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Restaurants

Leucadia restaurant re-themed as owner shifts priorities

The newly upgraded covered patio at Valentina restaurant in Leucadia.
The newly upgraded covered patio at Valentina restaurant in Leucadia.
((Courtesy of Japheth Wesby) )

Mario Guerra turned his motorcycle-inspired deli into a more feminine restaurant named after his toddler daughter Valentina

Four years ago, Mario Guerra came up with the idea of opening his dream restaurant in Leucadia: a gourmet sandwich shop that would showcase his lifelong passion for motorcycles.

But in the nearly three years it took Guerra to open Moto Deli at 810 N. Coast Highway last year, his passion shifted from his six-motorcycle collection to Valentina, his now-3-year-old daughter with his wife Morgan. So, last spring, Guerra decided to transform the restaurant to a theme that better reflects his life today.

Morgan Guerra, left, and Mario Guerra, right, with their 3-year-old daughter, Valentina.
Morgan Guerra, left, and Mario Guerra, right, with their 3-year-old daughter, Valentina. The Rancho Santa Fe couple own two restaurants in Leucadia, Valentina, named for their daughter, and Moto Deli.
(Courtesy photo)

After a five-day closure and renovation last April, Valentina Restaurant was born. The 50-seat restaurant’s decor switched from masculine to feminine and the walls are now decorated with whimsical paintings of Mario, Morgan and Valentina and even the family’s bulldog. Each table is also decorated with a fresh lemon, a take-home souvenir grown in the Guerra family’s 2-acre home lemon grove.

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“With Moto Deli, it was more about me and the motorcycles. But life changes and you mature a little bit. The center of my life now is more about my daughter and family and I wanted the restaurant to reflect that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moto Deli has been reborn. It motored down the road to a smaller location just two blocks away. The new Moto Deli opened three weeks ago in the former Live Culture Cafe/Yocadia space at 1076 N. Coast Highway.

Guerra was born in Mexico City and moved to the U.S. with his family in 1996. Born into a family of entrepreneurs, he worked for several years in the women’s apparel manufacturing business and at a local investment firm. His very first job, at age 16, was working as a restaurant bus boy. He took the job to pay off his first speeding ticket, but working in the kitchen awakened a love of the culinary trade and opening his own restaurant was a long-term goal.

Lamb mole on a bed of risotto with cotija and pickled persimmons at Valentina Restaurant in Leucadia.
Lamb mole on a bed of risotto with cotija and pickled persimmons at Valentina Restaurant in Leucadia.
(Courtesy photo)

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Valentina Restaurant, now helmed by executive chef Lisa Ortiz, is a globally inspired bistro with dishes inspired by the cuisines of Mexico, Spain, Italy and France. Specialties of the house include lamb mole with risotto, charred pulpo y papas (octopus and potatoes) with piquillo peppers, campanelle pasta with mushrooms and kabocha squash, cider-brined pork chop, tres leches cake and churros with chocolate sauce. Shared plates are $10 to $18, mains are $20 to $29. The restaurant’s happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, offers $1.50 oysters and $50 wines and beers. Brunch service will be added next summer.

Guerra said he’s still taking the temperature of the diners in the restaurant-heavy Leucadia community. In response to customer requests, he is working with Ortiz to make the menu more affordable and welcoming.

“Everything in that area has a more casual surf-oriented vibe and this was seen as a place for special occasions,” he said. “We are dropping the prices across the menu quite a bit to become more of an everyday, neighborhood restaurant for the community.”

Valentina Restaurant

Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.

Where: 810 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

Phone: (760) 943-6686

Online: restaurantvalentina.com

Diners at Valentina Restaurant in Leucadia can take home a fresh lemon grown in the owners’ 2-acre grove.
Diners at Valentina Restaurant in Leucadia can take home a fresh lemon grown in the owners’ 2-acre grove.
(Courtesy photo)
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