Smoked turkey on squaw bread, still in its butcher paper wrapper
Over the past six years, Moto Deli has woven one of our region’s most circuitous food truck stories, with nearly as many twists and turns as a Bong Joon-ho film. After first hitting the road in 2014, the motorcycle themed mobile kitchen landed a Leucadia storefront. There it became, not just a sandwich shop, but a scratch deli, which produced sandwiches made on house-cured meats and house-baked breads. To accomplish that, it became the rare deli led by an experienced executive chef, Andrew Halvorsen, whose 15 years cooking includes a stint with San Diego’s premier charcuterie producer, A.R. Valentien.
1076 N Coast Hwy 101 #101, Encinitas
The neighborhood liked it, and the business grew. It added dinner service in 2017, and expanded to Mira Mesa in 2018. Then, in 2019 — poof. Both locations closed, both reconfigured into different restaurant concepts by its owners. In Leucadia, it became the modern bistro, Valentina, which traded sandos for the likes of steak, salmon, and pastas. While Valentina has been well received, according to founder Mario Guerra, people kept showing up looking for Moto Deli’s cubano sandwich.
A grilled cubano, made memorable by pork belly
So, after less than a year away, Moto Deli has returned to Leucadia, about 500 yards up the coast highway from its original address. I happen to recognize the space: I tried a kombucha ice cream float here last summer, and soft-serve ice cream the summer before that. It’s tiny, barely enough room for a kitchen and counter, not even as large as its attached patio. But there, once again, was chef Halvorsen, crafting a reduced menu of sandwiches and salads, served through lunch only.
A motorcycle themed deli returns to Leucadia.
My sandwiches don’t come out fast, but mainly because there are a dozen orders ahead of me. First, I have to try the cubano that’s apparently responsible for Moto Deli’s second wind. And it’s not tough to see why. Like all traditional cubanos, it features a combination of ham and pork, grilled with cheese and dressed with mustard and pickles. What you get here is a blend of cheddar and muenster cheeses, with ham paired with pork belly, on sourdough bread. Put bacon on any sandwich and it will sell better. Load it with slices of pork belly, and customers will keep coming back for it until their cardiologists force them to stop. It’s not the huge sandwich I’d expect for 12 dollars (no side dish included), but I guess that’s what sandwiches cost anymore, when you’re this close to the beach, or in an airport.
All orders served in bags, to go, even if you eat on the patio
The more interesting sandwich is another Moto Deli signature: the turketta. Served on squaw bread, the meaty highlight of this one is house smoked turkey breast — that despite the presence of bacon. It’s got avocado, cheddar, a tangy mayo “moto spread,” and arugula. Left that that, it would be a good, California-style sandwich. But what makes it stand out is an apricot mostarda, which lends a spiced sweetness to another, small, $12 sandwich.
Patio is bigger than kitchen and counter.
Makes me wonder whether these sandwich prices impacted the first iteration of Moto Deli Leucadia. But then, even as the patio crowd begins to thin out, the line for takeout orders inside keeps growing. And as I sit on the patio, I notice more than one group of pedestrians walking past on the sidewalk, pointing the place out to each another: “Moto Deli is always good,” they say, even if they don’t stop in.