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9 L.A. diners, coffee shops and restaurants that have great meatloaf sandwiches

When you’re craving comfort food, sometimes the only thing that will satisfy is a truly great meatloaf sandwich. Maybe you want your sandwich layered with lettuce and tomato, slathered with a condiment or two — or even submerged under a blanket of gravy, just because. A great meatloaf sandwich is a portable feast, if a messy one.

Meatloaf can mean many things to many people. If nothing else, a meatloaf sandwich is a poor man’s pâté. Elevated, a meatloaf sandwich is like a great hamburger, but with personality — flavored with vegetables and herbs, sometimes spiced to the hilt — and cradled between two slices of bread. .

Los Angeles is home to many diners and coffee shops that offer their take on the classic comfort food. Here are nine places that take pride in their meatloaf sandwiches:

Bay Cities Italian Deli

A Santa Monica institution since its opening in 1925, Bay Cities is an Italian marketplace and deli perhaps best-known for its massive signature sandwiches. Almost any time of day, you’ll find a line of customers waiting to place their order at the deli counter. Bay Cities’ beef-based meatloaf didn’t start as a sandwich at all; it was originally offered as a dinner special. But after a customer asked for the meatloaf in sandwich form, the deli added it to the menu. As with other sandwiches on the menu, you can order a small ($6.50) or large ($8.40) sandwich, your choice of bread and with or without “the works.” With thick slices of meatloaf served hot and under a pool of marinara sauce, this is one glorious mess of a sandwich. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279, www.baycitiesitaliandeli.com

Bergamot Café

In Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station Arts Center, the Bergamot Café is locatedatop the loading dock of a onetime water heater factory, offering center visitors and neighborhood locals a variety of breakfast and lunch items, including hot and cold sandwiches. Manny’s turkey meatloaf ($7.99) is the creation of chef Manuel Ruiz, and he says he’s been making the recipe for 23 years. The sandwich is served on La Brea Bakery bread and is offered with chips or baby greens. 2525 Michigan Ave. # A3, Santa Monica, 90404, (310) 828-4001, www.bergamotcafe.com

Brighton Coffee Shop

The oldest coffee shop in Beverly Hills, Brighton Coffee Shop has been catering to both Hollywood stars and regular customers since the early 1930s. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch with a menu that still carries a number of original items. According to owner Pil Rai Ahn, the beef meatloaf is the same recipe the restaurant has been using since the beginning; a turkey meatloaf was introduced about 20 years ago to cater to customers who wanted a more healthful option. The coffee shop offers two meatloaf sandwiches. The classic ($9.50) includes a thick slice of warm meatloaf sandwiched with lettuce and tomato between slices of toasted bread. The grilled cheese and meatloaf ($9.95) is served hot off the griddle with American, Swiss, cheddar or Provolone cheese. Each comes with coleslaw or potato salad. 9600 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, (310) 276-7732, www.brightoncoffeeshop.com

The Brite Spot

An Echo Park institution, the Brite Spot diner has been open since 1949 on the corner of Sunset and Glendale boulevards.The joint is known for its breakfasts, served all day, along with a generous assortment of pies and other baked goods. But it’s the meatloaf sandwich ($12.95) — thin slices of lightly spiced chicken meatloaf piled high between thick, ketchup jam-slathered slices of griddled sourdough — that might just be your new favorite. The sandwich, served with lettuce and tomato (the pickles are on the side), is served with your choice of sides, including French fries, fruit, vegan potato salad, coleslaw or Tater Tots — yes, Tater Tots. The sandwich has only been on the menu a couple of months, replacing a meatloaf dinner that used an older recipe, and is the creation of chef Mindy Lymperis. You can eat your sandwich outside on the patio, under one of the black and white umbrellas, or in the retro diner, complete with dark wood paneling, glittery patent leather booths and a wraparound counter lit with sputnik-style chandeliers. 1918 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 484-9800, www.britespotdiner.com

