A bustling residential and business district since the 1920s, and once home to San Diego's prolific tuna fishing industry, today Little Italy is the hub of one of San Diego’s most dynamic and fastest-growing food scenes. The lively neighborhood is packed with distinctive eateries, craft brew pubs, urban wine bars, cocktail hotspots and casual cafés, helmed by old school Italian families and Top Chef alums alike. For visitors and locals, a stroll through Amici Park and Mercato Farmers’ Market (Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) is not to be missed, preferably with gelato in hand.Read More
Where to Eat and Drink in Little Italy
15 essential spots in this historic hood
1. Juniper & Ivy
Acclaimed chef Richard Blais has been serving up creative New American fare with a “West Coast edge” since 2014 at his lavish 7,500-square-foot warehouse-restaurant-come-design-showcase. Well worth a splurge, the inventive menu plays with molecular cuisine, which is perfectly offset by a sophisticated wine list, superb cocktail program and impeccable service.
2. Crack Shack
Signature staples at Richard Blais’ casual chicken and egg concept include the fried organic chicken sandwich, Coop Deville, kimchi-seasoned deviled eggs, and chicken drumsticks fashioned into poultry lollipops. Enjoy with a craft beer, wine on tap or craft cocktail over a leisurely game of bocce on the outdoor court.
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3. Herb & Wood
Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey’s subtle yet refined 8,500-square-foot stunner comprises multiple spaces to relax and dine including an elegant bar, informal lounge areas and several separate dining spaces. Dishes on the menu are a simple rundown of each plate's seasonal ingredients, while cocktails have a botanical focus with fresh ingredients, fruit and herb-infused bitters.
4. James Coffee Co.
Founder and head roaster David Kennedy's perennially popular loft-like outpost on India Street specializes in single origin coffees and handcrafted roasted blends in pour over, batch brew, and espresso form alongside yummy breads and pastries from Le Parfait Paris.
5. Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room
Showcasing hundreds of hard to find beers, Bottlecraft boasts a bar fed by 25 draft lines, a retail section and upstairs space that is used for private events, classes and additional seating. It's open from noon to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. on Sunday. Pups are welcome and you can bring your own food or order delivery from nearby area eateries, including Napizza's and RakiRaki Ramen.
6. RoVino Rotisserie + Wine
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, with breakfast served every Sunday from 8:30 a.m. until noon, RoVino’s kitchen is led by classically Italian trained chef David Mendiola, who oversees a menu that includes rotisserie chicken, crisp porchetta sandwiches, and seasonal specials; plus homemade pasta and a whole roasted branzino.
7. The Waterfront Bar & Grill
Established in 1934, Little Italy icon The Waterfront is one of one of San Diego’s oldest taverns and one of the first to obtain a liquor license here after Prohibition. Famed for its solid pub grub, action packed nights and a good-time crowd, the drinks — like owner Nancy’s signature vodka, Chambord and soda concoction, the Purple Hooter are stiff but simple.
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8. Kettner Exchange
An eye-catching restaurant-come-cocktail bar, Kettner Exchange boasts a progressive American menu with French and Asian influences thanks to executive chef Brian Redzikowski, and a stellar cocktail program courtesy of beverage director Steven Tuttle. Whether you come to dine with friends downstairs, people watch on the rooftop terrace or savor weekend brunch on Sundays; KEX has it all in stylish spades.
9. Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant
With roots stretching back to 1956, this charming old school Italian deli is a must-visit if only to peruse its fine selection of fresh breads, olives and hard-to-find imported edibles before ordering one of their deluxe deli sandwiches. Meanwhile, the adjacent restaurant offers a wide selection of pizzas, pastas and salads during lunch and dinner alongside a nice variety of Italian and Californian wines.
10. Craft & Commerce
San Diego, CA
First launched in 2010, storied cocktail bar Craft & Commerce boasts two bar areas, a progressive drinks program, and menu offerings from small share plates to housemade pasta and larger entrees, not to mention a real deal tiki bar, False Idol, tucked within the space. Open for dinner daily at 5 p.m., there’s a weekend brunch on Sunday too.
11. Ironside Fish & Oyster
Executive chef Jason McLeod's seafood-serving stunner features everything from a fried oyster po’ boy to lobster rolls and seafood platters, all served daily for lunch and dinner. Ironside's raw bar stays humming until midnight and on Fridays and Saturdays, both the raw bar and the cocktail bar are open until 2 a.m. Snag $1 oysters during happy hour, which runs Monday to Friday from 3 to 6 p.m.
12. Isola Pizza Bar
Opened on India Street in 2012, at Massimo Tenino's pizza shop you’ll find Neapolitan-style pies and small plates all served up in sleek, contemporary surroundings. In-the-know locals are clued into its daily happy hour, when you can enjoy select $5 wines and $4 beers alongside $5 margherita pizzas. From the regular lunch and dinner menus there are antipasti classics, salads, homemade panini and wood-fired entrees too, plus an extensive Italian wine list.
13. Civico 1845
The Southern Italian restaurant’s head chef Alfonso Pisacane employs housemade and seasonal ingredients in his repertoire of traditional and modern Italian cuisine, while co-owner Pietro Gallo adds a vegan and gluten-free touch to the menu with dishes like seitan ragout lasagna and even a vegan version of tiramisu, at this charming India Street eatery.
Tuscan-style cafe Pappalecco now boasts five outposts around San Diego but its Little Italy flagship, where the cafe and gelateria was founded in 2007, and is fondly considered a neighborhood icon. Open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. most evenings, you can load up on breakfast plates and Italian staples like panini, pizzas, delicious housemade gelato, excellent coffees, and of course fine Italian wines.
15. Extraordinary Desserts
Crowds flock to owner/executive pastry chef Karen Krasne’s 7,000-square-foot palatial dessert destination to savor pastries and coffee before noon, savory snacks from panini to salads during lunch, plus a popular weekend brunch, in addition to Krasne’s signature decadent cakes, pies, cookies and petite desserts.