In November 2012, a new restaurant landed at the Paso Robles Airport — LaGuardia’s Italian Deli and Catering. The name is appropriate given the location, but the moniker really owes its origin to owner Lou LaGuardia.
After years of construction work in the Mammoth Lakes area, LaGuardia decided to follow his passion and build a second career in food, not such a stretch when you consider his Italian heritage.
The Cleveland native proudly talks about growing up in a classic, food-centric family “where everybody learns how to cook from your parents and your grandparents — you have to!”
LaGuardia got off the ground catering events of all sizes, including large-scale festivals, but he “always wanted to have a little deli, and always wanted it to be in wine country.” He looked at other areas, but after several visits to Paso Robles, “I fell in love with it, with its small-town atmosphere.”
The airport space had previously been a restaurant, but LaGuardia’s construction skills still came in handy as he set about transforming it into his deli.
Most notable is the outdoor seating he built on the patio to take full advantage of the expansive, front-and-center runway views.
The casual space indoors is mostly deli counter, but it also has a few more tables — all of them window seats with plenty of legroom. Be sure to check out all the vintage black-and-white photos of LaGuardia’s family hung throughout the restaurant.
In creating the deli’s daily menu, LaGuardia needed to keep it focused to accommodate the variable demands of his catering business, so currently it just has sandwiches and salads.
However, he still wanted to “have things that were fun and different. They’re all my creations, and a lot of them use my family recipes, such as my grandmother’s Italian sausage recipe that dates back to 1912. We’re also making everything else possible from scratch — our chutneys, aiolis, sauces, hand-cut potato chips — and I’m going to start curing my own meats soon here as well.”
Sandwich choices (which all bear the nicknames of family and friends) range from Marie’s Meatball to The Vacca Italian sub to the Lily Lou oven-roasted turkey.
For salads, opt for Caesar, butter lettuce and arugula, or one of the Italian pasta offerings in the deli case.
If you still have room for dessert, take a look at the tempting array of pastries made fresh daily by LaGuardia’s partner, Jen Alper.
On most holidays LaGuardia’s serves up very different menus. The Mother’s Day brunch included salmon cakes, rum French toast, and seared scallop skewers, while Father’s Day will bring crab-filled deviled eggs, baby back ribs, and Jen’s Jack Daniels bread pudding.
The deli also offers a separate happy hour menu from Thursday through Saturday that includes sliders and calzones, wings and fries, antipasto plates and an Italian version of a quesadilla. Both local and Italian wines are available any day, as are draft beers such as Peroni and Lagunitas.
LaGuardia admits that when he first started looking for a location in Paso Robles two years ago, the airport wasn’t his first choice. However, “the more I looked at this — with all the businesses around here and the steadily increasing air traffic — I knew this was the place to be, and I love it out here. We’ve gotten tremendous support from the pilots and the wineries — it’s really like a little family out here.”