As my culinary bucket list for Anaheim is quickly getting checked off. Earlier this year, I talked about how I had finally visited Ararat Armenian Cuisine and that the two other great restaurant mysteries in my hometown were the AVIO Dutch Club and Tony's Deli, as I had never seen either of them open yet both had stayed in existence for decades. Well, I just got an invite to attend one of AVIO's Indonesian food nights (!), and business recently took me to Anaheim while Tony's was open.
Having finally enjoyed one of Tony's epic sandwiches, I can now call the deli the crossroads of Anaheim's past, present and future. This place is unapologetically old Anaheim, from the "Wallace for President" bumper sticker to the Diet Vernors chilling in the fridge to the women working behind the counter, each one looking as if she was nabbed from the concession stand at Glover Stadium circa 1975. The cluttered interior and nonexistent lighting remind me of the yellow Alcoholics Anonymous house off Broadway to which I accompanied my dad for meetings as a child. And the sandwiches-only menu is a time capsule of what Anaheim is: a working-class town that wants its food fast and in huge portions. Some of the sammies are standards—a fine French dip, gargantuan subs, a Reuben out of LA's Fairfax district. Others are just bizarre, beautiful creations: the Sheepherder is a mass of meat—corned beef, pastrami, salami and turkey—stacked between rye, while the Chicago might be the last unironic tongue sandwich in North County. And this is also one of the last restaurants left in Anaheim that cater to German palates; between the hefty knackwurst plate, the briny sauerkraut and the braunschweiger sandwich, you want to raise a toast to the German colonists who settled the town.
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But that's the thing about Tony's: You always think of it in the past, while Anaheim has dived bravely into the present. The average age of the customers every time I've gone is early 50s—a multicultural mix, but one whose era is eclipsing. Whoever runs Tony's knows this, as it's only open during the week, only open for lunch, and stuck on a strip of Anaheim Boulevard that's seeing city-sponsored gentrification to the north and the Reconquista from the south—the crossroads of the town. What to do? Pull up a seat at the bar, and dive into the sandwiches while there's still time.