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Best Dishes in San Diego: Sardine Toast at Pali Wine Co.

Food critic Troy Johnson picks his favorite menu item at this charming Little Italy eatery
Pali Wine Co. Best Dish Sardine Toast Dish on a Plate
Pali Wine Co. Best Dish Sardine Toast Dish

Sardines still sting from the reputational slander cast upon them in the ’70s and ’80s. Those of a certain age still remember them as cat food-adjacent, silvery fish kazoos in a can, opened to ward off evil spirits and disperse loved ones. It’s a crime, that sort of bad sardine talk. Especially since, caught locally, they’re delicious and sustainable.

As a trillion-headed seafood-eating beast, the whole hungry world gets itself into trouble when we figure out we like a fish—like salmon or tuna—and decide that’s the only thing we’re gonna eat until a scientist steps in and says, “Welp, they’re almost extinct because you just dug your heels in. Congrats on that.”

At Pali Wine Co in Little Italy (a hell of a great back patio in the middle of the urban food bazaar over near India Street), exec chef Logan Kendall decides what he’s going to cook based on whatever the hell Tommy Gomes tells him to. Not really, Kendall’s a great chef. But Gomes is also one of the country’s top sustainably minded, local boat-supporting fishmongers (check out his fish shop, Tunaville). So Logan calls him every day or week and says, basically, “What’s best off the boats?”

And it results in a dish like this. Tunaville sardines, mixed with good olive oil and salt, and house-cured for three days. He sources his bread from Companion Bread (a little-known gem of a bakery, one of the few in the city milling its own wheat), toasts it with olive oil, takes ripe tomatoes, grates them and adds a splash of sherry vinegar, green garlic, tosses torpedo onions from Chino Farm in a little vinegar, and lays those now silky cured sardines up top. Order it with one of the low-intervention natty wines (Pali is a family-owned urban wine thing, showing off the wines from Lompoc).

It’s a hell of a rebrand, showing off a previously maligned beaut of a local fish.

Pali Wine Co., 2130 India St.

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By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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