It was raining — the perfect weather for eating a hearty meal at a Jewish deli. Walking down the quiet sidewalk up to Canter’s was like being transported to Fairfax Avenue in the 1940s, taking in the delis, kosher grocery stores, and temples. You could feel Fairfax Avenue bursting with Jewish culture, the side of Canter’s lined with black and white photographs highlighting key moments where Jews disrupted Los Angeles, including striking garment workers in 1900 and the people who made up the Fairfax neighborhood in the 80s.
This was the perfect place to start Lost Tribe’s new column, which has me and Izzy trying out every Jewish deli and kosher joint in Los Angeles.
Stepping into Canter’s was an experience in itself (and not just because I was escaping the drizzle). The bakery was buzzing. People from all walks of life were picking up pounds of deli meat and eyeing some of the most delicious-looking baked goods you’ve ever seen outside of your grandma’s house. The size of the hamantashen was breathtaking. It took everything in my power not to buy one.
My trance was broken when Izzy arrived and we made our way to our booth. We were handed a gigantic menu full of favorites and deli staples. I should note here that there was nothing out of the ordinary but that is sort of the point. Cante’s represents those classic delis that aren’t trying to be fancy or innovative. Instead, they are focused on the dishes that make a Jewish deli special.
But $12.50 for gefilte fish? I even asked the server how many pieces of gefilte fish it came with. He answered that it was three pretty large pieces. A jar of gefilte fish is $7… Despite craving gefilte fish (yes, I actually like gefilte fish), nothing could make me spend that much for ground-up fish.
While taking forever pouring over the menu, the waiter came with our pickles. They were large and very sour. I found them a bit addicting. But I could have just been hungry after seeing all those massive desserts.
I finally settled on matzo ball soup and a deli sampler platter with potato salad and challah toast. The matzo ball soup was a stunning sight — I had not seen a matzo ball this large since going to Carnegie Deli years before they decided to set up an illegal gas hookup. The matzo ball was a bit soft compared to my mom’s and wasn’t as salty. But I found the dough-like texture to be pretty unique. Izzy was a huge fan, stating it felt more like a biscuit that comes on the side of a meal. The broth was immensely flavorful — probably the richest matzo ball soup broth I’ve had in quite some time.
For the meat platter, I chose liverwurst (my favorite deli meat), tongue, and brisket. While advertised as warm, the brisket was definitely nearing on cold. It was also very dry and lacking in flavor. It tasted good dipped in spicy mustard but was underwhelming on its own. The liverwurst was good but nothing out of the ordinary. But again, who wants extraordinary liverwurst? What even would that be? The tongue was delicious. It was the best part of the meal, with a satisfying texture that paired well with a piece of the otherwise bland challah toast.
The star of the dish was the potato salad. This was weirdly addictive and I couldn’t stop eating it, even after feeling like I was about to explode from all the meat. I think I got through one-third of the meat platter. Thank g-d I didn’t get the gefilte fish as well (not that I would want to pay $4.50 per piece of fish). It was fate.
Izzy got an immense brisket sandwich, a classic. It was H. U. G. E. Izzy seemed to find it quite satisfying, although I’m not sure he has jaw arthritis now from attempting to bite into such a massive amount of brisket. The fries it came with were strange. The outside seemed overcooked while the inside was mushy.
It’s easy to see why Canters remains one of the most popular Jewish delis in Los Angeles. It’s a celebration of the Jewish community’s transformation throughout the decades, highlighting their traditions and endurance despite complications, challenges, and an ever-changing landscape. Canters has purposefully decided to stick to the classics, acting as a time capsule to a time when Fairfax was a Jewish hub.
The food was great if you’re looking for those classic, simple dishes. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by what I ate, but it left me satisfied and nostalgic. Izzy and I probably made countless Jewish jokes and references, looking back at our childhoods and Jewish experiences. My only regret is not ordering a hamantash to go — they were probably worth gaining a few pounds for.
Review By the Numbers:
Ambiance — 6/10
I liked the hustle and bustle of the deli in the front of the store near the freakishly large desserts but the eating area was a bit lackluster. Plus there was a woman who wouldn’t stop blasting videos on her phone.
Taste — 7/10
Overall solid food. They weren’t reinventing the wheel here but they have almost perfected the classic tastes that we sometimes crave. Okay, always crave.
Portions & Prices — 8/10
The portions are MASSIVE. You will definitely have leftovers. I still found some of the food items to be overpriced. But the impressive portions definitely made up for that for the most part, including the massive matzo ball. Just not the three gefilte fish for $13. Unforgivable!
Izzy’s Brisket — 7/10
The brisket was on the dry side but the traditional vibe was there.
Experience — 9/10
I had a great time at Canter’s. From walking down Fairfax to joking around over a massive plate of deli meat, I think Canter’s is the exact experience everyone wants out of a deli. The waiter was very friendly even when I questioned the gefilte fish prices and was always there to get me more water. And I drink a lot of water. The food was great and brought a warm feeling to us that made up for the room temperature brisket.
TOTAL SCORE: 8/10