How do we begin with the origin story of the French dip sandwich? Well, it’s not French, first of all, but invented in Los Angeles. And who exactly invented the sandwich is a matter of some contention. Two local institutions—Cole’s and Philippe’s—both claim to have first created the crusty, beefy sandwich, served with its own jus for dipping.
We asked Jeff Marino, general manager of Cole’s, for his version of the story. “In 1908,” he says, “a hungry guest with bad gums visited Cole’s. Head chef Jack Garlinghouse felt for this particular patron, so he softened the French bread by dipping it in the warm jus of the roast beef pan used to supply the meat for sandwiches.”
Philippe’s, meanwhile, claims that their own Philippe Mathieu created the sandwich in 1918. He accidentally dropped a sandwich roll in the jus–filled beef pan, and dubbed the result a “French Dipped Sandwich” due to his own heritage.
Regardless of its origin, however, the French dip has now expanded well beyond Los Angeles, and is now a celebrated bit of American food culture in its own right.
The bread. “The perfect French bread for the dip is crispy on the outside with a soft chewy interior,” says Marino—all the better to soak up that beefy jus.
The filling. Thinly sliced beef is the classic, but lamb, turkey, ham and others make appearances too. For the classic? “Slice seasoned, slow-roasted beef, and”—the critical factor—“finish by dipping the sandwich in a rich and hearty jus.”
Where to get it:
Cole's. We’ll let Marino speak to the merits of Cole’s: “The bread is baked fresh daily, our house-made Atomic Mustard is the perfect complement, and we allow the customer to dip the sandwich in their very own jus, like it should be. No soggy sandwiches here!”
Philippe's. The beef French dip is, of course, a favorite here, but you can’t go wrong with other renditions, either; the leg of lamb is a particular specialty. Stand in line at the counter and watch them make your sandwich.