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Looking for good italian in San Diego

OK, I have lived in SD all my life.
Used to eat at Stefano's and then Zolezzi's all the time before they closed it was the absolute best nothing nowadays even comes close to it. I now live in Encinitas there is an epidemic here of uppity high priced italian joints with bad expensive food (like Vigilucci's). I DON"T WANT CREAM SAUCES, every damn place serves cream sauces. Are they trying to give us all heart disease and obesity? I thought italian food uses tomatoe, pesto and olive oil based sauces. How about plain old Capellini Pomodoro? Very few places serving that now. My current favorites are my own kitchen, Lorna's, Mimmo's and take out pasta from Assenti.
End of Rant.

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  1. I agree with all of the cream sauces-can only eat a bit - too rich. Italian food is a lot of olive oil based dishes - simple dishes. I miss that as well. There is a restaurant in Oceanside (on the border of Carlsbad) it is called Gigi's, don't know if it is any good but I thought I might give it a try. Looks pretty pricy too.

    1. I don't know that it's worth driving all the way from Encinitas, but if you feel like it check out Trattoria Antica in La Mesa. Lake Murry Blvd. at Baltimore Dr. in the Von's shopping center. Here's a link - http://www.anticatrattoria.com/

      Only about half their sauces are cream based. Prices are moderate though on the high end for the neighborhood. The chef/owner is Italian as are some of the waiterstaff. I'm not going to claim this is "authentic" Italian. The only thing I'm going to say is that it's good food and way better than 85% of the extremely mediocre and grossly over-priced food I was served in Florence, Italy last year.

      Ignore the references to the Gaslamp on the web page. It's not Gaslamp food, but they do suffer because of their location. The East County may be a dining desert, but rents are cheaper and first time restauranteurs can more easily afford to open a place there. Unfortunately, it's also much harder to get knowledgable customers in the door even if the food is spectacular. I think Trattoria Antica would like to be a fine dining place, and I think a lot of their menu could support that, but their location won't.

      Ciao Bella, also in La Mesa, can also be pretty good. It's owned and operated by a young Italian husband and wife combo. She cooks he runs the front of the house. Even if it's your first time there you will get an incredibly warm welcome, he is gregarious, effusive and wants you to enjoy your experience. Food is good and can ocassionally rise to very good. I think Ciao Bella can be a bit inconsistent, but then the chef just had a baby about 18 months ago and motherhood and cheffing are not always compatible, Ciao Bella can be found in back of the Shell station, next to the 7-11 a half block north of the intersection of Fletcher Parkway and Baltimore Dr. This is not a fine dining place and it makes not claims to be. Nor is it the sterotypical red-checked tablecloth type of place either. Oh, yeah, if you go, don't park in front of the 7/11, they'll tow you.

      As I said, neither of these places are probably worth the drive from the North County unless, of course, you're desparate for good Italian. However, both are Italian places being run by native Italians. Both do a nice job of serving good food to a local clientel.

      3 Replies
      1. re: DiningDiva

        Agreed on Trattoria Antica...it's terrific. You're also right DD about the 'hood...I really hope they do well in spite of the lousy location. It's worth the drive...maybe not from North County...but from the city yes!

        1. re: DiningDiva

          Thanks for the info. We just recently moved to Carlsbad from Memphis and I have been looking for good restaurants. I have family coming in May and want to impress them with some good places to eat. I haven't had the time to experience too many restaurants yet but I am trying.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            Agreed. This spot is one of our favourites! Every time I've been there, except for once at lunch, they've been very busy. And, since the recent write-up in the U/T, they're even busier. Any reference on their website to Gaslamp food may be due to the owner once having been the chef at Osteria Panevino (at least I'm prety sure it was that restaurant!). I'm glad he had the motivation to open his own place because it's so much better than any Italian I've had in the Gaslamp!

          2. We have been up to When in Rome in Encinitas on 101 a few times and have always been very pleased with the food. They use some vegetables they grow in their garden for salads, which have been excellent. We also had a special of zucchini parmesean that was fresh and delicious. We have been pleased with the pastas, particularly the lasagna or the gnocci (when they have it). My wife liked the pasta w/ eggplant and red sauce (I forget the name).
            The osso buco has been consistently good, and the braciole was great, but was only there as a special one time. Can be pricey, but has been the most consistent Italian I have been to in SD.
            Ciao Bella was also good, but a different type of place, and significantly less expensive.

