Joan used to be married to a man from New Zealand, but now they’re just friends. He lives in Venice. Joan sits on her lifeline somewhere between 41 and 55, she has yellow-blonde hair, parted at the side and secured near her ear with a pink clip. Her accent is part drawling Californian, part Fargo, North Dakota. Joan works as a waitress at Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant in Westlake, Los Angeles. Open since 1947 (though tragically, orangely renovated sometime in the 70s), Langer’s is home to the #19 sandwich. Oh, the #19. How does one put love into words? Let me start at the right side of my plate, with the pickle; everybody loves pickles. Everybody. The Langer’s pickles are plump, firm and yielding; vinegary and sour… again, love renders me mute. Joan interrupts my reverie for, ‘a little more Sprite?’ Yes please, Joan, how did you know? Joan makes sure we are comfortable, discreetly replacing our balled-up, Russian-dressing-stained paper serviettes. She walks up and down the bar, tending all of her customers with the same quiet courtesy, ‘A little more diet coke?’ The menu humbly describes the #19 as PASTRAMI, SWISS CHEESE and COLE SLAW with Russian Style Dressing ($15.20). But the bread! For the love of bread, why is there no mention of the bread? Baked daily and sliced fresh, the rye has such a perfect crust, not toasted exactly, certainly not soft; I’m sure there’s no other word for it than, well, crusty. The secret? It’s baked twice; don’t tell. The caraway is a flavour memory, lingering back there somewhere but tricky to pin down. It’s bread to break Atkins. Pastrami, cole slaw and Swiss cheese are each individually sublime, and together symbiotic. We all know a good sandwich is the sum of it’s parts, but a great sandwich is the sum of perfect parts, prepared by expert hands and served with love. Traditionally hot pastrami is a NYC kinda thing. So why then did Nora Ephron, the woman who knew New York so well it’s an integral character in most of her films, name this the best in the world? What does Langer’s have that New York City doesn’t? Surely not better pastrami, nor more passionate pastrami eaters. What Langer’s has got that NYC hasn’t, is Joan. ‘A little more Sprite?’ 

 “The hot pastrami sandwich served at Langer’s Delicatessen is the finest hot pastrami sandwich in the world. It’s a symphony orchestra, different instruments brought together to play one perfect chord. It is, in short, a work of art.” – Nora Ephron


Hello America! Hello Los Angeles, you vast, flat, wheezing metropolis. It’s early, I’ve come a long way and I want a coffee. What I don’t want is a gallon of bitter, brown water with ersatz non-fat ‘milk’ and extra-ersatz ‘sweetener’. In Sydney I guzzle lattes at Bourke Street Bakery in Surry Hills, or Campos in Alexandria – surely no one in America, birthplace of stultifying Starbucks, can match that? Until there was you G&B Coffee, until there was you. On a stretch of road that looks so much like every other stretch of road in LA that I squeal, “I’ve been here! I’ve been here! Wait, what? Oh, no I haven’t,” G&B is a cog in the earnestly ethical, long-extraction-espresso wheel currently cruising these Groundhog Day streets. The shoebox-sized shop is owned and operated by Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, graduates of benchmark coffee emporium, Intelligentsia. In both its Venice and Silver Lake locations, Intelligentsia is awash with the hallmarks of hipsterdom: moustaches, vintage specs, quiffs and nonchalant outfits. Four-shot iced lattes are de rigour. As appalling (and intimidating) as that sounds, there’s something about Americans, something about their sincerity, their openness, which stops me throwing up in my mouth. Something that lets me delight in a congregation of hot people drinking hot (and cold) coffee in this hot city; it’s kinda hot. As are Glanville, Babinski and their namesake enterprise; the former is 2008 US Barista champion, Babinski 2012 runner-up (robbed!) and both are proudly and geekily obsessed with the preparation and service of the humble cup of Joe. They’re as sweet and endearing as the recycled glass jam jars their to-go coffee is served in: each jar wearing a bandana that performs double-duty as a burn-barrier for the drinker and dapper accessory for the vessel. Their coffee is exactly how you want it – delicious, smooth and guzzle-able, while the boys are exactly how you want your local baristas – chatty, handsome and knowledgeable. If G&B were in Sydney, I would be slavishly propping up the bar. But what’s a kaffeeklatsch without a little something for snack? Enter, Sqirl. Cosying up in a corner of the shoebox, this canteen, with Jessica Koslow at the helm, would be worth the trip even without G&B. The porridge I order is creamy; real, whole oats* cooked long and low, with love, until their starchy stickiness is released. Not sugary, but mellow with the faint and comforting bovine sweetness of full-cream milk. The crowning glory on this bowl of childhood familiarity is a sprinkling of crunchy, oily hazelnuts and the thick, blood-clot-glob of Koslow’s sublime homemade blueberry jam. Each mouthful incites a sigh of pleasure, on repeat until my spoon scrapes ceramic, digging for one more sigh. Walk back out into the sprawling city with a well-dressed coffee in one hand and the other fistful of fingers jammed messily in a jar of sticky preserve, then make Sqirl / G&B a frequent search in your Navman – ‘cause they’re perfection. And if you’re not from around here, you may never find them again. You may never find them again. You may never find them again…

