Norton’s Pastrami & Deli – Santa Barbara, California

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli

“I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.”
~George Costanza

January 14th has been designated “National Hot Pastrami Sandwich day.” The fact that a day has been designated to honor the greatness of the “most sensual of all the salted and cured meats” is wholly unnecessary for many of us. True pastrami paramours in the mold of Dagwood Bumstead, Shaggy Rogers, Joey Tribbiani and my friend Bill Resnik, don’t need a special reason or designated day to partake of pulchritudinous pastrami. To us, every day is pastrami sandwich day!

Now, if your experiences with pastrami have been limited to the packaged Boar’s Head offering or worse, an occasional Subway pastrami sandwich, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is about pastrami. Offer Boar’s Head or Subway’s version of pastrami to a foodie from the East Coast or the West Coast, however, and you may as well be offering them snake tartare. If you’ve ever had pastrami from either Coast, you’ll understand why.

Corned Beef on Rye

Pastrami is deli food. It’s not meant to be extricated from a hermetically sealed package or consumed at a chain sandwich shop. Nor is it intended to be lean and trim. Pastrami is a rich indulgence of fatty, spicy, smoky deliciousness. Its addictive properties impact all your brain’s pleasure centers much the way the capsaicin in chile does.

East Coast transplants will argue vociferously that pastrami is not a bi-hemispheric proposition, while residents of the West Coast talk up their own pastrami traditions. Until the 2006 launch of California Pastrami & More, Duke City diners were pretty much shortchanged when it came to outstanding pastrami. California Pastrami acquires its pastrami from The Hat, a Los Angeles area pastrami sandwich shop chain, even East Coast transplants agree is absolutely delicious.

Pastrami on Rye

Pittsburgh-born political commentator and Saturday Night alum Dennis Miller spent enough time in New York City to understand the pastrami mystique, yet it was the pastrami from a Santa Barbara deli he recommended to Guy Fieri, the high élan host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Miller, a Santa Clara resident, describes Norton’s Pastrami and Deli as “very Long Island.” Norton’s sells about 320 pounds of pastrami per week, serving it up six different ways: pastrami dipped sandwich; pastrami, lettuce and tomato (PLT) with chipotle mayo; pastrami Reuben; the NYC (with coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye); pastrami cheese (Jack, Cheddar, tomato on grilled sourdough); and of course, The Classic (pastrami on rye).

As with Dennis Miller, this pastrami partisan doesn’t need all that “augmentation.” Pastrami on rye with deli mustard is my ticket. Interestingly Norton’s doesn’t steam its pastrami as California Pastrami does. Instead, the pastrami is grilled on the flat top to give it a slightly crisp texture. Norton’s isn’t chintzy with its portions, engorging each sandwich with a full eight to ten ounces of wonderfully marbled pastrami. The pastrami is sliced thin and piled high, a perfect combination. Texturally, the pastrami has an occasional ribbon of fattiness, but for true devotees, that’s just more flavor. Norton’s pastrami is a bit on the salty side, but its crispiness (courtesy of the flat top grilling) makes up for it. The light rye is perfectly grilled and has an assertive, but not overly so, personality.

Norton’s Deli is no one-trick pony, offering an extensive sandwich menu that includes corned beef, melts, grilled chicken, Philly steak, Hebrew National hot dogs and even salads (since the salads aren’t constructed with pastrami, I’ll never order one). It’s an ambitious menu considering the deli’s tiny digs with no more than five tables in the dining area and about that many bar seats. The “open kitchen” lets you take in all the action–and all the aromas. You may be drooling by the time your sandwich is ready.

As with the light beer commercials from the 1960s, I’m the “great taste” guy and my Kim is the “less filling” gal in the way we order at restaurants. We then tend to split our orders so we can have a bit of both. Her sandwich of choice at Norton’s is the corned beef on rye. There’s no doubt it’s a great sandwich, but there’s no way I’d share a pastrami sandwich. A couple of bites of the corned beef confirmed it’s lean, moist and delicious, but no one I know is lobbying for a “Corned Beef Sandwich” day.

Norton’s Pastrami & Deli
18 West Figueroa Street
Santa Barbara, California
(805) 965-3210
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 June 2014
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Pastrami on Rye, Corned Beef on Rye

Norton's Pastrami and Deli on Urbanspoon

10 thoughts on “Norton’s Pastrami & Deli – Santa Barbara, California

  1. It’s our last full day in Santa Barbara and of course we revisited Norton’s Deli for lunch. The Reuben and Avocado Philly were great. Just as satisfying as the first visit. Another venue here where it’s worth waiting in line!

    Also, here is a new recommendation for your next visit to SB:

    Cielito – just around the corner from Norton’s and across State in the La Arcada Courtyard

    We dined on the patio there last night and enjoyed the Cazuela con Chorizo Rojo and the Pollo en Mole Negro. Those 2 dishes with house made chips and quacamole were more than enough for 2!

    Headed for home tomorrow, with a stop for breakfast at the Turquoise Room on Sunday.

    1. Cielito is dog friendly so we’ll definitely check it out when we next visit Santa Barbara.

      I’m glad you enjoyed Norton’s Deli so much and hope you have a safe return trip home. Be especially careful driving among the big rigs from Barstow through Flagstaff. We had several near misses on our drive.


  2. Yes Gil, we are eating well. My wife and I just finished a classic and NYC pastrami. Very good. Norton’s is now on our list of favorite SB eateries.

  3. We are in SB and will be trying out Norton’s by the end of the week! Almost stopped there yesterday but nothing I could do could make the Truck pass by La Superica! Good thing we are on an extended visit!

    1. You’re very fortunate to have a mother-in-law who lives in Santa Barbara which may just have the perfect weather year-round as well as some pretty terrific restaurants (not to mention Spudnuts, the best donuts served by any chain anywhere). We weren’t able to try several restaurants you suggested as we were traveling with our dachshund and not all restaurants accommodate four-legged guests. I hope you have a great time in Santa Barbara and know you’ll be eating well.

  4. Since I type so slowly I am always composing at least a paragraph ahead of my fingers. I left out the part about Schwartz’s being a close second.

  5. Best I ever had was in Montreal, where they call it “smoked meat.” Most thrilling was at the Carnegie Deli in NYC after a Cleveland Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Ninth with our son Thom playing second oboe next to his teacher and mentor. At the Deli we sat a table away from Itzak Perlman.

    1. The best I ever had was at Katz’s in NYC but Schwartz’s in Montreal. Some here like California Pastrami are getting close but most are not in the running. If you got your smoked meat as a visitor to Montreal you probably did like most of us and beat a path to Schwartz’s and since you get 4-choices, lean, medium, medium Wet or wet. Many order lean and, of course, complain that it is dry. Medium wet is the way to go. Some people say that smoked meat is more like corned beef than pastrami but they are completely wrong. It tends to be spiced a LITTLE different than most pastrami but there are many individual differences depending on where you order it.
      If you did go to Schwartz’s I am sure that you remember how small, a fraction of the size of Katz’s,and old it is even though lines always stretch down the street. I understand that Celine Dion, husband and a couple of others just bought the place for TEN MILLION dollars and do not intend to franchise because the locals would hunt them down and kill them. Since our bill back in ’08 was $19, about like everybody else I can’t imagine how they intend to get their money back unless the main profit is in reselling to someone even richer and dumber.

  6. I am envious. I wish I had the time and wealth to eat my way around the world. I might never make it home from my quest for the best pastrami. There is some great food out there.

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