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Mona Lisa deli survives dumpster fire 2020

Despite news of an arson attempt, the salami was unharmed

The "deluxe" Italian sub, served in the deli at Mona Lisa Italian Foods
The "deluxe" Italian sub, served in the deli at Mona Lisa Italian Foods

A shudder passed through San Diego’s sandwich-loving community this week when news spread of a suspected arson attempt at San Diego’s old school Italian deli, Mona Lisa Italian Foods. In as perilous a year as 2020, the idea a beloved institution would go up in flames seemed entirely too plausible.

Place

Mona Lisa

2061 India Street, San Diego

And what happened did very much resemble 2020, in the sense it was an actual dumpster fire. Fortunately, our fire department was right on top of the small blaze, and though it scarred the side of the going-on-fifty-year business, the staff inside the deli tell me it wasn’t enough to disrupt business.

Mona Lisa has been serving from this Little Italy location since 1973.

Indeed, when I stopped by the day after the fire to pick up a few sub sandwiches, a steady flow of customers still trickled in, grabbed a ticket, and waited for their number to be called. Granted, we were all wearing masks, and working to dodge each other in the narrow aisles of the deli shop, which sells a hearty selection of Italian cured meats, cheeses, liqueurs, and pantry items.

Scorch marks show where the dumpster fire took place, but the salamis hanging in the garage were unharmed.

The other side of the building is normally a sit-down restaurant, which has been closed to diners during the pandemic re-closing. The good news on that front is that Mona Lisa’s pizzas, pastas, and hot sandwiches are still available to go during regular business hours, and that the restaurant is putting the indefinite closure to good use by remodeling its dining room.

A sub featuring dry, hard salami from vaunted San Francisco salumeria Molinari & Sons

However, despite fire and virus, the deli side operates about the same as it ever was, and it was always a great place to grab to-go sandwiches, built on fresh, sesame crusted Italian rolls.

Per usual, one of the sandwiches in my order was the deluxe, a classic Italian sub topped by mortadella, dry salami, ham and provolone. The triple threat deli sandwich never fails to satisfy, but cured meats are a big deal at Mona Lisa, so I usually like to try a second sandwich featuring one, whether its Genoa salami, imported prosciutto, or spicy soppresata. This visit, my second sub featured a thick stack of delicious hard salami made by Molinari & Sons, a century-old salumeria based in San Francisco.

Molinari & Sons salami hangs over the Mona Lisa deli counter.

I passed the scorched outside wall on my way out of the deli and set off in search of some self-styled al fresco dining. In all my years dining out in San Diego, I don’t think I’ve ever sought out so many picnic spots. Though many of our neighborhood restaurants are having a go at crafting new outdoor spaces to enjoy, those that only do to go orders can benefit from San Diego’s multitude of outdoor spaces. While I’ve been practicing isolation, I have been able to find unbusy parks, or sections of beach, and have been using my take-out orders as an excuse to enjoy a bit of outside time.

Now I wonder why I ever thought to eat Mona Lisa subs indoors in the first place.

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The "deluxe" Italian sub, served in the deli at Mona Lisa Italian Foods
The "deluxe" Italian sub, served in the deli at Mona Lisa Italian Foods

A shudder passed through San Diego’s sandwich-loving community this week when news spread of a suspected arson attempt at San Diego’s old school Italian deli, Mona Lisa Italian Foods. In as perilous a year as 2020, the idea a beloved institution would go up in flames seemed entirely too plausible.

Place

Mona Lisa

2061 India Street, San Diego

And what happened did very much resemble 2020, in the sense it was an actual dumpster fire. Fortunately, our fire department was right on top of the small blaze, and though it scarred the side of the going-on-fifty-year business, the staff inside the deli tell me it wasn’t enough to disrupt business.

Mona Lisa has been serving from this Little Italy location since 1973.

Indeed, when I stopped by the day after the fire to pick up a few sub sandwiches, a steady flow of customers still trickled in, grabbed a ticket, and waited for their number to be called. Granted, we were all wearing masks, and working to dodge each other in the narrow aisles of the deli shop, which sells a hearty selection of Italian cured meats, cheeses, liqueurs, and pantry items.

Scorch marks show where the dumpster fire took place, but the salamis hanging in the garage were unharmed.

The other side of the building is normally a sit-down restaurant, which has been closed to diners during the pandemic re-closing. The good news on that front is that Mona Lisa’s pizzas, pastas, and hot sandwiches are still available to go during regular business hours, and that the restaurant is putting the indefinite closure to good use by remodeling its dining room.

A sub featuring dry, hard salami from vaunted San Francisco salumeria Molinari & Sons

However, despite fire and virus, the deli side operates about the same as it ever was, and it was always a great place to grab to-go sandwiches, built on fresh, sesame crusted Italian rolls.

Per usual, one of the sandwiches in my order was the deluxe, a classic Italian sub topped by mortadella, dry salami, ham and provolone. The triple threat deli sandwich never fails to satisfy, but cured meats are a big deal at Mona Lisa, so I usually like to try a second sandwich featuring one, whether its Genoa salami, imported prosciutto, or spicy soppresata. This visit, my second sub featured a thick stack of delicious hard salami made by Molinari & Sons, a century-old salumeria based in San Francisco.

Molinari & Sons salami hangs over the Mona Lisa deli counter.

I passed the scorched outside wall on my way out of the deli and set off in search of some self-styled al fresco dining. In all my years dining out in San Diego, I don’t think I’ve ever sought out so many picnic spots. Though many of our neighborhood restaurants are having a go at crafting new outdoor spaces to enjoy, those that only do to go orders can benefit from San Diego’s multitude of outdoor spaces. While I’ve been practicing isolation, I have been able to find unbusy parks, or sections of beach, and have been using my take-out orders as an excuse to enjoy a bit of outside time.

Now I wonder why I ever thought to eat Mona Lisa subs indoors in the first place.

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