If The Hat's original road side stand on the corner of Garfield and Valley in Alhambra looks like it's been there since the 50's, that's because it has.
It's nothing but a beaten-down shack, with a walk-up window. Behind the building, in the parking lot, there are a few worn tables where you can sit and stuff your face with pastrami.
The fact that it still remains in that same location to this very day is a testament to its endurance as the city and the whole San Gabriel Valley transforms itself into L.A.'s largest Chinese enclave.
That stand seems to be one of those unique, distinctly L.A. joints that have stood the test of time. In this club are places like Pink's Hot Dogs and Philippe's French Dip.
However, unlike Pink's and Philippe's, The Hat has apparently decided to expand and franchise itself beyond the L.A. County line. There are eight other outposts including one in Brea and Upland.
The newer stores are not mere walk-up windows though. The Lake Forest outlet's got a full-on dining room. But the menu board still has that distinctive white lettering over the ugly brown wood pattern; the kind they used to use on TVs and clock radios manufactured in the 70's.
Brown, it seems, is the predominant color scheme of the restaurant. And everyone orders the Pastrami Dip sandwich. Everyone.
The sandwich is a two-fisted affair. Served on food trays reconstituted from recycled newspaper pulp, a soft hoagie roll is stuffed, nay, crammed with heaps upon heaps of shredded pastrami; beefy red ribbons of stringy meat and fat. It's chewy, bordering on rubbery, but it's good and salty like pastrami should be. The plain old yellow mustard and lip-puckeringly sour slices of pickle help to cut through the richness.
Pastrami purists will probably say that it doesn't hold a candle to Langer's. And they're probably right.
But until Langer's decides to whore itself to the masses in O.C. and the Inland Empire, The Hat's here to fill the void.
The sandwich, by the way, ain't cheap. At exactly $7.00 with tax, it's not exactly as cost effective as the banh mi. But then, ask anyone eating at The Hat in Lake Forest what they think of banh mi, and they'll likely say "Ban you? Why? What'd you do wrong?"
23641 Rockfield Blvd
Lake Forest, CA 92630