Wexler’s Deli of Grand Central Market fame has finally opened up a second location in Santa Monica, which is wonderful news for those on the Westside that don’t feel like driving to Downtown for Wexler’s.
With Westside powerhouse Gjusta already delivering some amazing Smoked Fish and Sandwiches, how would Wexler’s compare? We couldn’t wait to find out.
The 2nd location of Wexler’s on Santa Monica Blvd., is right next to Tar & Roses. The space is much nicer than their GCM food stall (duh), with bright clean lines and a relaxed setting.
It’s their Smoked Fish that has garnered attention, so I wanted to see how it compared with their original GCM location and with Gjusta. They offer 4 types of fish by the pound and a Fish Salad (mashed up).
Smoked Fish Plate:
At a whopping $40 (+ tax and tip), this is much more expensive than their Grand Central Market version. Sure there’s another 2 types of fish on the plate, but it didn’t really feel like you were getting “double” the portion. You also have no choice in the type of fish you get.
Their (Nova) Lox is bright and tender. It’s not too salty and very good. When paired with their Bagels or Bread, however (sourced from a local baker), it’s their weak point: After having Gjusta’s Lox and other Smoked Fish, with their homemade Bread it really brings the deficiencies to light. This Bread isn’t bad, but it’s dryish, and the Bagel is OK, but nothing amazing.
New for their Santa Monica location, they have a Pastrami Lox, essentially their Salmon seasoned with Pastrami-style seasonings to infuse more flavor. Like their normal Lox it’s tender and fresh-tasting, and the seasoning works: It adds a little more interesting spices to each bite.
Sigh. For the 5th time trying this fish it is sadly just like my tries at their GCM location: It’s a salt bomb. Really salty, and to make matters worse, the slices we got had a bit of a muddy taste and it’s on the dry side (compared to their Lox). Very disappointing.
Another new fish offering for this branch, I was really interested in trying this one. The Trout sadly only had a very slight smokiness, but was very tender otherwise. However, the killer was that their Trout was not deboned. Imagine our surprise when we all took a bite and nearly choked on fish bones (serious matter). Took me by surprise and perhaps it’s traditionally served with bones, but we weren’t warned nor thought there would be any. The Trout’s bones were also really tiny and it made digging out each fish bone a real pain.
It was just a too much of a chore to eat IMHO.
Smoked Whitefish Salad:
The last item is also something at GCM, their Smoked Whitefish Salad, which is like a fancier “Tuna Salad”, with some Smoked Whitefish smashed with Mayo. It was smoky, salty (but not like their Sturgeon), but nothing remarkable.
It was served with some Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Red Onions, Cream Cheese and Capers. Traditional, simple and it worked well.
Sadly(?), the highlight of the Fish Plate was their Potato Salad, which was fantastic! Very fresh, not salty, just the right amount of creaminess without feeling like it was overdressed. It was one of the best Potato Salads I’ve had in a long time.
2nd Visit: We returned for Lunch, and I wanted to give their Pastrami Sandwich another try (even though I’ve tried it 3 times already at Grand Central Market).
The OG Pastrami, Mustard, Rye:
If Chef Wexler could improve his Pastrami Sandwich, then maybe we wouldn’t have to drive to Downtown for Langer’s.
Sadly, their Pastrami has only gotten worse! Taking a bite, the Pastrami is FULL of fat & gristle, and super stringy and chewy! We were shocked. Only 1 time at their GCM location was it overly gristly, but today’s version was really bad. It was borderline inedible. Here’s a closeup of the fat, gristle and chewiness:
We tried multiple angles on this Sandwich and it was all the same. Just super chewy and gristly. AND their Rye Bread is as dry as ever. To think this is even close to Langer’s legendary Pastrami is ridiculous. This was a disaster.
Dana’s Matzo Ball Soup:
If there was one highlight, it would be their Matzo Ball Soup: WOW! This is probably the best Matzo Ball Soup I’ve ever had. There’s a really wonderful, complex and deep Chicken Soup flavor permeating each sip. Their Matzo Ball is fluffy and soft and not dense.
And they top it with Gribenes, the rendered down crispy Chicken Skin after making Schmaltz! It was like Chicken Chicharron! It was so good!
I was super excited to try Wexler’s when they first debuted years ago, hearing so much hype about Chef Micah Wexler and his new endeavor. Sadly, after 4 visits over the years, and these 2 visits to their Santa Monica location, Wexler’s Deli feels mediocre at best.
But to make sure our taste buds were in alignment, I dragged my friends over to Gjusta to do a taste test today, back-to-back, immediately.
One huge advantage with Gjusta is that they allow you to pick and choose whatever Smoked Fish you want, and customize your plate. In addition, they offer 2 different sizes of Fish Plates (S / L) and you can order by the pound if you want. They also rotate in various types of fresh and interesting fish and shellfish all the time:
Smoked Fish Plate (S):
Their Cold-Smoked Lox is delicious. It’s moist, tender, supple and an informal survey from everyone with us, they all preferred Gjusta’s version (1 person had never been to either place before).
I found the flavors to be just as good as the last 3 or 4 times I’ve had this. Good blend of spices that infused into the Salmon, and it’s moist and bright.
There’s a wonderful smokiness that really infuses throughout the meat. Gjusta’s Smoked Trout is tender, intensely smoky and we didn’t have to suffer with fish bones. Delicious!
Smoked Black Cod:
This is just ridiculous. Whoever Gjusta’s Smoked Fish Meister is deserves an award. Today, Gjusta had a surprise: Smoked Black Cod! Black Cod is inherently a wonderful fish to enjoy already, and Gjusta makes a Smoked version that is what you might expect: Luscious, buttery, smoky bites of AWESOME!
Their Black Cod isn’t as fatty as, say, Salmon Belly, and so you get a different type of creaminess but it is wonderful! So good!
So besides the fish, everyone noted (myself included) how awesome their fresh-baked Bread is. They randomly slice off different types of their Homemade Bread to enjoy with their Fish Plate. Today is their Sourdough:
Which is just wonderful! It’s fluffy, airy, moist, with a nice outer crust. Gjusta makes some of the best Bread in the city, and it shows. When you pair their amazing Smoked Fish with their Housemade Breads, there’s no comparison.
We enjoyed their wonderful accompaniments with the Fish Plate as well:
Gjusta offers so many interesting (and wonderfully executed) Smoked Fish and Shellfish items (and more), it’s always a delight:
In the end, if I found myself near Santa Monica Blvd., and I didn’t feel like driving over to Gjusta / Venice, I’d be glad to stop by Wexler’s Deli Santa Monica to grab a Bagel & Lox (or their Pastrami Lox). I’d also gladly return for their wonderful Matzo Ball Soup, and their Potato Salad.
But for Smoked Seafood excellence, along with amazing Housemade Fresh-baked Breads to accompany it, and at a far cheaper price point, and the ability to customize your Fish Plate (choose what you want, different sizes), there’s no comparison: I’m going to Gjusta.
Wexler’s Deli Santa Monica
616 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (424) 744-8671
320 Sunset Ave.
Venice, CA 90291
Tel: (310) 314-0320