Philippes may be my new favourite restaurant in Los Angeles. It’s got a retro feel about it (probably because it’s 100 years old) and customers line up like they’re at the racetrack but instead of placing bets they order food from women wearing 50s-style washed-out green uniforms and little hats perched on the back of their heads.
Philippes claims to be the originator of the beef dip, a sandwich that is made by dipping the inside face of a one side of a bun into gravy, slapping a bunch of roast beef (or other meat) on it and putting the lid on. Order a double dip they’ll dip both pieces of the bun. Add an order of potato salad, a dill pickle and a pickled egg (bright purple on the outside and white on the inside) and a dessert like tapioca pudding or chocolate cream pie and carry it all on a brown cafeteria tray that’s been washed so many times it feels like a softer, friendlier type of plastic. Salt and pepper and sinus-clearing mustard are on the tables.
At 1:30 in the afternoon last Friday, the lineups were long and noisy but they moved quickly, everyone was friendly, and as each loaded tray was carried away, hungry diners peered at it and said things like, "Oh, that looks good."
Last fall Philippes celebrated its 100th birthday by selling their famous sandwiches at the 1908 price of 25 cents each. The lineups were blocks long and many of the people weren’t there just to get cheap food: one woman said she'd been eating at Philippe’s for 72 years.
I’m often amazed and overwhelmed by the number of people who live in Los Angeles but perhaps that’s how many people you need in order that everyone who wants to eat at McDonalds and Subway can and there will still be enough people left to keep places like Philippe’s in business.