While I was in Amsterdam last year, I discovered Sandwichshop Sal-Meijer, which had just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Amsterdam food critic Johannes van Dam, who can make or break a restaurant, awarded the unassuming kosher deli, best known for its fish cakes, corned beef, pastrami, and half-and-half (corned beef and sliced liver) sandwiches a "9-plus," accompanied by a glowing review.

Not only is the menu considered the best Jewish fare in the country; this pared-down version of a New York deli - decidedly more Flatbush Avenue than Seventh Avenue - is called the second shul, or synagogue, where in 1945, survivors of World War II would come every day in hopes of seeing friends who also had survived.

Today, it is still frequented by survivors - they were children in 1945 - and they and their children have made this iconic establishment a community of their own.

It is the first stop for a sophisticated New Jersey lawyer in his 60s on his frequent trips to Amsterdam. He can't quite shake his childhood memories of visiting Sal Meijer with his grandpa and ordering a half-and-half. With similar urgency, an anxious-looking man from Peru arrives with the name

Sal Meijer

scribbled on a crumpled scrap of paper.

At lunchtime, the crowded restaurant is filled with local regulars - Jewish or not - who eat here because of the sandwiches and because there's something about the place that makes them feel at home. Some of them come in hopes of an intimate chat with Meijer's son-in-law, Maurits Blog, and his wife, Marjan Meijer-Blog, who took over the restaurant 25 years ago.

What customers might love most is that when a new person walks through the door, Blog shakes hands with him or her.

"It's the only thing that's left from the Jewish tradition before the war," confides a bearded man in his 70s.

Of course, there's also a table of regulars whose intimate conversations include talk of babies, graduations and weddings.

When I ask Blog - a former butcher, like his father-in-law - what makes his corned beef and pastrami so special, he admits he still uses his father-in-law's recipes, which include packing the meat in salt for a week.

As for the deli's famous fish cakes, which draw people from all over the Netherlands, and which cause the peppery critic van Dam to salivate, their secret is closely guarded. An accomplished chef in his own right, van Dam has tried to re-create them and feels he has it down - almost. They start with fresh, white fish and pureed potatoes.

Or you can get the real thing at Scheldestraat 45 in Amsterdam.

Beverly Levitt lives

in Los Angeles.