Forget the kitschy charade that is America’s idea of Oktoberfest. Real Los Angeles German expats know that while great sausage, sauerkraut, and döner kebabs can be found across the city, for cold cut sandwich favorites it’s all about Van Nuys German Deli on Roscoe Boulevard, a classic since 1971.
There’s nothing particularly new, or even really that exciting, about Van Nuys German Deli on its face. There’s a wide old sign hanging over the front door (which sticks, but owner Tobias Konrad promises it’s being fixed), and the rest of the property is a strip mall mix of liquor stores, stereo shops, and open asphalt. Inside the place is square and cozy, with a couple of little mini-aisles selling a tight collection of German grocery classics. There’s the rich deli mustard, the curried ketchup squeeze bottles, the German beer and fortified wine.
The real magic comes, predictably, at the deli counter, where Konrad turns out lunchtime sandwiches for in-the-know locals. The deli is only open for midday hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) Tuesday through Saturday, so most of Konrad’s business comes from passersby, workers at the nearby Budweiser plant and Van Nuys airport, and daytimers with the time to swing past for a bite.
Van Nuys German Deli’s menu offers the usual assortment of mostly cold sandwiches, including Italian classics like salami, mortadella, and the like. There’s also turkey, Black Forest ham, and the like, but the real gems are the German favorites: liverwurst, veal loaf, bologna, and tongue. Breads (most common are the kaiser roll and rye) come from German Home Bakery in Orange County, and the cheese and condiments are all imported.
On the hot sandwich side, there’s the knackwurst, a traditional German smoked sausage that dates back hundreds of years. Ask for it hot, of course, and the whole thing comes split down the middle and served on a roll with plenty of zippy mustard. Small pre-baked pretzels arrive a few days a week from the same Orange County supplier, and help round out a sufficiently carb-heavy lunch.
There isn’t much room to dine inside — just a couple of small tables by the front window, really — and the shelves are never fully stocked with the sort of traditional American abundance of goods common in today’s grocery stores. But to focus on the small stuff at Van Nuys German Deli misses the bigger picture.
In a city loaded with vibrant immigrant communities across the Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Cambodian, British, and Central American spectrum, having a tiny German home for knackwurst and glühwein is something special. Tobias Konrad is still there every day too, chatting up regulars and discussing the merits of similar products he happens to sell. Want something special? There’s a chance he can import it, or at least figure out the next place that can.
Van Nuys German Deli opened in 1971, and Konrad has owned the storefront since 2005. But the inherent value of having a home, no matter where you’re from, to find the daily menu items and grocery store products from a lifetime past, is timeless.
Van Nuys German Deli
16155 Roscoe Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA