Little Italy Is Where San Diego's Best Food Awaits

It used to be that people would come to San Diego's Little Italy when craving authentic pizza, pasta, gelato and other Italian favorites. In recent years, we've seen many concepts and cuisines open up here ranging from Mexican food to ramen. Frankly, there are so many good restaurants in Little Italy now that it's difficult to narrow a list to just ten.

Wandering Little Italy's gentrified streets and cool stores is a great way to burn off a meal while encompassing various points of interest and cool works of art along the way.

For gelato, you'll want to stop at Pappalecco's where it's made handmade daily. Not to mention that the paninis, baked goods and coffee also reign supreme. Craving a romantic evening? Buon Appetito is perfect for a leisurely meal over a bottle of wine. Take your time and definitely do not skip dessert. The lobster roll at Ironside, known for oysters and other seafood, is worthy of extra time on the treadmill.

These days, no trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to Little Italy. Do make reservations.


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.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: It's a San Diego favorite for hearty pasta dishes, tiramisu and cannoli.

Katie's expert tip: The 4-salad combo is a great deal for under $7 at lunch.

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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.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: It's a San Diego favorite for hearty pasta dishes, tiramisu and cannoli.

Katie's expert tip: Davanti Enoteca is a contemporary cousin to Mia Francesca, another popular Italian restaurant in San Diego. Both have Chicago roots.

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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.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: A seafood restaurant in Little Italy may seem out of place, but Ironside has quickly become one of San Diego's best restaurants.

Katie's expert tip: The lobster roll is outstanding.

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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.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: It's authentic Italian food presented in a relaxed, contemporary environment that's popular with locals.

Katie's expert tip: Don't skip dessert which features tiramisu and panacotta, of course.

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Barbusa is a modern Sicilian culinary concept by the Busalacchi family in the heart Little Italy. Menu highlights include Sicilian meatballs; Carpaccio, made with short rib, shallots, caciocavallo, lemon and microgreen; and Piselli Carbonara, with handmade fettuccini, sweet peas, caramelized onions, pancetta, and farm fresh egg yolk. Handcrafted pizza offerings include Dolci e Picante with spicy soppressata, lavender honey, braised shallots, mozzarella, Grana Padano, and basil. The cocktail program relies heavily on seasonal and fresh ingredients combined with boutique bitters and Italian-forward liqueurs like grappa and amaro. Don't forget to try their selection of Southern Italian wines. They also have an 8-seat crudo bar.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: The Busalacchi family is well-known for their group of Italian restaurants in San Diego and this is among the newest and most popular.

Katie's expert tip: The Dolci E Picante pizza (soppressata, Calabrian chilies, lavender honey, Bermuda onions, mozzarella, Grana Padano cheese, basil) is a must-try.

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Little Italy

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. Start with fresh bread and tomato dipping sauce. Try the housemade pastas like Linguine Allo Scoglio with fresh clams, bay scallops and mussels or one of the meat dishes like Ossobucco. 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.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: If you ask San Diegans what their go-to Italian restaurant is, the majority will name Buon Appetito.

Katie's expert tip: The Ossobucco is amazing tender beef shank and saffron risotto rice.

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Located next door to Juniper and Ivy, The Crack Shack is another of Chef Richard Blais' creations. It's comfort food thanks to locally-raised, free-range, antibiotic-free chicken and creative recipes. Love deviled eggs? You're in luck here as they come with a french toast crumble and candied bacon. There is also plenty of delicious fried chicken and gourmet sandwiches (like the California Dip with pollo asado, schmaltz fries, pickled jalapeño, bolillo bread, posole broth, avocado), bowls and vegetarian options. Be prepared to try your hand at at few lawn games on the outdoor patio and partake in a craft cocktail or two.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: It's really good, upscale comfort food set in a fun, casual setting.

Katie's expert tip: Kids love the giant chicken and the bocce ball as much as the food. Also, don't skip the ice cream sandwiches.

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Kettner Exchange pays tribute to San Diego's nautical history. Its name is derived from Congressman William Kettner who is credited for bringing the US Navy to San Diego in the early 1900s. The menu features Progressive American cuisine using seasonal ingredients and is also influenced by Chef Brian Redzikowski's classic French culinary training and passion for Asian flavors and ingredients. City. The menu boasts some of the most innovative, progressive entrees in San Diego, including shared plate favorites such as Skuna Bay salmon, spicy shrimp, foie gras French toast and suckling pig larb.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: It's award-winning and popular with locals for stunning decor and food.

Katie's expert tip: Guests can also reserve the 8-person chef's table in the kitchen for the ultimate dining experience.

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San Diego's culinary scene reached new heights with the opening of Juniper & Ivy. Led by "Top Chef: All-Stars" winner Richard Blais and the team at Juniper Hospitality, the popular modern American restaurant sits in a converted 1920s sawtooth warehouse in the Little Italy neighborhood. Blais' innovative approach to cooking and cuisine is a hit with locals. Everything is plated on wood, steel or stone. A couple of staples on the seasonal menu include the Carne Cruda Asada with quail egg, cotija cheese and jalapeño, and the Garden & Grain with ancient grains and heirloom vegetables. Do not skip the Buttermilk Biscuit with smoke salt and butter.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: Award-winning Juniper & Ivy has been packed since it opened because the seasonal menu is consistently fantastic.

Katie's expert tip: Order the off-menu In-N-Haute burger, which is a tribute to the In-And-Out Double Double.

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Herb & Wood is an award-winning restaurant by celebrity Chef Brian Malarkey's new restaurant that is known for wood fire cookery focusing on basic rustic preparations that rely on the quality of the ingredients. Go for tuna tartare, grilled branzino, or oxtail gnocchi. The wood fire oven churns out pizzas charred to perfection with an array of delectable toppings, from seasonal veggies, to house-made sausage and salumi (and even escargot). Pizza dough is made in-house and aged for 48 hours prior to use. Breads are baked daily and simple desserts complement the cuisine. A "High Spirited" cocktail program includes old-school throwbacks, herbs and other savory ingredients.

Recommended for Best of San Diego's Little Italy because: The massive restaurant is divided into four spaces (two lounges, a dining room and patio) serves California and Mediterranean wood-fired dishes.

Katie's expert tip: Ask for the off-menu Parker House Rolls and you can now head to the attached casual market and eatery, Herb & Eatery for breakfast and lunch.

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Meet 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...  More About Katie