After closing down Leucadia’s Moto Deli and opening the Valentina wine bar and bistro in its place, local entrepreneur Mario Guerra just couldn’t shake the people knocking on his door asking, “Where can I get a Cuban?”
While he always had plans to reopen the “superior handbuilt sandwich shop” that encompasses the free spirit of Leucadia, it took six months to find the right spot. Guerra found it a few doors down from the original Moto, officially re-opening in late November just two blocks away in the former Live Culture Café/Yocadia space at 1076 N. Coast Highway.
“The response from the community has been amazing,” Guerra said. “We’ve been open less than 30 days and already have our old regulars coming in four times a week.”
The deli-style menu is as homemade as it gets with most breads, meats, pickled vegetables and many other from-scratch ingredients made in house. The deli utilizes local, premium quality produce whenever possible.
The decision to originally close Moto last spring and re-open as Valentina was driven by Guerra’s own lifestyle and finding a better use for the space.
“My wife Morgan and I would debate about where to go eat for date night and there just weren’t any places that we could agree on based on the kind of food and ambiance that we both enjoy,” said Guerra, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “We selfishly built Valentina for ourselves with everything we like and hoped that others might have similar tastes and enjoy it as much as we do.”
The Guerras saw the old location as a better fit for a wine bar and bistro as it had a large kitchen and much larger seating capacity. As most of Moto’s orders were takeout and delivery, they had no need for the otherwise excessive real estate.
“We thought that finding a smaller space would be a better fit where the same person taking your order could also make your sandwich,” said Guerra. “We uncomplicated it quite a bit with the new space, now it operates much more like a traditional deli designed for quick service, but we still make everything unique by making all our sauces, meats and garnishes in house.”
Serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, Moto Deli features an electric range of hot and cold sandwiches, salads and sides, including an infusion of flavors from the Mediterranean, Southern California and beyond. On the menu is crowd-pleasers like the Turketta with house smoked turkey breast, bacon avocado cheddar and apricot mostarda on squaw bread and the Cubano, packed with pork belly, sweet ham and melted muenster and cheddar on sourdough.
Chef Andrew Halvorsen is back leading the kitchen at Moto Deli, bringing his nearly 15 years of culinary and restaurant management experience and his signature hot sauce.
“Chef Andy uses pickled habaneros and a proprietary mix of garlic and spice,” Guerra said of the hot sauce that has become a cult-favorite. “People love it because it has quite of bit of spice with a bit of sweet. It doesn’t linger in your mouth either so you can eat a ton of it.”
For those date night kind of nights, Valentina remains a go-to option on the 101. Named after their daughter, Guerra said the name doesn’t give away the type of cuisine, so it gives them a blank canvas to serve anything they want.
“We really enjoy hospitality and the creative process. The restaurant business is not an easy one so if we are not having fun doing it, then why do it at all, right?” Guerra said of the restaurant that serves dishes like oysters and crudos, steaks, fish and lots of seasonal plates inspired by the classic styles of Mexico, Spain and France.
“Despite the chic modern style it’s not supposed to be an upscale fancy place. It’s supposed to be a casual family eatery for people that don’t want to eat pizza or burritos and don’t want to cook at home. Although, sometimes on weekends we serve some fancy stuff to celebrate the end of the work week,” Guerra said.