Either a restaurant owner nicknamed Frenchie accidentally dropped sandwich bread into a pan of gravy or a chef at a different eatery dipped the bread on purpose to soften it for a customer with sore gums. But whether it was created at Philippe's (1001 North Alameda Street; 213-628-3781; www.philippes.com) in 1918 or at Cole's (118 East Sixth Street; 213-622-4090; www.colesfrenchdip.com) in 1908, the French dip, perhaps LA's oldest sandwich, is delicious at both places. The difference between the Downtown rivals is in the presentation. At the cafeteria-like Philippe's, counter servers construct your meal in front of you, dunking the slow-roasted beef, pork, or lamb sandwich to your liking: "single dip," "double dip," or sopping "wet." You can enjoy it there with a ten-cent coffee or a Silver Oak cabernet, but either way, it's an earthy experience. At the recently renovated Cole's, your pastrami or turkey-Swiss sandwich is served to you undipped, its rich gravy on the side. With its mahogany bar, red booths, and Tiffany stained glass, Cole's is a destination for nightclubbers as well as sandwich lovers; a door in the back of the dining room leads to The Varnish, a speakeasy with a menu of handcrafted cocktails. But Cole's raison d'etre, just like that of Philippe's, is that glorious, LA-born dip.
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