Former historic fishing community to thriving culinary capital, today San Diego’s Little Italy enclave is home to a wide range of traditional eateries, modern brewpubs, storied bars, and award-winning restaurants. And while many great establishments line Kettner Boulevard (aka “Top Chef Alley”), State and Juniper Streets, in the interests of narrowing the playing field it was decided to focus on the neighborhood’s commercial corridor – home to the Little Italy sign and buzzy central Piazza della Famiglia – for this special 24 Hours feature.
From a local coffee roaster to a classic Italian deli and dessert café, via a trendy breakfast-brunch spot and handsome beer-meets-cocktail hall, plus a few stops in between, consider this itinerary a suggested guide to a day of perfect eating on India Street.
7 a.m. — James Coffee Co
Founded by former Angels and Airwaves lead guitarist David Kennedy in 2013, this small-batch coffee roasters now boasts three locations around town, including its flagship on India Street. The shop, which specializes in hand-roasted single-origin artisan beans as well as exclusive blends, has a coffee program that covers everything from cortados and cappuccinos to cold brews and pour-overs, all exquisitely executed for a perfect morning pick me up — the retail component stocks some pretty cool branded merchandise, coffee-making equipment, and whole beans too.
8 a.m. — Morning Glory
Think breakfast and brunch bites with global flair at this $4 million daytime stunner from social and culinary collective CH Projects. They say it’s the most important meal of the day, and with dishes like a traditional English fry-up, fluffy Japanese souffle pancakes, French omelet, and chilaquiles with mole on the menu, Morning Glory has seen locals and visitors coming here in droves since the place opened in June. In the mood for day-drinking? Options range from boozy caffeine-based beverages to sparkling spritzes, plus a roving Bloody Mary cart.
11 a.m. — Parakeet Cafe
Stop for a refuel at this colorful cafe where everything from specialty coffees and signature teas grace the menu. While health-focused dishes are served all day (think avocado toast, chia pudding, raw kale salad, and seasonal soups) pace yourself with one of Parakeet’s Functional Elixirs – the Magic Mushroom Matcha should add a little pep to your step.
Those wanting to hold out on additional eats until lunchtime can ‘window shop’ at the nearby Little Italy Food Hall, which although not technically on India Street (it’s sandwiched between W. Date Street and Columbia) does occupy a prime spot on Piazza della Famiglia.
2 p.m. — Mona Lisa Deli
With roots stretching back more than six decades (the first Mona Lisa restaurant was established in 1956 by Sicilian immigrant Stefano Brunetto), this charmingly old-school and still family-run Italian deli is a must-visit for its fine selection of fresh breads, olives and hard-to-find edibles, all of which go into making their delicious sandwiches. With 19 varieties on the menu, ranging from turkey pastrami to a veggie special, keep it simple with the imported prosciutto. If sitting down in the adjacent “red sauce” restaurant appeals there’s a nice selection of pizzas, pastas, and salads.
4 p.m. — Vino Carta
Specializing in under the radar, esoteric, and natural wine varietals from California along with lesser heard of regions across Austria, Spain, Italy — even Hungary, be sure to try the Kàli-Kövek Olaszrizling when it’s back in stock — Vina Carta is a lovely spot to head for a pre-dinner glass or two. The progressive store from Bottlecraft’s Brian Jensen not only offers a dozen different wines by the glass - including an R.H. Coutier Champagne and Carignan Rosé - they’re also available by the half-glass so you can create your own flight. Cheers!
7 p.m. — Civico 1845
Calabrian brothers Dario and Pietro Gallo brought a fresh spin on Italian to San Diego when they opened their India Street restaurant in 2015. Perpetually packed their warmly welcoming space offers a repertoire of traditional and modern Italian cuisine – from pastas, antipasti and main dishes – across two menus one of which highlights Italian classics using vegan and gluten-free ingredients. Try the antipasti di polipo (thinly sliced octopus with caper berries) and cozze del marianaio (Carlsbad mussels with fresh tomato sauce).
9 p.m. — Zucchero
Now located inside Nonna (the two spaces formerly divided by a wall and have now been combined) Italian café offshoot Zucchero from the Busalacchi family – whose patriarch Joe is considered a pioneer in San Diego’s Little Italy district – specializes in traditional pastries, deeply rooted in Italian technique. Whether you’re a gelato fan, love to linger over a rich rum and coffee-soaked slice of tiramisu, or devour ricotta-filled cannoli, this cozy sweet shop is the place to come for delicious dessert and an after-dinner espresso.
11 p.m. — NOLITA HALL
Hip neighborhood hangout Nolita has craft cocktails and a shuffleboard court, which means it’s a great spot to head for a cheeky nightcap. With bar manager Curtis Woods leading the charge, the drinks list - a creative collaboration by the entire bar team - covers everything from light and sweet to playful and expressive. While it’s hard to pick just two standout tipples, we recommend the Venetian Summer Spritz with Botanist Gin, Aperitivo Select and Prosecco or the 2AM Taco Run with tequila, pineapple tepache (a fermented drink made from pineapple peels and rinds), and Pasubio Amaro (an aged Italian wine from the Dolomite Mountains).