It was only a matter of time before this one happened. Little Italy is pretty much my #1 go to spot in San Diego. There are a million amazing shops and restaurants packed in a few city blocks. I’ll highlight my favorites here with the assumption there will most likely be a part 2 later on. In fact, I had this little guide finished and my conscience got the better of me. I had to add a couple more in because I just love all of these places so much!
Little Italy Mercato
First thing in the morning, rise and shine and get down to the farmer’s market. Little Italy Mercato is beaming and bursting with fresh produce. Local artisans have their handwork on display and it’s almost like shopping in an open-air boutique. This is the place I generally go to purchase unique gifts for family and close friends. The Mercato is located on W. Cedar St. between Kettner Boulevard and Front Street. I like to go earlier, when the sea breeze is cool and the market is less crowded. Musicians tend to get set up closer to 10am (the Mercato runs from 8am until 2pm), so you decide. You can walk the entire market in less than an hour, so it is one of the most enjoyable ways to start off a morning.
Coffee at Pappalecco
If you are at the Mercato and have caffeine or hunger pangs, Pappalecco is right there on the corner of W. Cedar Street and State Street. I was introduced to Pappalecco by my discerning Italian friend, so you can rely on the quality of the espresso! They also serve paninis, gelato, pizza, breakfast, and salads. Ah-mazing. The atmosphere is bustling and lively with Italian pride bursting from behind the counter. The accents are thick and the charm is inevitable. If you read my article on La Jolla, you know that I am privy to stay-cations. Little Italy is another prime example of why! So much to do and see at all times. Even little coffee shops are an experience.
Brunch at Davanti
If you have a few foodie friends that you need to keep happy around brunch time, set up shop at Davanti Enoteca on India Street. Davanti is right in the heart of Little Italy and is wonderful anytime of the day. (If you have a couple of days, stop in for lunch or dinner as well.) Brunch at Davanti is best enjoyed on their outdoor patio with a stop at their Bloody Mary bar. The bar offers house pickled veggies, bacon, and a myriad of hot sauces to choose from. I know, a Bloody Mary done right can pretty much be breakfast itself! Don’t sell yourself short though, their Italian twists on breakfast favorites will have your taste buds singing. I’m a sucker for their Eggs Benedict served on Tuscan toast and Italian smoked ham. Check out their brunch menu and see what else sounds good to you.
Queenstown Public House
On the corner of Cedar and Columbia, Queenstone Public House is a tiny cottage with outdoor seating. The thing I love most about Public House is it’s atmosphere – it feels like you are hanging out on your best friend’s porch. They have seating by fire pits in the evening and a lively bar upstairs and inside. We generally help ourselves to a Porch Board. The Porch Board is populated with the chef’s daily choice of sliced cured meats and artisanal cheeses. However, my suggestion is to wait and sample it before you choose your beverage. The spread tends to be a little smokier in flavor. Sometimes, we just like to pop in for one of their famous cookie desserts. A half-baked cookie in a mini skillet topped with ice cream at your service!
Taco Tuesday at El Camino
For Sunday brunch, Taco Tuesday, or any night you are craving amazing Mexican food and tequila, head over to El Camino. El Camino has hands down the kitschiest decor I have ever seen in my life. Totally smitten! Located at the far end of India Street, the crowd is pleasantly rowdy and fun. They have local DJs spinning out on the back patio on select nights and planes flying overhead sporadically throughout the day. It’s all a part of the fun and anytime you go will be a memorable experience.
The next three are all part of a restaurant family that has established some serious roots in San Diego. If you love ramen noodles and local beer, look no further than Underbelly. There have been countless nights where warm noodles have soothed my soul in this open air restaurant. My favorite dish from the menu is the Underbelly Ramen, which includes char-siu belly, bacon, and pulled pork. Sorry for partying!
Oysters at Ironside
It wasn’t until last weekend that I finally pulled myself out of denial and admitted that Ironside is my favorite restaurant in Little Italy. Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar has amazing atmosphere, delicious craft cocktails, a finely curated menu, and excellent service to boot. Their menus change daily to ensure they provide the freshest fish available. If you’re a San Diego local, be sure to sign up for one of their Chef’s Catch Dinners, with gratuity and beer pairings included in the ticket price. My secret favorite spot is at the pastry bar, where I can enjoy an Affagato Correto (espresso with gelato). I enjoy sipping my tasty treat while I watch the pastry chef create delectables before my very eyes. Otherwise, the Ironside Platters (which vary in size from “Big” to “Holy Shit”) are a must have. Whether you’re a party of two or 6+.
Craft & Commerce
Ironside’s hipster cousin on Beech Street, Craft & Commerce boasts an equally emphatic menu. Craft & Commerce has a cozier atmosphere with rustic wood details and bookshelves on the walls. Taxidermied beasts from San Diego’s Natural History Museum are mounted behind the bar and throughout the restaurant. The gastropub is a conversation starter which makes mixing and mingling easy. If you’re cool enough to be in the know, pop into False Idol for a whole-hearted tiki bar experience. The speakeasy transports you out of Little Italy onto a tropical island, where rum is the champion beverage. Make reservations and split an Akala the Fierce with your friends when you get inside.
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Finally, the place to end (before everyone hits the dive bar across the street, or Gaslamp craziness downtown) is Kettner Exchange. Kettner Exchange has a sociable crowd and a lovely rooftop bar overlooking Little Italy. Serving “progressive American cuisine”, they are best known for their lounge areas, Mai Tais, and boutique wines. Be sure to reserve a cabana if you plan to chill at the open-air lounge for very long. The area stays pretty packed and the DJ keeps things bumping until around 1am. There are many times I’ve connected in with fun groups of people and made new friends here.
Art Walk in April
I don’t want to leave you without also putting in a plug for Mission Federal ArtWalk. ArtWalk is slated for April 28 – 29, 2018 and is one of San Diego’s best original fine art festivals. Mark your calendars! The free event is put on by local artists and is one of my favorite walks of the year. Stroll past chalk art on the streets and booths lined with art work for sale. The festival fills 17 blocks of Little Italy and you can dance to music through the streets. Check out the recap video from this year and get a feeling for the community and artists. If you’re looking for a place to stay in the area, definitely use Airbnb. Your stay will be comfortable and you will pay less than half of what a hotel room normally costs. Use this link to book your next Airbnb trip and save $40! Super worth it. So there you go! Best of the best. Ciao, bella!