Los Angeles may be full of food cultures – Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, Armenian – but it has given birth to very few dishes of its own, apart from the meat-and-wheat combo, the French Dip, which originated here.
It’s a hot meat sandwich, dipped in beef jus. Traditionally its filling is also beef. Its history is more complex than its contents. Two restaurants claim to have originated the French Dip: Cole’s, a low-lit cocktail bar; and Philippe’s, a bustling deli in Chinatown.
Both restaurants first opened in 1908, which in LA makes them antediluvian. Cole’s claims the founder invented the soggy sandwich shortly thereafter. At Philippe’s, the record states that French founder Philippe Mathieu created it in 1918. There are apocryphal tales: a waiter accidentally dropped a customer’s sandwich into a tub of dripping; a cook dipped a sandwich to soften it for a regular with sore gums...
At Cole’s, the sandwich is served dry with a pot of jus to dunk it in. At Philippe’s, one side of the bread is pre-dipped, giving the sandwich a moist, meaty centre. For my money, the latter method is preferable. Either way, a French Dip should be served with some strong mustard. And true connoisseurs prefer their sandwiches double-dipped.