It's not every day a new purveyor of pastrami opens up, even in Los Angeles, which in recent years seems to be home to more Jewish delicatessens than New York. The Jewish deli is a tough business, perhaps harder to run than any other type of restaurant. (I know because I would have been a fifth-generation deli man had I stayed in the family business.) Tradition is important: Customers who have been eating in delis for years will almost always compare the food to their other favorite delis, or — the most crucial test — how it stacks up to their grandmothers' recipes. You have to be on your game if you're going to enter this arena. Luckily, L.A. has one of the best deli men in the country: Micah Wexler.
The L.A.-born and -raised chef opened up Wexler's Deli to rave reviews two years ago in downtown's Grand Central Market. (L.A. Weekly rated his smoked fish and pastrami sandwich as the best in the city.) Westsiders who hate the trek downtown can rejoice because Wexler has brought his signature house-smoked, hand-sliced meats and fish to Santa Monica. “From the get-go in downtown, every weekend we were getting a ton of Westsiders coming through,” Wexler says. “Here [in Santa Monica], it's like we're in a different city almost. Westsiders generally don't like to go east of the 405. … Anybody east of the 405 doesn't usually like to go west of it, so we're serving a whole new community over here, which is good.”
On Friday, L.A. Weekly was invited to spend the opening day at Wexler's new Westside digs. The mood was one of incredible excitement as customers waited in line and packed the dining room. A mix of 1960s R&B played over the sound system in the morning before changing over to hip-hop artists like Dr. Dre and the Geto Boys by lunch — not typical for a Jewish deli, but somehow it works. We were also granted exclusive access to the kitchen to witness the art of a master fish slicer. All photos by Jared Cowan.
Wexler's Deli is located at 616 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica; (424) 744-8671. wexlersdeli.com