Welcome back to Dining On A Dime a bi-weekly feature in which Lizbeth Scordo surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you think she should go next? Drop us a line.
I recently spent a week back home in New Jersey. And while the Garden State is so often the butt of jokes (oh, and, Snooki, you're not helping things), our food is nothing to laugh about. You don't have to poll everyone you know or scour the Internet in order to find a great slice of pizza or a standout sub. Pull over at the first place you see and I promise, nine out of 10 times, it's going to be good. So, fresh off my trip back east, I decided to try that strategy here on the West Coast the other day, stopping in at a usually crowded pizza and sandwich shop I had passed a million times but never tried, Culver City's Victor Jr.'s.
I arrive at the narrow storefront eatery just as one lunch crowd is leaving, opening up nearly every table for me, but by the time I head out a half hour later, the place is packed again. The restaurant is bright and cheery and gives a kitschy nod to the film industry (Sony Studios is across the street) with framed photos of old Hollywood stars hanging across an exposed brick wall and menus printed on signs made to look like film strips. Not to forget the phrase "You wish you could cook this good" etched in the window also boosts my confidence in the place.
The friendly woman who takes my order at the counter (I later learn it's Victor’s sister) tells me that their Philly cheese steak, chicken parmesan sandwich, and Italian sub (stuffed with genoa salami, mortadella, capicola and provolone) are the restaurant's biggest sellers. Victor Jr.'s, which has been open for a decade, does a big lunch crowd, she says, thanks to the Sony staffers and other local businesses, and then gets busy with delivery orders in the evenings.
First things first. I've got to try some pizza, even though the slices in the display window all look like the pizza maker is a bit heavy handed with the cheese. I pick out a slice that looks slightly less cheesier than the rest and ask if it can get a quick trip to the pizza oven, which is back in the surprisingly large kitchen with an equally surprisingly large number of cooks working.
I order a chicken parmesan sandwich too (I bring half home to my husband, I swear) and head outside with my pizza and fountain soda to the sunny sidewalk patio full of plastic tables covered with red-and-white checkered tablecloths.
Sadly, someone in the kitchen (perhaps a cheese company stockholder?) took it upon himself to sprinkle even more mozzarella on my slice before it went back into the oven just now, an addition this pizza definitely didn't need. There’s simply too much cheese to begin with, which keeps the pizza soggy even after the oven heatup. It’s thin enough, but the crust is a bit bready, and while it’s not awful, it’s mediocre at best and not anything I’d put on my list of stellar slices. Though the slice was $2.50, and a plain 18-inch pie is $14.95, specialty pizzas don’t run cheap here and some of the pizzas, including the “meat lovers and “gourmet vegetarian” pies cost nearly $25. Yikes.
As I look around at fellow customers, I notice something: the gang of Sony employees talking shop behind me are all digging into giant salads and overstuffed sandwiches. The two women in front of me in line order sandwiches too, ditto for another group of diners sitting inside. I seem to be the only one wasting time on pizza.
And when my sub arrives, I understand why. Victor Jr.'s is best at being a sandwich joint, with an emphasis on old-fashioned Italian-American varieties like meatball, eggplant, chicken parm, and sausage and peppers (all averaging about $8 each)
The breaded chicken cutlets in my sandwich are pounded thin and the meat is tender and flavorful. You can taste the tomatoes in the chunky and bright marinara dotted with wilted basil, and topped with a gooey mixture of mozzarella and parmesan. And I love the big soft and crusty roll. After inquiring, I learn Victor Jr.’s gets it bread from my new favorite bakery, Normandie. Good choice.
Ok, so the whole pizza thing didn't work out, but I did find a solid sandwich place that would make any Jerseyite feel right at home. And that's no joke.
Pizza: $2.50 to $24.95