            1. I remember Stefano's and Zolezzi's, and have eaten many meals at Lorna's! I grew up in that neighborhood.

              For high end - Sante and Manhattan in La Jolla are well thought of. I have also heard good things about La Taverna and I Trulli. Buon Appetito in Little Italy is ok but I don't like the rest of those places much (the ones owned by the Busalacchi family). Via Italia used to be good, but I heard the original owners sold it.

              I live in La Mesa now, and I've been meaning to get down to Trattoria Antica - it's had a lot of good reviews!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Alice Q

                Do give it a try. I have had the opportunity to dine there several times and I find it to be wonderful. Beyond offering fantastic food, the ambiance is very fun. It seems everyone is happy to be there noshing, drinking, and visiting.

                1. re: Alice Q

                  I also grew up in UC and besides mom's, Lorna's Kitchen was the go to. I recently had dinner at Harry's Bar & Grill (more in the UTC area then UC) and it was excellent. I had the spedini appetizer of grilled shrimp and grilled zucchini that was wrapped around goat cheese that was light and delicious. I shared by boyfriend's gnocchi in a red sauce that was fresh and homemade. I would HIGHLY recommend it for a nice Italian meal that is a wee bit closer to Encinitas. When I lived in Leucadia, I really liked Via Italia but that was with the original owners; I haven't been since. I Truili also had lighter pastas that were great (when not too crowded--if it was the pasta was not so al dente.)

                2. Ate at Lupi in Bird Rock last night, I always leave happy. The owner Ruffo is fun to chat with he is very nice, and very knowlegable about food from baja to LA. Crostini Curuso is top knotch as is the Carpacio. The girl and I also split a Linguine (house made) Pomodoro which was excelent. Good selection of wine, alot of the botique, had a nice super tuscan style blend. I'm another fan of Manhattan's, best canneloni in town.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: stevuchan

                    I have been to Lupi too - I had forgotten about it, but it was very good. The owner is very nice.

                  2. If you go again and the braised rabbit is on special I highly rec it.


                    1. Braised rabbit? Ok, now I'm listening. This is one of my fav. dishes in Italy.

                      1. Nobody's mentioned Nicolosi's. Is it still in business? I can't imagine San Diego without it--really, it's the best red-sauce restaurant in town. After all these years away, I still miss it.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: cristina

                          Yes, it's still around. It's in Allied Gardens right off Waring Rd. and I-8.

                          1. re: cristina

                            Nicolosi's is more about quantity than quality. The pasta and chicken dishes I tried were average but the amounts are unbelievable. (no surprise we have an obesity problem). I never had such amounts of food in any restaurant.

                          2. One place that you probably don't want to go to is Cafe Zucchero in Little Italy. I just got back from having dinner there for a friends birthday. Overall the food was mediocre to bad. I ordered the Osso Buco (which was a special) and it was probably one of the worst dishes I have had at an Italian restaurant before. The entire entree was very bland. There was barely any sauce. The "veal" was tough and dry -- I swear that it was actually beef. I think they probably cooked it in a pressure cooker. I should have known better than to order something on special. On top of everything the Osso Buco was $28! Most of their entrees are in the $15-20 range. About the only good thing I could say about them was that the tiramisu I had for dessert was pretty good. The gelato there is decent but nothing special.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: mliew

                              Cafe Zucchero is only good for dessert. I'm not really a huge fan of the Busalacchi restaurants in general. I had some decent food at their Hillcrest location, but I probably wouldn't go there unless it were free.

                              In general, the Italian food scene in San Diego is very poor. I miss the days of Roma Beach Caffe in La Jolla. That place was incredible.

                              1. re: Josh

                                I totally agree with everything mliew and Josh said. Do not waste your money at Cafe Zucchero, Trattoria Fantastica, or the other Busalacchi restaurants. Go to Buon Appetito if you're in Little Italy.

                                1. re: mangiatore

                                  Buon Appetito is pretty good, yeah. It's really a shame you missed out on Roma Beach. That place was amazing. Reasonably priced, owned by a young couple from Rome. I had an amazing balasmic vinegar-marinated veal roast there. They also had incredible lamb dishes, including one they'd do as an app. called lamb and chips - fried potatoes, and fried thin lamb chops on the bone.

