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Natural Wine Bar Little Thief Opens in North Park

After a lightening-fast, two-month transformation, Little Thief is set to emerge on Wednesday, August 3 in North Park, where the wine bar and kitchen replaces a nearly 30-year-old Italian joint on University Avenue.

Named for a winemaking tool used to “steal” and test samples of wine during the barrel-aging process, the new bistro from the team behind Bottlecraft and Vino Carta — the highly-regarded craft beer and wine shops — continues in the path of Vino Carta’s latest location in Solana Beach, which offers tasting menus and brunch from local culinary pop-up Long Story Short.

With 100 seats spread across a large cluster of umbrella-shaded tables on the wide outdoor plaza and its moodily-lit interior, which holds a mix of dining tables and bar-height rails, Little Thief is also the launching point for Papalito, a new Sonoran barbecue-inspired outfit by chef Drew Bent. Bent, whose 15-year career has taken him to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Tulum with Noma Mexico, and included stops at Carnitas’ Snack Shack, Tender Greens, Puesto, and most recently Lola55, tells Eater that his all-day menu for North Park is callback to his time as charcuterie chef for Blind Lady Ale House and the much-missed Tiger!Tiger!.

Housemade sausages, terrines, pates, and other charcuterie will be served along with sandwiches on house-baked rolls or milk bread buns from Hokkaido Bread Company filled with fried chicken, citrus-miso cured and smoked local fish, and carnitas and area farms will supply produce for sides, pickles, and salads. The signature Rustler sandwich features 12-hour smoked Sonoran beef brisket topped with hatch chile chimichurri, arugula, brie, heirloom tomato, and egg. Sunday brunch is in the works, and Bent says that he’s also planning for wine dinners and collaborations with chef friends.

For those already fond of Vino Carta, one of San Diego’s best places to drink or buy natural wine, Little Thief offers even more exploration via 20 wines by the glass and 50 bottles hinging on natural wine and small producers making organic and low-intervention wines. Bottles from the wine list will be available for retail at 10 percent off, but better deals might be found a few doors down at Bottlecraft, which has beefed up its wine selection. General manager and Vino Carta co-owner Patrick Ballow tells Eater that the bar is also planning a happy hour revolving around vermouth.

Little Thief will stay open until 1 a.m. on weekends, with its kitchen running until 11 p.m. for late night bites. The group’s founder Brian Jensen, who lives in North Park, says the bar will also host DJs on Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight.

With a wine-focused restaurant now in his portfolio, Jensen’s next venture is Bock, a craft beer bar with a full kitchen that’s heading into the former Hamilton’s Tavern space in South Park. Jensen tells Eater that construction on the project should begin this fall.

Little Thief/Papalito Menu

Little Thief, 3017 University Avenue, Sunday to Wednesday, noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 1 a.m.

3017 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92104