Philippe The Original is one of the oldest and best known restaurants in Southern California. Philippe’s was established in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu, who claimed the distinction of having created the “French Dipped Sandwich.” One day in 1918, while making a sandwich, Mathieu inadvertently dropped the sliced french roll into the roasting pan filled with juice still hot from the oven. The patron, a policeman, said he would take the sandwich anyway and returned the next day with some friends asking for more dipped sandwiches. And so was born the “French Dipped Sandwich,” so called either because of Mathieu’s French heritage, the French roll the sandwich is made on or because the officer’s name was French. The answer is lost to history.
Harry, Dave and Frank Martin were in the business of renting horses and wagons from their Jewel stables when they purchased Philippe’s from Mathieu in 1927 for around $5000. They operated the restaurant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until World War II. The business grew steadily through the depression of 1929 and World War II mainly by virtue of the dedication and perseverance to duty of these hardy Kansans.
Philippe’s was forced to move to make way for the then new Hollywood-Santa Ana 101 freeway, and in 1951 relocated to the present location, which was a machine shop with a hotel on the second floor. Change does not come rapidly at Philippe’s, so most of what we are today is very much what we were and did years ago. We like to say that only the prices have changed.
Philippe’s “French Dipped Sandwich” is the specialty of the house and consists of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a lightly textured, freshly baked French roll which has been dipped in the natural gravy of the roasts. Swiss, Cheddar, American, Monterey Jack or Blue cheese may be added. To accompany your sandwich we offer a tart, tangy cole slaw, homemade potato and macaroni salads, hard boiled eggs pickled in beet juice and spices, large Kosher style, sour dill or sweet pickles, black olives and hot yellow chili peppers. Philippe’s still prepares and serves close to 300 pounds of pigs feet every week.
We prepare about 40 gallons of our own hot mustard twice weekly. It is best used sparingly as it is a truly very hot French mustard. However, used with discretion, it complements the sandwich to perfection. It may be purchased by the squeeze bottle at the front candy counter.
Delicious beef stew is prepared daily made from choice beef and fresh vegetables; two soup selections are offered each day, as well as our chili and beans.
Lemonade, iced tea and a variety of soft drinks are served. Domestic and imported beers, our house wines and several premium wines by the glass are offered.
To top off your meal at Philippe’s, try one of our desserts. A large variety of cream and fruit pies are offered daily. In addition, we have ice cream, New York style cheese cake, our seasonal baked apples, custard, tapioca, and fresh fruit.
Hearty breakfasts are served from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily. Some of our breakfast items include eggs (any style), bacon, sausage, ham, corned beef hash and our own fried potatoes. Ask for our fresh, homemade salsa for the egg dishes. In addition, omelets, cinnamon French toast, pancakes, and a variety of fruits and juices are offered. Coffee is included with most breakfasts. Featured are our biscuits, cinnamon streusel coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, donuts and muffins, all baked in-house.
The price of a cup of coffee remained a nickel until 1977, when it was increased 100%, to a dime. It was more recently increased to 45 cents a cup.
The way the service works is unique. There is a long display counter with 10 servers, (we call them “Carvers”), many of which have been working at Philippe’s well over 20 years. Each Carver has everything she needs to prepare your meal. You get into one of the 10 lines, and when you reach your Carver, she can take care of your whole meal; make your sandwich or fix your hot dish, serve salads or soup, give you coffee or a glass of wine, add it all up and take your money. The plates are paper, the service is fast. There are ceiling fans, neon soft drink and beer signs, sawdust on the floor, a few booths and long wooden tables with stools. Seating is family style. It is not unusual to sit with people from all walks of life at the same table. There are press clippings and civic citations on the walls, and you can weigh yourself on the same scale that was used by Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post. You can make yourself at home.
In 1951, when Philippe’s closed its doors on Aliso Street, Matt Weinstock, then a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News wrote “. . . Philippe’s was something special. It had sawdust on the floor and cracks in the wall but you didn’t care. You went there for the luscious French-dipped sandwich, the boiled eggs, the hot mustard, the potato salad, the cole slaw, the immense hunks of pie, the always hot mugs of coffee. You also woke up at night, maybe thousands of miles away, yearning for one of those sandwiches.”
More than 35 years later, Merrill Shindler of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner wrote, “. . . Philippe’s is more than food. It’s one of those marvelous phenomenon’s I find myself constantly drawn to in an effort to connect with a bit of L.A.’s too often ignored past. . . What can I say? It’s Philippe’s. It’s the Original–and it always will be.”
And finally, MacDonald Harris of the New York Times (“Real food in L.A.,” March 1990) wrote, “There is an air of camaraderie among the customers, a kind of unspoken friendliness and consideration that’s rare in a big city . . . The customers are people of all kinds: shoppers, residents of nearby Chinatown, businessmen, Amtrak workers from the station, people who have been coming here for years and are now bringing their children. More than any other place I can think of, Philippe’s typifies the democratic spirit of Los Angeles . . .”..