Battle of The Reubens: Harry's Deli VS. Larry's Deli
But when I spotted what seemed like a Bizarro Harry's Deli across town called Larry's Deli, which to my knowledge is owned by Koreans (Harry is, by the way, Korean), I was tickled by the prospect of having a Dueling Dishes post with "Larry's Deli versus Harry's Deli" as a title. So sue me; I amuse easily.
And just for this reason and this reason alone, I found myself ordering my usual Harry's Deli staple at Larry's: the Reuben ($5.65) and I liked it. Even if it is somewhat smaller than Harry's, their execution is sound. The butter-soaked rye bread is almost its own meal; the toast is practically seeping as if it were a grilled cheese. They've utilized just enough sauerkraut and Russian dressing to tip back the balance of richness from the melting Swiss and the thinly-sliced-to-almost-melting corned beef, which is not so much piled up in neat stacks but balled up wherever it may fit. This, my friends is a decadently rich sandwich, perhaps the reason they sized it so diminutively.
Sandwiches at Larry's are prepared, wrapped in butcher paper, and then halved so that you see the cross-section looking up when served. Their French Dip, by the way, comes with what tastes like a born-from-a-bouillon-cube au jus; but the sandwich itself harbors the unexpected zing of horseradish. But most of all, I liked the way the lady at the counter smiled brightly and said "Would you happen to have Visa or Mastercard?" when I handed her my AMEX. It's nice when a business owner has the tact to find another way of saying "We don't take that card," or "We only take Visa," without being condescending.
So what of Harry's Deli's Reuben ($6.70)? It is still as unequivocally great as always. Herewith is a sandwich born to please the sandwich Gods and reward those who know where to find it. As I've said before, it is perfect in every way. In it pink-tender folds of corned beef are stacked generously with layers of sauerkraut, cheese, and sauce. And I must talk about the bread. Harry uses a rustic rye that is at once dense and hearty. A slice from this loaf almost has the mouth-feel of carrot cake. And if you're stuck on the higher by a $1 price tag, you must take into account that Harry piles on about what I estimate to be three times the amount of meat than Larry's, and in thicker slices to boot.
Which is the better sandwich? Both are worthy. Both are good. And for once, I'd like to live in a world where Larry and Harry can go on and do the great things they do without some yahoo like me saying one is better than the other. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I prefer Harry's.
If there's a Barry's Deli somewhere out there that makes a Reuben, call me. So far, I'm two for two.
Harry's Deli, 17881 Sky Park Cir. Ste. A., Irvine, CA 92614, (949) 261-2116
Larry's Deli, 17145 Von Karman Ave. Ste. 102, Irvine, CA 92614, (949) 263-1983
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.