It’s a groundless myth that the older the restaurant the better the food, or that folksy atmosphere means generous servings and a helpful staff. In L.A., at least, I’ve chewed into many a catcher’s mitt that had appeared on a menu advertised as “New York Style Pastrami,” while some of the most cluelessly inattentive waiters and counter staff are to be found at the cutest diners. (Once, during breakfast at Echo Park’s Brite Spot, I asked for a clean knife. “We’re out of them,” a waitress told me, as though I’d just asked for a Fabergé egg.) Philippe’s, which has existed in various incarnations since 1908, continues to swim against this all-too-familiar tide by combining great food and service with a hard-boiled, Lockheed Night-Shift Canteen ambiance. Philippe’s bread and butter is — well, bread and butter, or rather, its French-dipped sandwiches, composed of roast beef or pork, lamb, turkey or ham, served on a resilient, juice-soaked bun. Order a roast beef with slaw and apple pie and you’ll see what I mean. The meat is moist with an almost sensual flavor (don’t let this stop you from applying some of Philippe’s tart, homemade mustard), and the slaw crisp. Even the pie is shockingly fresh, belying its earlier appearance inside a glass cafeteria case. Between bites, look around at the old-fashioned candy counter, the wooden phone booths, the sawdust on the floor that looks as though it really belongs there and isn’t some sports-bar affectation. Then talk to the people seated at the communal tables. Some are tourists, others are suburbanites, but mostly your tablemates are people from Los Angeles — not a few of whom are down-and-outers who regard dinner here like an evening at the Water Grill. All of this makes Philippe’s the place you’d want to be when the world ends. Forget finding a party, or sitting in a room alone, or brooding by a lighthouse. No one will remember the last night on Earth, so savor it with a good sandwich and the best group of strangers you’ll ever befriend.
1001 N. Alameda St., ?Chinatown,?(213) 628-3781.