*DER: The porridge is made with brown rice, not oats.

G&B has moved to:
Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles 90013

Sqirl still serve coffee at:
720 North Virgil Ave #4, Los Angeles 90029


It hurts me to disagree with AA Gill. My fantasy is that we will one day meet, perhaps over lunch with Sir Elton John or Jeremy Clarkson, wearing snappy neckerchiefs and matching smug smirks, then arrogantly stare each other down and… well, I’m blonde. Surely it’s no biggie for him to replace one with another? But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like, ‘There Is No Such Thing As Nice Tex Mex Food.’ Slammed back to reality – where I don’t wear a neckerchief (well, not often), nor dine with rich fat cats – I bring you Exhibit A in the case against AA Gill: Guisados. (Hear: BING-BING! dramatic Law & Order sound effect). Somewhere in the 1000s on Sunset Boulevard, in Echo Park Los Angeles, my first hint that Guisados will be great is that it looks so bad. What is it about an open, utilitarian kitchen and sticky, vinyl-topped tables that denote something deliciously special? Ugliness bordering on unhygienic neglect is my beacon for the best South East Asian food. Heck, a stray cockroach and ‘out of order’ restroom practically make my mouth water. Now, I don’t know to where AA was referring when he wrote this: ‘The things that weren’t simply odorously disgusting hurt like scrubbing your uvula with a rusty wire brush,’ but it can’t have been Guisados. And though it nowhere resembles a Taco Bell, I still fit Guisados into the Tex-Mex category, both due to its geography and for the sake of this argument. I realise authentic Mexican food can be served outside of Mexico, but I’m not Mexican enough to confidently call this authentic Mexican food. I am, however, Mexican enough to say, ‘ay caramba! Guisados is goood!’ On the advice of a local (Angelino, not Mexicano) we order the sample plate of six perfect tacos ($6.99). You hear me, Gill? Perfect [per-fekt] tacos [tah-kohs]. The handmade corn tortillas are small, earthy and carby. Not thick, gluey dinner plates, or sweet as I expect, but pleasingly, mildly savoury. Which is a relief, cause the various pulled pork and braised chicken toppings make me pant like a carsick cat. Here’s the thing: I love me some Tex-Mex, but holy hot-and-spicy-Jesús, I am no hero when it comes to heat. Here’s the other thing: though quite hot, there was certainly no ‘uvula-scrubbing’ pain at Guisados. The heat here is flavour. Where usually I find chilli-hot foods completely numbing, to the point of rendering taste or enjoyment impossible, Guisados-hot is different. I can taste chilli, sure, but I can also taste the other hallmark spices of Mexican cuisine: cumin, garlic and oregano. In Spanish they call it, ‘equilibrar’. We make short work of the six small, spicy, perfect tacos. And had I known my flight would be delayed two and a half hours, I would have demolished another six. So, hey. AA? In my revised fantasy, I imagine the two of us sitting across a sticky-topped table at Guisados, with a cup of their sublimely sweet, almondy, cinnamony, heavenly-Horchata ($3) between us. As we sup you look me arrogantly in the eye and declare, ‘you’re right. You’re SO right. You’re always right.’ Then I peel my elbows off the table, lean across and smugly adjust your jaunty neckerchief.