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  • Writer's pictureJarnard Sutton

Behind the Stick with John Amato of Backyard Kitchen & Tap

John Amato, lead bartender at Backyard Kitchen & Tap in Pacific Beach, shows us how to make this sweet, spicy and refreshing tequila cocktail, inspired by the Mexican candy, called Sandia Picante.

Sandia Picante


1.50 oz Don Julio Spicy .50 oz lemon juice .50 oz lime juice 1oz Agave 3 watermelon Cubes (muddled) 1 serrano pepper (muddled) Tajin rim Garnish with lime wedge & watermelon cube

What's the story behind Sandia Picante?

Some of my favorite candies are what you can find in most corner stores in San Diego. Since we are so close to Mexico one can find all types of unique sweet treats. This is meant to pay respects to some of those flavors.

Describe the taste.

Well balanced sweet spicy and slightly acidic.

What's the key component of this drink?

Don Julio that has been infused with serrano peppers.

What reactions do you get from customers when they try this cocktail for the first time?

Surprised, I'd say. Most are reluctant to order spicy anything, but then the cooling effect of the watermelon comes in to play shortly followed by smiles.

If you had to pair this cocktail with a dish, what would you pair it with?

The jerk chicken. Spicy, savory, good portioned meal. A light sweeter cocktail to cut the heaviness of the meal.

Watch as John Amato make his sweet and spicy cocktail, Sandria Picante.

What kind of experience can guests get at Backyard Kitchen & Tap?

A well-rounded experience. Come in for daytime eats and drink after a long day at the beach. Or, it’s a great date night spot. Also, on any of our club nights it’s a great place to dance. A little something for everyone.

About John Amato

Are you from San Diego?

I'm a native New Yorker and have been in San Diego since August of 2003.

How did you get into bartending?

I got into bartending after many years of management in the service industry. I had burnt out of the long hours and lack of personal time. But I had missed the social connection you make with people everyday. I bumped into someone, who is now my operations manager, and they told me about a new project: Backyard. Haven't left since and have been very fortunate to be working for the OMG Hospitality Group.

What's your favorite thing about bartending?

It's my own little social experiment. I pride myself on being able to give any customer an excellent experience. Whether it's a couple that wants to sit and drink uninterrupted or a group that's ready to get after it for the night, I like to think I can gauge what individuals want when they walk up to our bar.

What's your favorite cocktail on the menu?

The Backyard Classic Sour. I'm a sucker for simple classic craft.

What's your favorite spirit?

A damn close tie between Gin and Bourbon.

Define the perfect cocktail.

Less is more. The Last Word is one of my favorite cocktails of all time. A balance of sweet and acidic.

If you're going out for a cocktail, what are some spots you like to go in San Diego?

Lions Share and Madison (On Park) are what I consider to be some of the best if I'm not making them.

What do you love about the cocktail scene in San Diego?

It's ever-growing. When I moved to San Diego the bar, club, and cocktail scene really hadn't been cultivated yet. What the downtown and beaches areas looked like and offered has grown exponentially in the last ten plus years. Now San Diego truly has grown into a cocktail/culinary destination.

What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails?

Like anyone else in San Diego, physical activities! Boxing, disc golf, hitting the gym to name just a few. But I’m also an old vinyl hound. Planning and taking trips with my girlfriend. Next up, Italy.

What's next for you?

OMG has been a phenomenal nurturing company to work for, and while I don't see myself leaving anytime soon, I am working alongside my brother to get my dot com off the ground and start consulting full-time.

Backyard Kitchen & Tap

832 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach. (858) 859-2593 or

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