When you're craving authentic pizza, pasta, gelato and other Italian favorites, come to the trendy Little Italy neighborhood near the airport in downtown San Diego. With its urban lofts, gentrified streets and cool stores, it's also a great place to burn off carbs during a nice walk that's likely to encompass various points of interest and cool works of art.
For gelato, you'll want to stop at Pappalecco's where it's made handmade daily. Not to mention the paninis, baked goods and coffee reign supreme.
Pizza lovers should head straight to Landini's where the prices are low and flavor is high where multiple toppings are available to customize your pizza to-go or dine in on the patio. Just want a slice? No problem, there are plenty to choose from.
Craving a romantic evening? Probably chic Indigo Grill or even Buon Apetito is perfect for a leisurely meal over a bottle of wine. Take your time and definitely do not skip dessert.
The neighborhood is now also home to what has quickly become regarded as the best place in town for oysters. Ironside serves up seafood, for a break from Italian.
Also know that if you're sightseeing and need a sandwich to-go, stop into Little Italy for an authentic sub and imported snacks that are perfect for a picnic.
Especially if you're staying anywhere in downtown San Diego, add Little Italy to your San Diego itinerary. And, here is a list of places to consider dining at.
Chef Deborah Scott has developed a loyal following among San Diego foodies. Her eclectic take on the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest adds in a splash of Southwest flair for a totally unique result. Start with a grilled Romaine salad topped with capers and anchovy-chipotle cream, and then enjoy pecan-crusted rainbow trout with roasted corn salsa and an orange-pasilla buerre blanc. The funky decor is a great match for the food. You get what you pay for here as entrees are in the $20-35 range. Try the Pipian with Rojo Chicken Breast, smoked bacon, goat cheese, cranberries & arugula, with grilled polenta cakes and spaghetti squash. (619-234-6802)
Mimmos Italian Village
Highly-regarded Mimmo's Italian Village started as Italian Village in 1969 which was a deli, bakery and flower shop and then a local grocery store. People come now for meatball subs at lunch time though note there is no table service until dinner. Portions are reasonably-priced for the enormous size. Patrons love the pastas, bread and olive oil along with the pizzas. Gluten and wheat-free pizza options are served upon request while plenty of Tuscan and other Italian wines grace the menu. You can even reserve the private wine cellar for a special romantic dinner and Mimmos also caters for larger crowds. ((619) 239-3710)
Filippi's Pizza Grotto
Family-owned and operated since 1950, Filippi's Pizza Grotto is a go-to spot for Italian food in Little Italy. This casual restaurant is famous for mouth-watering pizzas (locals rave about the cheese) and monumental meatball subs. There can be a wait, but it's one locals are willing to endure. Walk through the deli and into the restaurant and feel immediately transported into Italy. Beer and wine are on offer. Parking can be tricky so plan time to find a spot especially on weekends when all of Little Itally can be crowded. This is the first of now many Filippi's Pizza Grotto locations across San Diego. ((619) 232-5094)
Mona Lisa Italian Foods
The menu is flexible and offers savory Italian favorites. At Mona Lisa Italian Foods, they have everything from a la carte options to the very best in authentic home-style Italian catering for large groups. The low-priced catering menu offers a wide variety of foods and services for homes, offices, weddings and banquets. If you don't have time to dine in, they also have a take-out available with the same exquisite taste (and Italian cookies). Go for hot and cold sandwiches, sausages to-go, a full bar and more. Don't forget to shop the deli for imported favorites to take home with you. ((619) 234-4893)
Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Bencotto means a meal "well done" or cooked perfectly in Italian. Voted Best Italian Restaurant by San Diego Magazine four years in a row, Bencotto puts a uniique spin on traditional Italian cuisine or regional specialties by offering dishes designed to share. The atmosphere is contemporary though mixed with the feel of an Old World kitchen. Pasta is the signature dish and guests can order it al dente or cooked to their liking choosing also between eight sauces. Bencotto is located in the "Q" building in Little Italy, open for lunch and prides itself on excellent customer service so if undecided ask the staff for a recommendation. ((619) 450-4786)
Ask anyone about Pappalecco's and they'll probably mention gelato. Why? Because it's reminiscent of the real deal and handmade daily. Though you can't really go wrong here from the espresso to the baked goods. There's a few tables on the inside but seating is primarily al fresco where pets are welcome. The staff is mostly Italian and makes you feel welcome as if you're in their own homes. Try the Italian prosciutto, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil panini or the pecorino bruschetta with baked pecorino cheese, toasted bread, honey, basil, arucola, walnuts. Just please don't forget to order gelato for dessert? (619-238-4590)
Chef Scott Harris, of Chicago restauranteur famous for his Francesca restaurants, opened Davanti Enoteca here in San Diego (there are two locations, Del Mar and Little Italy)as a contemporary Italian restaurant. Go with friends or on a date to share a variety of cured meats and cheeses as well as antipasti. Favorites include beef carpaccio with arugula and capers and black summer truffle salami. Of course, mains like pizza calabrese and handmade pastas round out the heartier side of the menu. Portions are also sizable and it's open late night as well as for brunch on the weekends between 10:00am and 2:00pm. ((619) 237-9606)
Ironside Fish and Oyster
No longer absent in California's southern-most city, is a rich oyster culture--one that is deeply engrained in other coastal communities spanning from New England to the Pacific Northwest. Filling the local void is Ironside Fish & Oyster, the latest venture from powerhouse San Diego hospitality collective CH Projects in partnership with Michelin-starred Executive Chef Jason McLeod. The approachable raw-bar concept is housed in a stunning 4,500 square-foot, 1920s-era warehouse located in the heart of San Diego's Little Italy neighborhood. Renowned local designer Paul Basile packed the interior with experimental design elements including a massive wall adorned with hundreds of faux piranha skulls as well as conversation-starting accents. ((619) 269-3033)
Known for being small yet intimate Buon Appetito is famous for its homemade ravioli, lasagne, risotto and gnocchi that prides itself on being similar to a San Francisco-style eatery. They have a quaint bar with 50+ wines available. Try the lobster tail ravioli simmered in vermouth and served in a saffron sauce or linguine with clams, bay scallops, shrimp and mussels in a red or white sauce. Most importantly, don't miss out on the homemade tiramisu for dessert. They're known for excellent service though be mindful that it can get busy during peak times because it's such a local favorite. (6192389880)
About Katie Dillon
Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as expats in London and Hong Kong. After traveling the world, they returned to the La Jolla sunshine, with a young daughter in tow.
Katie now writes a lifestyle site called La Jolla Mom and is the author of a book called, “Flying With Kids.” Her work can be seen on NBC San Diego, Red Tricycle, Yahoo! Shine and Have Family Will Travel, a Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts blog.
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