Tuna Salad at La Sandia, Santa Monica, California

The words “tuna salad” always conjure up 1970s school lunches for me. Tuna from a can. Mayonnaise or – worse – Miracle Whip. Diced celery. Diced onion (if lucky). Wonder Bread (rye: too expensive, and kid-unfriendly). Iceberg lettuce. If fortune smiles, it’s in a melt with American cheese.   

Gert, Dot and the rest of the lunch ladies’  netted heads would have spun at La Sandia’s tuna salad. For one thing, it contains actual salad – and, Cripes Almighty, fruit! – which together stand up as a great meal on their own. Mixed greens are tossed with silky slices of anise-marinated tomato, orange, avocado and radish in a vinaigrette of piloncillo peppers, sesame and chipotle, with pasilla chili-roasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled over the top. That’s a passel of diverse and competing flavors right there, I tell ya.

Then comes the tuna. It’s not the dry, sawdust-colored stuff, but seared with ancho chiles until silky and juicy pink on the inside, then sliced and layered over the top.

As if that’s not enough, La Sandia is in Santa Monica’s current hottest location, on the top floor dining deck of the Santa Monica Place shopping center. Sit under the canopies on the outdoor terrace, and you’ll have a view all the way down busy Third Street Promenade. One caution: order the guacamole with no salt; you can always add more but can’t take it out once the staff puts it in there for you.