Late Night Eats: Johnny's Pastrami on Adams
If you are on the Westside and thinking pastrami, you are probably thinking about Johnnie's on Sepulveda. If you are in South Los Angeles and you are thinking pastrami, you are definitely thinking about Johnny's on Adams. That's Johnny's with a "Y". Two blocks East of Crenshaw, Johnny's is conveniently located just a few blocks off the 10 freeway. This neighborhood stand has been serving up giant, monolithic pastrami dips since 1956.
Even though we are calling this series "Late Night Eats" I know that you know, and you know that I know, that what we are really talking about here is drunk food. So after testing out the "best martinis in LA" over at Liquid Kitty last Saturday night (purely research for this blog of course), my husband (and sober driver) took me over to Johnny's.
At 2:30am on Saturday night, there were about twelve people waiting outside and three women cooking like mad in the kitchen. Everyone in line was really polite, saying things like, "Oh no, after you, I believe you were here first." Everybody knew the bars had just closed. And everybody was acting like they weren't sure if one of the people in line might be drunk and crazy, and they weren't going to be the one to find out. Little did they know that on this particular night I was the drunk and crazy one.
I overheard the counterperson telling the guy in front of me something about gunshots the night before. He made a sympathetic "tutut" noise before grabbing his food and moving on. The protocol at Johnny's is that you place your order, then hover around the window. When your order is ready, they pass you a plastic french fry basket and you put your money in it. Then they give you your change with your order.
I took advantage of my hovering time to watch them cook and ask if I could snap a few pictures. I was also eavesdropping to see if I could find out what had happened the night before. My blatant eavesdropping and nosy questions did not seem to please the cook. The counterperson cut me off and told me, "Oh, we're just talking about a television show." She clearly had experience in talking to drunk and crazy people. It's not like one stray bullet is going to stop me from going to Johnny's. Not unless it hits me right in the ass, which was probably what the cook was hoping would happen right about then.
I usually just get the pastrami, but for the sake of this review I had ordered more of a variety. I noticed they had just added a fish sandwich to the menu. If it was a catfish sandwich, it would have made my entire night. I probably would have done a little dance. When I asked about it, the finality with which they said, "We're out of tartar sauce." made me not even consider asking for one without tartar sauce. So I got the usual pastrami - piled deli high on a lightly dipped french roll, dressed simply with mustard along with a side of dill pickles and peppers. You can also ask for it double-dipped, but I prefer a light hand with the au jus to avoid soggy bread. The pastrami that bursts from the overstuffed roll is lean and peppery, with just the right amount of grease.
The pastrami burger also cannot contain the overabundance of salty, fatty meat (Yes, that's right, a pastrami burger. Are you warming up the car yet?). They also serve hot links, hot dogs, tamales, and tacos. But honestly, their short menu could be even shorter. If you're at Johnny's it's because you're craving pastrami. And they are going to make sure you get plenty of it. To satisfy your sweet tooth, there is sweet potato pie and Sock-it-to-me cake.
The vodka in me decided to also order a side of chili fries. I'm sorry there is not a picture, but it is very difficult to get an appetizing photo of a big pile of chili under flourescent lights. I couldn't wait until we got home to bust into the fries. The chili was pretty much straight ground beef dampened with a well-seasoned sauce. The fries tucked beneath were still hot and crispy. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever eaten. The nectar of the gods. Angels breath. As the car took a sharp corner, I had to weave carefully not to spill the generous container. I nagged, "Woah, watch it on those curves there, buddy." He said, "I can drive just fine. I'm not the one who's drunk." I said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you're not drunk and eating these delicious fries." And I really did feel sorry for him. At that moment I was genuinely sorry for every single person that wasn't zooming around the old Pasadena freeway, nursing a nice buzz while eating the greatest chili fries in the entire world.
Johnny's Pastrami on Adams
(4331 West Adams Blvd. (323) 734-6003
Open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Cash only.
All photos by Elise Thompson for LAist