L.A. may be the best food city in America (we’re biased), but sadly, we’re still lacking in the deli department. Sure, there are plenty of places to get a good sandwich, but the classic take-away corner shop isn’t an easy find. Enter Mel’s Deli, a cute new spot in Downtown’s Historic Core that’s serving simple, solid sandwiches and sides.
Owned by Brian Lee, the deli, which soft opened late last year and got its official ribbon cutting last month, is a teeny space with a couple of tables out front. The menu includes about 10 sandwiches (ranging from $8 – $10), mostly trumped up traditional fare, like roast beef with horseradish cream, a nice meaty Italian sub (the most popular), and beef pastrami with swiss and housemade mustard. Slightly more exotic options include prosciutto with burrata and turkey with French-style ham. Pickles by Hattie’s pickles can be added to any sandwich for 50 cents, and full jars are available for purchase.
The bread, the best of which is the house roll, is made exclusively for Mel’s by a local baker. “It’s not as soft as an Italian and it’s not as crunchy as a French roll, where it kind of scrapes the interior of your mouth,” says Lee. “I like to describe the best crunch of a roll as a newspaper crunch. Just imagine you’re grabbing a newspaper—that’s the sound I’m shooting for.” The meats are domestic and imported varieties, some of which are cured and smoked by Russak’s in Boyle Heights.
Mel’s took over Lee’s previous storefront, Sustain Juicery, which he closed last year. The juice market, according to Lee, is saturated in L.A. and Downtown, especially, making it hard to maintain a profitable boutique juice bar if you’re not willing to mass produce your product. It was a friend who convinced him to give the deli concept a try. “He was enticed by the idea of having this sandwich shop in Downtown,” says Lee, who hopes Mel’s becomes a mainstay in the neighborhood. Eventually, he’d also like to open more pocket delis in different corners of Downtown.
Lee says he wants to avoid categorizing Mel’s to maintain a broad appeal to the area’s diverse population. “It wouldn’t necessarily be an east coast deli, it wouldn’t necessarily be the west coast deli, the New York deli, nor the New Jersey deli. It is the Downtown L.A. deli,” he says. Part of that, Lee adds, is offering organic produce when possible and quality meats. In addition to daily sides, like macaroni and German potato salad, Mel’s also offers chicken salad made from Mary’s organic poultry, plus a roasted veggie of the day and weekly specials sourced from farmers’ market ingredients.
Mel’s Deli, 548 S Spring St #114, 213-488-1989