Get Your Meat and Potatoes, Deutschland-style, at La Habra's Continental Deli
Ich Bin Ein La Habra-er
Get your prepared meats and potato salad, Deutschland-style, at the hard-to-find Continental Deli
Lest the rest of OC forget: La Habra exists. About the only city in the county that is completely unserviced by freeways, La Habra is often regarded as OC’s vestigial tail, known most notoriously as the home of Paul’s TV, the self-proclaimed “King of Big Screen,” and also as where Octomom and her brood live.
And if you’d asked me 10 years ago where to get a good meal in my hometown, I might’ve pointed you to Claro’s on Whittier Boulevard or the Chicken Box for broasted chicken. But most likely, I would’ve pointed you away from the city, offering suggestions in the San Gabriel Valley to the north or the rest of OC to the south.
Since I left, La Habra’s dining prospects have grown exponentially. Though the chains have permeated here as they have everywhere else, there are, among others, pho joints, unapologetically authentic Korean restaurants and Continental Deli, a family-owned German delicatessen where all manner of meats crammed into tube-like casings is sold, sliced and packaged either into butcher paper or between slices of rye bread.
Continental Deli has been in the city for almost two decades. It moved here in 1992 after 29 years at its original location in nearby La Mirada. Acting on a tip from a friend who lives in La Habra, it took me this long to discover it. Word-of-mouth, it seems, would be the only way anyone would know it even exists. The place is easily ignored: It doesn’t face the street and is otherwise lost in a busy shopping area anchored by a Michael’s craft store.
Once you locate it, you’ll notice that Continental Deli is split in two. The first part is the store, a modestly small but well-stocked grocer for Deutschland expats in need of homey comforts such as mustards, German beers and twisty braided breads. This is flanked by a butcher’s display case holding lunch meat and sausage species both familiar and exotic. These are dense cylinders of varying diameters. Most have mosaic-like cross-sections of flesh and fat, and there’s at least one specimen in which a whole slab of pork belly hugs a huge loaf of mystery meat. And, of course, there are the staples of bratwurst, knackwurst, liverwurst and blutwurst (German blood sausage).
A second entrance leads to the sandwich shop (which is also connected to the grocery store). This dining area looks very much like any office-park lunch stop, sparsely decorated save for a mural that suggests the wall has windows that look out to the Bavarian countryside. On the day of my visit, a large family pushed a few tables together. The guest of honor, a young man in military fatigues, was in the head seat.
Between the two stores, a diminutive grandmotherly figure in an apron shuttles around taking inventory of her grocery items and preparing the food. Her dining-in menu is not encyclopedic or ambitious, taking up only a small whiteboard and consisting mainly of sandwiches. You could recite it in one breath. Her list of German beers is longer, sporting more umlauts than an IKEA catalog. But with every sandwich order comes her remarkable potato salad in which the tuber is extruded through a ricer to become as thin as noodles, making each forkful from the canary-yellow scoop at once delicate and hearty.
Though you could, I wouldn’t substitute anything else for it. But if you did, let it be the German version, in which sliced potato is garnished with parsley, made agreeably piquant by vinegar and served warm. This side dish goes especially well if you opt to have one of their sausages on a plate instead of in a sandwich.
Try the bratwurst first. Arguably the most popular of them all, the white sausage snaps with a natural skin so resilient and crunchy you have to work to pierce it with your knife. Its peppery overtones and slightly coarse texture follow. Its brother in arms is the knackwurst, a plump, meaty tube as smooth as mousse and pinkish in hue—the biggest, fluffiest, most garlicky hot dog in the world.
If you just want a plain American sandwich for your plain American tastebuds, the roast beef is particularly good here, sliced against the grain to become so supremely tender it disintegrates in the mouth without so much as one chew. The breads they use are also notably pillowy, moister than typical sandwich fodder.
But be warned, if you just happen to visit on the second Thursday of the month after 6 p.m., the restaurant hosts a German-speaking stammtisch, or get-together, at which anyone is welcome but required to speak completely in Deutsch. I suggest breaking the ice with this sentence: “Ich liebe La Habra!”
Continental Deli, 1510 W. Imperial Hwy., La Habra, (562) 697-0333. Call for hours. Sandwiches, $5.75. Beer available!
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