Sept. 22 2010 10:21 AM

Hillcrest deli serves up the traditional and the unique

The Deli Llama: circuses and sandwiches, but no creepy clowns
Photo by Jenny Montgomery
Lunch and me—we have issues. Maybe it was years of the same slimy Vons “wafer” turkey sandwiches in my school lunch, but, to me, lunch represents boring fuel to get me through the work day. Dinner is a fun nightly challenge where I have time to experiment and nourish my husband and me. But lunch? I usually don't have time to prepare it, nor go somewhere to sit and relax, so it's inevitably leftovers from the night before. Don't get me wrong—I love leftovers, but I can eat only so much spaghetti at my desk.

And when it comes to sandwiches, forget it. I'm one of those weirdos who takes a sandwich apart to eat it. I love all of the parts of a sandwich, but somehow, when you put them together— boring. I like my sandwiches complicated. Give me odd cheeses and chutneys and spreads. A plain turkey sandwich with a plain slice of yellow cheese, mustard and mayo puts my high-maintenance mouth to sleep. No, I don't know why, but it's probably for the same reason I hate gum: I'm broken inside.

This is where The Deli Llama comes in.

This colorful little storefront in Hillcrest is a place to satisfy lunch cravings both simple and complicated. Its menu not only has the basics with delicious Boars Head turkey and roast beef; it makes a mean panini, as well.

The Knife Thrower—pastrami with red onion, spicy mustard and a bit of horseradish on toasted rye—was an eye-watering concoction but really good, and a great balance of pungent meatiness.

The Tattooed Lady, a delightfully fresh tuna-salad sandwich, with huge chunks of white albacore, cheese, avocado, sprouts and tomato, hit the spot. I could have used a bit more seasoning in the tuna, but that's a mild quibble for a very satisfying tuna sandwich.

The small shop doesn't have a kitchen—which is impressive since it's turning out some great sandwiches, soups and salads. I'd like to give them credit for their delicious soups, but they don't make them in-house; they buy them elsewhere and serve them up hot. The flavors change daily, and as the weather cools even more, a cup will hit the spot. The carrot dill was just OK, but the mushroom brie was terrific. I don't know who the soup dealer is (hell, maybe it's Costco), but that mushroom brie was creamy, with huge mushroom chunks and a hint of wine. I must have it again.

Since cheese-as-soup is a no-brainer to me, I was naturally drawn to the Flying Trapeze on the panini menu. Three kinds of cheese (Havarti, mozzarella and Fontina) are melted together along with tomato, basil and honey. The honey was a perfect twist. It's barely there but adds the perfect amount of sweetness to counteract all that cheese. The tomato didn't contribute anything but sogginess, and I'm sure the friendly staff would be happy to leave it off for you.

There's not a ton of seating—a few tables outside and a funky, yellow, velvet couch inside—but it works well for takeout. The circus-themed atmosphere is colorful and wack adoo with zero creepy clowns. While waiting for your sandwich, why not pass the time by checking out a colorful counter-top diorama featuring The Yodeling Pickle? Yes, it's a battery-operated pickle that yodels. Is that a problem?

Definitely put The Deli Llama on your list of lunchtime go-tos. The menu options are creative and plentiful, and the staff is warm and personable, and though it's only been open since December, it already feels like a cozy neighborhood standby.

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