Pastrami Dip Sandwich at The Hat (Alhambra, CA)

At the risk of repeating my previous post’s circumstances, I can’t recall how many times I’d driven past The Hat in Alhambra (California) and not stopped. Though I live in Seattle, my in-laws live in the restaurant mecca of the San Gabriel Valley. As if by self-proclamation, “World Famous Pastrami” plastered on signage dares you to pull into the parking lot. This location of The Hat has been there since 1951, which by itself should’ve provided incentive enough (if not curiosity) for me. Still, it wasn’t until my friend KirkJ enthused over the sandwich he and his wife had at another location in Southern California that I finally decided to sample the sandwich.

Both Johnnie’s and The Hat are fast-food restaurants, not delis. More than that, theirs are pastrami dip sandwiches in which the bread is moistened with the meat’s steaming juices, a style endemic to Southern California. Rather than pastrami slices being served on rye bread, French rolls are used, being closer in concept to a roast beef sandwich au jus. (To be fair, Johnnie’s and The Hat do have a pastrami sandwich on rye, but their fame rests with dips.) It may be that rolls are better able to withstand dipping without disintegrating, but this is my own guess. The real reason may very well be more historical than practical. The other important distinguishing characteristic is that the meat is mechanically sliced very thinly, about 116“. Many a great pastrami restaurant pride themselves on hand slicing. Purists may balk at the likes of The Hat for being nothing like what is traditional on the East Coast (most famously the Jewish delis of New York City), citing the “classic” pastrami sandwich at Langer’s Deli on Alvarado in L.A., served with cole slaw and rye bread, as being more authentic. I’ve enjoyed the mountainous version at Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli, fully six inches high, served between excellent rye bread with a wonderful crust—and their complimentary pickles at every table were fantastic.

When I arrived at The Hat today at lunchtime, the parking lot was packed with cars. Lots of customers were eating outside on picnic-style tables in the back, covered by an awning, and more standing in front. Even so, I was able to walk right up and place my order, within five minutes ready to be picked up. There was a generous amount of meat between a split French roll, the bottom half spread with yellow mustard and thin pickles (☆☆☆). This presentation is different from Johnnie’s where mustard and pickles are served on the side. The pastrami at both is comparable, tasting of spices and herbs, salty and peppery, garlicky, glistening with brisket fat, and above all, delicious.

Pastrami dip sandwich
Pastrami dip sandwich
Johnnie's pastrami dip sandwich
Johnnie’s pastrami dip sandwich (2009)

My preference is Johnnie’s (☆☆☆½), not only because of the tastier jus but the fact that mustard (which is spicy) and pickles are served separately and The Hat’s roll seems drier. Someone on Chowhound rued that in the 1980s, the bread was lamentably changed from a crusty outside and soft inside, to today’s style. Two of my wife’s sisters said flatly that they also preferred Johnnie’s. Still, the Hat’s version is no slouch. If you want a wetter sandwich, order it double-dipped. Each has its fierce defenders and many traditionalists decry both. A lot may boil down to whether you like your pastrami sandwich wet or dry. At present, the sandwich at The Hat is $7.99, Johnnie’s is $10.95 (cheese extra).

Update (1-3-15): Not wanting to pass final judgment on The Hat, I didn’t let the opportunity go by of ordering pastrami double-dipped today. As I suspected, this was much more to my liking, dry bread no longer a barrier to the sandwich’s full enjoyment. In fact, the bread was too wet, the result of the extra juices and steaming in the wrapper on the way back to the house. In spite of tackling a big, sloppy sandwich, this is fully the equal of Johnnie’s, a great Southern California-style pastrami sandwich (☆☆☆½).

Double-dipped pastrami sandwich

Update (10-15-18): The only thing that’s changed since the last time is the wrapper, now customized with repeating patterns of The Hat’s logo. Otherwise, it’s the same great, generous, messy pastrami sandwich, double-dipped, which is now $9.99.

The Hat
1 West Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801


25 thoughts on “Pastrami Dip Sandwich at The Hat (Alhambra, CA)

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  1. The original Hat was located at 3rd & Ford in East Los Angeles CA. The Alhambra location was opened later in 1951.


  2. The best pastrami sandwiche in the San Gabriel Valley/L. A. Area was Jim DiMauro’s, DiMauro’s Pizza and Sandwiches on Fremont north of Mission across from the Sears cube. Jim said he wasn’t offered enough to sell the business so he just closed the store when he retired. Wished I’d had the money back then. I’ d love to just have the recipe. Jim had an awesome relish atop the pastrami on a roll with cheese atop the relish. The taste was indescribably great.


  3. The Hat is good, and because I know the owner of the Hat , suffice it to say , Corky the Hat’s pastrami’s are very good, but I wish DiMauro’s was still in business.


  4. Started eating at THE HAT in Alhambra, (Valley and Garfield in l953)…. Every Friday night after closing the Kon Tiki , we made it to THE HAT… I now live in Tulsa, OK.,,, since l970, and have been craving one of those fantastic sandwiches…. Nowhere to be found out here… (I’ve looked) If I ever go back to Alhambra, I know where my first stop will be.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anyone remember Mike’s Pastrami in Temple City? It was on Rosemead Blvd. just north of Las Tunas Dr. I used to go there when I was in high school in the 70s. Their pastrami sandwiches were great! Similar to Tops and The Hat.


  6. Grew up in Rosemead just off Grand Ave.. Worked at the Jack in theBox by Rosemead High School when in HS in the mid 60s. Remember a coffee shop (don’t remember the name) on the northwest corner of Rosemead & Las Tunas. It fronted Las Tunas. The Temple City Theatre was on the northeast corner. Don’t remember Mike’s in that area. And, I frequented that area. A lot.


    1. Pastrami dip sandwiches are one of those ‘endemic’ foods that are hard to find elsewhere in the country. I wish I could get decent Nashville hot fried chicken, Philly steak sandwich, Chicago dog or Hawaiian shave ice around here, but I’ll have to travel to get these food fixes. Something to look forward to, I guess.


  7. Two Saturdays ago, I drove from Mesa, Arizona to Murrieta, California just for a pastrami sandwich. I went to the nearest The Hat to me. It had been nearly 20 years since I’d had food from home. It was worth the 700 mile round trip,


      1. I shouldn’t let anyone think that I went 1,200 miles just for the sandwich. I have relatives who live in the San Gabriel Valley. When I visit, I usually make it a point to stop at The Hat.


  8. The Hat was my stop after cruising Valley Blvd on a Friday and Saturday night, in the early 60’s…such great memories and the best pastrami sandwiches. Haven’t had anything that comes close in all these years.
    Arizona doesn’t have anything remotely close to a typical pastrami sandwich from the Hat.


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