Foodlab

Foodlab is the creation of mother-son team Esther and Nino Linsmayer; the small West Hollywood marketplace and cafe started as a catering company. It has a decidedly European feel (the Linsmayers are Austrian) and offers an assortment of breakfast and lunch items. The Austrian meatloaf sandwich ($10.95) is a creation of Esther’s, and is made up of grass-fed beef and served with caramelized onions, Dijon mustard and a secret sauce with a little kick, on panini-pressed ciabatta. What makes it Austrian? “So many times meatloaf is bland,” says Esther. “I put a lot of spices and herbs in it. I wanted to give it a European touch.” 7253 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 851-7120, www.foodlab-la.com

The Kitchen

Open in Silver Lake since 2000, the Kitchen, run by Fred Schleicher and Mark Motonaga, is a homey neighborhood spot specializing in classic American fare. The meatloaf sandwich ($13.50) has been on the weekday lunch menu since 2010: a thick slice of beef and pork-based meatloaf served with melted jack cheese, roasted tomatoes, and finished with chipotle ketchup and mayonnaise between two slices of toasted sourdough. Ask for extra napkins when you’re enjoying this sandwich, which is offered with your choice of fries or garlic mashed potatoes. 4348 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 664-3663, thekitchen.la

Joan’s on Third

Opened as a tiny catering kitchen on Third Street almost 20 years ago, Joan’s on Third has become an L.A. institution, serving thousands of customers a day. The 3,000-square-foot marketplace and cafe features a deli, olive bar, cheese counter, ice cream bar and bakery, as well as a kitchen where you can order breakfast and lunch items off the menu. Among the favorites on the menu? Joan’s turkey meatloaf. “It was one of the first things on the menu, along with our mac and cheese,” says owner Joan McNamara. The meatloaf is based on a recipe from McNamara’s mother, and the sandwich ($12.00) is served on sliced ciabatta or your choice of bread, along with tomato, lettuce and McNamara’s chipotle aioli. And while you can order the sandwich hot or cold, McNamara prefers it cold. “I love when meatloaf first comes out of the oven; it’s perfect hot in the moment. But when it’s cold, it’s like a pâté, and I love it that way. Why would you heat it?” 8350 W 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 655-2285; 12059 Ventura Pl., Studio City, (818) 201-3900 www.joansonthird.com

Mel’s Drive-In

A California institution, the first Mel’s opened in 1947, when the drive-in concept was in its early days. Featured in “American Graffiti” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the diner is known for its 1950s vibe, complete with soda fountains, wraparound counters and deep booths, and with no shortage of formica and chrome. Mel’s meatloaf has been on the menu since the beginning — for close to 70 years, though the recipe was updated a few years ago to use grass-fed beef. The loaves are individually made to order, not sliced, giving each serving a nice crust — think of a burger, but with a lot more personality. The sandwich ($12.75) is served on toasted sourdough, with mayo, lettuce and tomato, and your choice of side. 8585 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 854-7201; additional locations in Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and Northern California, melsdrive-in.com

Nat’s Early Bite

On an average weekend morning, you’ll find a line outside at Nat’s Early Bite, a longtime San Fernando Valley staple in a Sherman Oaks strip mall, with plastic chairs set up for people to cool their heels as they wait for a table or a seat at the counter. (A second location is in Woodland Hills.) The diner, famous for its breakfast and lunch comfort food classics, was originally opened by Nat Elias, who sold it to former busboy-turned-cook Victor Carlos in 1988. Along with the cinnamon rolls, the meatloaf, which comes in either turkey or beef versions, is one of the oldest recipes at Nat’s. “It’s over 100 years old,” says Carlos. The sandwich ($10.50) is served open-faced with a scoop of mashed potatoes, with either beef or turkey gravy. Any secret to the recipe? “It’s what I tell all the customers,” says Carlos. “It’s the love we put into it.” 14115 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 781-3040; 22737 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 222-2350, natsearlybite.com

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noelle.carter@latimes.com

@noellecarter

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