Every once in awhile, it doesn't hurt to revist your designation of a restaurant to see what you might be missing. Many times, I've strolled by Toast Enoteca & Cucina and seen patrons happily sipping wine, or nibbling on antipasti and bookmarked it as a good wine bar. That's true, but there's a lot more to love, namely the panini.
You can find paninis on the menu at plenty of sandwich spots, but few are this authentic, or even close to being this good. Chef Martin Gonzalez, who also owns Acqua Al 2, trained at the Instituto Culinario Apicius, where his instructor was the owner of the original Acqua Al 2, in Florence. If you're not one to be wowed by a chef's pedigree, just look at the house-made focaccia, the juicy cuts of grilled chicken, and the fresh arugula in the panino de pollo alla rucola ($10), which also has creamy melted mozzarella and rosemary mayo.
I loved the fresh, light flavors of this panino, but what really wowed me was the porchetta panino ($10), with slices of slow-roasted pork and a savory crushed cherry tomato sauce.
The porchetta panini encapsulates what Italian cooking is supposed to be about: a handful of fresh, delicious ingredients prepared correctly and then left to shine on their own merits. It had three major components, all of which were completely on point. The bread was fragrant with olive oil and simultaneously crisp, soft, and chewy, the pork was tender, with a subtle smokiness, and the sauce was rustic, with a touch of sweetness. I wouldn't change a thing. Oh, and just in case you're wondering why it's so petite compared to the chicken panini, that's a half portion. Other options include a buffalo mozz and tomato panini, and asteak panino with sauteed mushrooms and onions.
Aside from the food, there are a few other perks: the restaurant is located just far enough off the strip that it's not crowded at lunch, which means patio seats are easy to come by and service is unrushed and highly attentive. Downtown workers looking for a new lunch spot: you know what do to.
About the author: Erin Jackson is obsessed with finding the best cheap and tasty eats in San Diego. Keep up with her other food finds on EJeats.com.