis of yuppiedom and Philippes, the Pantry and the Pacific Dining Car is what will survive after trendy spots come and go many times over! Remember Gorky’s?

    Chinatown does have some good spots for late night snacking and noodles. Sam Woo was good as I remember…

    What some call a “time warp” is reality for the rest of the world. Good old school stuff there downtown.

    And Sarah, good for you making it east of the 405! =)

  • k

    heh…i didn’t know how ‘hot’ the mustard was and realized a little too late as i slopped on the yellow stuff. usually, i don’t like any mustard on my sandwiches. but, theirs is pretty awesome! =)

  • Grace

    I had the lamb with bleu cheese from Philippe’s and I was sorely disappointed. ): But I’m willing to try it again because I haven’t heard anything bad about Philippe’s yet.

  • BoLA

    I absolutely LOVE their french dipped sandwiches. It’s what good stuff is all about. I get very nostalgic when I think about my trips to Phillipes with my mom on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Mmmm…..

  • KT

    I wouldn’t try to get fancy with Phillipe’s. Just order a french dip (with cheese, if you like–I do!). You will not go wrong!

  • KT

    I wouldn’t try to get fancy with Phillipe’s. Just order a french dip (with cheese, if you like–I do!). You will not go wrong!

  • santos.

    if you ever brave it again, ask for a double dipped sandwich–both sides of the break get thwacked into the jus, to make for a less crusty experience.

    i’ve never been there when there hasn’t been orderly lines, maybe you invite chaos…although the chaos came before you, so maybe it invited you ;)

  • Maure

    there you go again, dogging Arby’s
    whenever the opportunity knocks.

    When you wait in line at Arby’s,
    you’re encouraged to punch 80 yr.
    old wmen who “cut” in front of you. and try their VIP room sometime, complete with seat protectors.

  • Dolores

    From one “process efficiency geek” to another, I applaud your willingness to stretch outside your comfort zone. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stifled the words “but wouldn’t this be more efficient if…”

    Glad the mustard succeeded in salvaging the experience.

  • sarah

    xericx: yeah, it was a little depressing, because there really was no ambience, so you can’t really take a date there and impress. then again, have him or her dip into that mustard and it’s fire, baby…

    david: the coffee is NINE CENTS!??!?! how did i miss that?

    foodcrazee: and it tastes even better!

    robert k: if i worked downtown, i would totally slap my laptop down on the counter and work there all day. do they have free wi-fi at philippe’s?

    maure: my day starts at 9 am with a glass of wine, and ends at 3 am with…a glass of wine. what about you? and honey, if it weren’t for the mustard at philippe’s, i’d want HORSEY SAUCE!!!

    abraxis: i still have yet to try pacific dining car, though i will likely go to the one down the street from me here on the westside. LOL! downtown more than once a quarter? that’s too much for me.

    keri: you are so veri! ;) yeah, i should have sniffed the mustard first, but then again, with my luck, i would have snorted it up to my brain by accident and *shudders at the thought* that would hurt. a lot.

    grace: but if you didn’t like it, you didn’t like it, right? then again, was it a BAD DATE?!?! that happens to me, too. ruins it for me forever!

    BoLA: lazy SUNDAY! lol!

    kt: yeah, just french dip, not even the cheese. you don’t want anything to dampen the burn!

    santos: ooooh. actually, i wish they would just give me an entire soup bowl of the jus so i could soak my WHOLE sandwich. *whoa* now that would be effin’ fantastic.

    culi curi: lol! if there’s a line in front of me, i can’t help but start thinking of “queuing models.” it’s sick.

    okay all, i have to say that i have somewhat led you all astray, as i have apparently made philippe’s mustard sound like it can cut the…ok, never mind.

    but I FORGOT about the RUSSIAN MUSTARD at top dog in berkeley. HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN!?!??!

    i’m going to have to do a head-to-head taste test.

  • sarah

    xericx: yeah, it was a little depressing, because there really was no ambience, so you can’t really take a date there and impress. then again, have him or her dip into that mustard and it’s fire, baby…

    david: the coffee is NINE CENTS!??!?! how did i miss that?

    foodcrazee: and it tastes even better!

    robert k: if i worked downtown, i would totally slap my laptop down on the counter and work there all day. do they have free wi-fi at philippe’s?

    maure: my day starts at 9 am with a glass of wine, and ends at 3 am with…a glass of wine. what about you? and honey, if it weren’t for the mustard at philippe’s, i’d want HORSEY SAUCE!!!

    abraxis: i still have yet to try pacific dining car, though i will likely go to the one down the street from me here on the westside. LOL! downtown more than once a quarter? that’s too much for me.

    keri: you are so veri! ;) yeah, i should have sniffed the mustard first, but then again, with my luck, i would have snorted it up to my brain by accident and *shudders at the thought* that would hurt. a lot.

    grace: but if you didn’t like it, you didn’t like it, right? then again, was it a BAD DATE?!?! that happens to me, too. ruins it for me forever!

    BoLA: lazy SUNDAY! lol!

    kt: yeah, just french dip, not even the cheese. you don’t want anything to dampen the burn!

    santos: ooooh. actually, i wish they would just give me an entire soup bowl of the jus so i could soak my WHOLE sandwich. *whoa* now that would be effin’ fantastic.

    culi curi: lol! if there’s a line in front of me, i can’t help but start thinking of “queuing models.” it’s sick.

    okay all, i have to say that i have somewhat led you all astray, as i have apparently made philippe’s mustard sound like it can cut the…ok, never mind.

    but I FORGOT about the RUSSIAN MUSTARD at top dog in berkeley. HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN!?!??!

    i’m going to have to do a head-to-head taste test.

  • Maure

    didn’t you read s. irene today
    miss d.? if you must go to the
    pacific dining car you gotta make
    it the downtown one, or just skip
    it entirely and head to taylors on
    8th st… or the arsenal – oh that’s right, patience, patience.

  • Maure

    didn’t you read s. irene today
    miss d.? if you must go to the
    pacific dining car you gotta make
    it the downtown one, or just skip
    it entirely and head to taylors on
    8th st… or the arsenal – oh that’s right, patience, patience.

  • Gypsy Jan

    I’ve been a lurker on your blog for six months or more. You write with a passion and attention to detail that is amazing.

    Since I am no longer LA adjacent, I didn’t have any relevant reason to post, but, this description of your experience at Phillipe’s matches up exactly with my memories of my visit there. The sandwich was unexceptional, but the mustard was.

    I can still remember the burn that lasted for the rest of the day.

    Very good writing, I am a fan.

  • peachiee

    Oh wow- you’ve been playing catch up! What a relief. I thought you were resorting to one liners. LOL.

  • hermz

    Efficiency… are you sure you’re not German?

    I think Arby’s was my first exposure to any thing horseradish. I’d squirt that horsey sauce out of that industrial-sized pump like it was white gold.

  • Kiki Dorer

    Where can I buy Philippe’s mustard? thanks

  • Thomasgroff03

    Your mouth is bigger then your ass. Did it really take that many words for your experience or does everything you deal with take this LLLLOOOOOOONNNNNNNNGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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