                                  Every night a different menu, handwritten and xeroxed, with 5 to 6 items on it. Fresh arugula salad with goat cheese and lemon juice/olive oil dressing was always a winner. Best tiramisu in town for dessert - sometimes w/ strawberries or pineapple added.

                                  Every time I have a sub-par Italian meal I wonder why we can't have a place like that here again.

                            2. Those sound like good dishes. The arugula salad you describe is a classic. Have you eaten at La Taverna, Baci, Piatti, or Salvatore's? I've heard enough people on this board praise them that I'm tempted to try at least one of them. If you have, can you give me a little breakdown? My pet peeves for Italian restaurants in SD are overcooked pasta, pasta swimming in sauce, seafood dishes with cheese, and anything "on a bed of pasta," which probably makes me cringe more than anything...

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: mangiatore

                                Funny about the seafood w/ cheese. Mario and Sylvia (owners of Roma Beach) used to joke about that all the time.

                                I ate at Piatti a really long time ago, and barely remember it. I enjoyed my Baci experience, but it's pretty Americanized.

                                I had some decent Italian food a couple of times at a place in Solana Beach called Parioli. I don't see it mentioned here much, but it was pretty good.

                                La Taverna sounds familiar, but not sure I can place it. Have not been to Salvatore's.

                                I haven't had anything in San Diego that compared favorably to Roma Beach, to put it simply. I haven't had Italian food like that since they were around.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  Thanks for the assessment. La Taverna is a tiny little place in La Jolla (in the village I think). I've heard a few good things about it. Salvatore's is downtown.

                                  I also read a little review on a place called...Sole Luna Cafe (I think). Somewhere near El Cortez. I'm wondering if anyone's tried that.

                                  1. re: mangiatore

                                    I read the same review. Made me wish I still worked downtown so I could try it for lunch. I liked the fact that the two owners hail from two different areas in Italy (Milan and Sicily....I think), and specialize in the region's fare. I believe it's a 7th and Ash.

                                    1. re: phee

                                      Milan and Bologna -- even better! (Most Italians consider the region Bologna is is in, Emilia, to be the culinary capital of of Italy.)

                                  2. re: Josh

                                    I have been to Salvatore's several times. The osso buco con risotto is excellent. Salvetore's is expensive, but I like the food.


                                    1. re: Josh

                                      Been to Parioli a few times. It was quite good and then seemed to fall apart. Maybe I should give it another shot being that there are no other good options from reading this thread.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        Not sure what you mean by "Baci is Americanized"...they definitely serve the best veal in all of SD and have the best cannolis as well. Pasta dishes are excellent too.

                                      2. re: mangiatore

                                        Thank you for finally mentioning Baci and Salvatore's (related to When in Rome--mentioned above)......I guess the fact they actually have Italians in the kitchen doing the authentic Italian cooking scares the unsophisticated crowds away.....the only place in Little Italy I like is Mona Lisa--their pesto sauce is a favorite of mine, though it might be a bit too creamy for the originator of this post.

                                        1. re: El Chevere

                                          Baci was the best Italian food I've had in SD in a long time.

                                      3. I have always had good experiences at Arrivaderci in Hillcrest. I have friends from Naples, and they say it's about as close to home as they have found.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: naven

                                          Ironically, I have to agree. You wouldn't think that a casual place like this in Hillcrest would be any good, but it actually passes. I haven't eaten there in a few years though.

                                        2. I'm sorry but I have to ask. I'm an ex-SD resident (currently living in San Antonio) and used to go to Stefanos and Zolezzi's. My memory isn't what is used to be but I always enjoyed the food there. My question is (and this is driving me crazy) is where were they?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: OETex

                                            I do believe they were on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest.

                                          2. I read through all of the posts regarding Italian in San Diego. We are going to be in La Jolla next week and I was wondering if any of them were near that area? If not, can somebody recommend a good southern Italian restaurant in or near La Jolla?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: StuCazzo

                                              Sante, La Taverna, and Manhattan are in downtown La Jolla - and Piatti is down by the Shores. I don't know if these are "Southern Italian" - but they are all pretty good.

                                            2. We are big fans of La Taverna in the La Jolla village. It is a tiny little place. We also like Manhattan although I tend to not stray from the Veal Cannelloni which is awesome. We also used to go to Zio's in University Heights for simple family style Italian, but they were going to change their menu and we have not been back since -- so I do not have an update on that one.

                                              2 Replies
                                                1. re: honkman

                                                  Yes, Zio Mario's has closed. Cafe 2121 has opened in that spot.

                                              1. We enjoy Arrivederci in Hillcrest and Buon Appetito in Little Italy. Looking forward to Trattoria di IV's new location in Santee. Andiamo! in Tierrasanta isn't too bad either.

                                                1. On the strength of these posts, ate at Trattoria Antica last night. I thought it was really excellent. Friendly, efficient service, a fair wine list (from which we enjoyed an excellent "Super Tuscan") and both my wife and I had just superb veal. Mine was a stuffed chop. Talk about gilding the lily ! From Shelter Island it took only about 20 minutes on the freeway. Worth a detour, for sure.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: flyscot

                                                    i havent heard anyone talk about caffe bella italia in pacific beach. they have the best pasta there. my favorite dish is penne arrabiata and it truly tastes authentic, also there atmosphere is nice and it usually isnt too crowded.

                                                  2. I have had very good experience at Osteria Panevino, although many people here are quick to dismiss it. I haven't been in probably a year, but I heard the chef spends too much time at one of the owner's other restaurants. What stood out is they have been the only place in SD I have found that stuffs the cannolis when you order them (makes a world of difference).

                                                    1. I have not been to Panevino in a few years, but the last time I was there it was fantastic.

                                                      The DH (fiance') and I recently ate at Volare on...gosh, Barnett or Midway, it's in that area by the Midway post office. Absolutely the oddest location for a restaurant, and DIG the right-out-of-central-casting vibe. Anyway we dropped in there on a lark one day; we both had the cappellini with pesto. The pasta was FRESH, flavorful and lively, not an overcooked wimpy noodle. The pesto was out of this world. The food was soooo pungent....freshly cut garlic, fresh STRONG basil. The portions were appropriate, not the Spag Fac vat-o-pasta serving. Volare has been mentioned once or twice before on CHOW, but their location is so strange, I think people forget about them.


                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Dagney

                                                        my girlfriend used to go there all the time and said it is pretty good but the menu was pretty standard. We always talk about checking it out, now I will have to actually put some effort out.

                                                        1. re: MrKrispy

                                                          Its very good for the Southern Italian/classic Italian-American food. But it does have a truly bizarre location. Think of it this way, if its managed to survive so long as such a crappy location, it must be good.

                                                          I also recommend Frankie's Italian Deli, on Mira Mesa Blvd., at the Southwest corner of Mira Mesa Blvd and Black Mountain Rd. Its not fancy, but the food is pretty good.

                                                          Arrivederci in Hillcrest is a little bit fancier, but the food is amazing. The pizzeria, just down the street on 4th is pretty good too.

                                                      2. Have you tried Trattoria Positano on San Elijo in Cardiff? Excellent.

                                                        1. I'm in San Diego for a few days. Tonight, we had dinner at Filippi's in Little Italy. It's not very fancy, but I always enjoy myself. I'm a pizza guy and Filippi's never disappoints.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Shiggy

                                                            For some reason, the Little Italy location does taste best to me, too.

                                                            The pizza is not the same at other locations.

                                                            1. re: Cathy

                                                              The one in PB is good too. You're right though; quality does vary at other locations. they are independently managed.

                                                              1. re: Ross92131

                                                                Mama Mia in PB still ranks number one with me. Their panzerotti (SP?) is the best. Save room for Cinzia's Tiramisu. BYOW. I do like the desserts at Cafe zuccuro in Little Italy.

                                                          2. I have to agree that Antica Trattoria is excellent. It definitely is not Gaslamp Italian...but I think the owner means to say that the food is more upscale fare rather than it being a pizza place. Everything is good...I have been eating there since they opened in early 2001. Chef Franco is such a sweetheart...if something is not on his menu, he will make it for you. The East County location is a bit off the beaten path for me (I live in Bonita), but so well worth it! BTW, the canollis are also not filled with cream until they are ordered. And the tiramisu and creme brule are made daily. I have also been to a large party there (the place was closed/bought-out) and the service was superb. Oh, and I must add that they are in the new 2008 San Diego Zagat Survey that came out last week!

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: 1italiangirl

                                                              Filippi's in Little Italy, it's got to be the old ovens, make a better crisper pizza than some of their other locations.