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Mama Mia - San Diego

Has anyone been to Mama Mia in PB? I am going to head there tonight. I think it is a little family local eatery. I'll report back. The menu looks simple, cheap and good.

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  1. So I went to Mama Mia last Friday evening for dinner and it was very nice. The owners I believe used to own Ciao Bella in La Mesa but have been looking to open something in PB. They sold Ciao Bella and opened this little jem, loacted just around the corner from Lamont St. Grill. The husbadn runs the front and the wife is the chef. Such a cute setting, and very welcoming atmosphere. The food was very good, simple, fresh, and rustic. Not huge portions though, which left room for some of the best Tiramisu I have had to date. It was creamy and light and not too sweet. If you are having a hard time trying to decide what to get off the menu just ask the staff or just get a pizza (this is the Italian kind, not New York or Chicago). It is currently a BYOW, no liquor license yet, and there is a 7-11 right next door where we got a bottle of Backstone on sale. They have an extensive menu, almost too big. This place will be great in the summer with their outdoor seating. I felt like I was having a nice homemade authentic Italian dinner at some little place off the beaten path in northern Italy. I wish the owners much luck and cannot wait to head back to try something new.

    4 Replies
    1. re: mcmama

      So where in PB is it? There are those of us that could find Grossmont Center in our sleep but don't know our Garnets from our Grands.

      1. re: mcmama

        So THAT'S where they went!!! We really liked Ciao Bella in La Mesa. The food was a notch above the usual neighborhood pizzeria/pasteria, but half of the attraction was the genial Italian charm of the owners. One day, they were gone and the La Mesa venue, while keeping the same name, had morphed into a sort of Italianate coffee house -- not bad, but no longer what it was. The La Mesa place had parking problems, and there was competition among the strip-mall tenants for the few available spaces. There had been instances of people parking in a stall claimed by the convenience store, and then getting towed when they went into the restaurant instead. Thanks for letting us know about Mama Mia; I'm going to try it for sure.
        . . . jim strain

        1. re: mcmama

          I’m glad to hear there is a new addition of good food in PB…that is the good news.

          The bad news is that the restaurant is in one of the worst locations in PB, nothing has survived there! There is really only one way to get there and only street parking available. It is west bound on Balboa Ave just prior to the merge on Grand Ave on the right. A very difficult location, but hopefully the food is good enough to survive the logistics.

          1. re: pbhomey

            Luckily, I don't think Mamma Mia's will have a problem surviving. I went last night for my bday and the place was PACKED on a Wed. night.

        2. The wife and I just had lunch at this place. We had the lodigiana salad topped with meat and in a tunne sauce (5.95), the lasagna (7.95), and the ravioli al casale (7.95). All were recommendations from the server and all the dishes were quite tasty.

          I had the opportunity to talk to the owner, Francisco, during the course of the meal. He let me know that all the pasta is hand made and his wife prepares all the dishes. In his words, “Nothing frozen here!” And yes, BYOW with no charge.

          Only word of caution, the restaurant is an old wood house with wood floors and sounds seem to echo throughout. And, Francisco is extremely enthusiastic and his voice carries well.

          All and all, a great addition to Pacific Beach!

          Mamma Mia
          1932 Balboa Ave
          11:30 – 9:30
          Closed Monday

          6 Replies
          1. re: pbhomey

            PBHomey, is the place ok to bring kids? Well behaved kids?

            1. re: Katdiego

              Don't see why not...most of the table settings were for either 2 or 4. Not a very big place at all. Prices are quite reasonable.

              1. re: pbhomey

                did you find out what kind of pizza oven they are using? I obviously have my fingers crossed for a wood fired one.

            2. re: pbhomey

              PBHomey, Was this a mexican place before? And then stood empty for a little while? Where do you park when you go? Is the alley in the back one way only? Any parking back there?

              1. re: Katdiego

                Kat, I just park on Balboa before their location. I tend to go early and have not had any problem parking there. I do not know about the alley. Yes, this was the mexican place before and about ten other places before that.

            3. We had a most enjoyable meal at Mamma Mia tonight. The owners are a hard working, charming couple. The food was delicious... the ambiance was quaint... and next time we will remember to bring our own bottle of wine, as they don't have their license, yet. We enjoyed their mista salads - the dressing is excellent with a nice garlic kick. The bread is home made and was hard to resist. The pesto pizza with shrimp was excellent with a thin, flaky crust. I ordered the penne with eggplant and mozzarella in a tomato sauce- very good. I will order the spicy marinara soup with clams next time. And the tiramisu was a wonderful finish. Great new spot for Pacific Beach.

              3 Replies
              1. re: KSin

                Was there on Thursday, what a great addition to the the neigborhood. Highly caffenated staff, good service, great food. Had the veal and the girl had the gnocci both were top knotch. The Zeppoli (deep fried bread) with imported meats was also great. Plenty of well behaved children were there, also there is a heated patio in the back with additional seating.

                1. re: stevuchan

                  We took our kids when they were a bit on edge. They can color on the paper placemats, just BYO Crayons. Their highchairs are CLEAN! The owners have a 2 and a 4 y/o so they are very understanding. My two year old and I just had a date there and dined on the suasage and cheese pizza. Very good. They have mini pizza for the kids not on the menu, like $5.95. I have the spinach salad, very good.

                  1. re: stevuchan

                    Yes, the staff is definitely high energy and there is kind of a constant din in the room. We ate in the front room but maybe the back patio is more quiet. We all really enjoyed our meals, especially the BYOW part, although Francisco said that they should have a liquor license by summer. The special ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut sauce was outstanding as was the fried focaccia with tallegio cheese.

                2. My husband, oldest grandson and I had dinner here a week and a half and ago and it was literally the best italian food we've ever had! We LOVE the staff as much we love the food- it feels like you're having dinner with your best friends from Italy- so great! The ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut sauce is almost indescribably good, as was the appetizer that was recommended - a sort of turn over, but fluffier, filled with ham and cheese . . . wow. We had the gelato for dessert and espresso... all perfect. We're going back tonight!

                  1. Like Jim, I was wondering where the Ciao Bella owners had moved! We loved their food in La Mesa and were very disappointed when we decided to stop there back in February...and I knew they had new owners by the taste.

                    The owner's wife is an excellent cook. My only complaint was the wait time sometimes, but always good, fresh food. Great chicken, great sauces, great potatoes made Italian style. Well, good, I'm anxious to see the menu there and see if there are any carryovers!

                    I still have a hard time visualizing where this place is. If parking is a problem, maybe I'll go on the Harley!

                    1. Just went here last night after reading the rave reviews on this posting. and Agreed. What a great place! I think the owner is a little 'over' playing the Italian, but thats what makes it entertaining. The food was divine! I had the tortellini special and my husband had the lasagna. We traded halfway through! The lasagna was so light and tasty, I loved it! We also started out with the panezotti (sp?). the ham and cheese turnovers. yummmm.

                      Can't wait to go back!

                      1. Mama Mia is AWESOME!!!! The food is very fresh and the antithesis of your stereotypical heavy Italian fare. The antipasto ortolano is fabulous, sauteed spinach, mushrooms, eggplant and garlic last time. The pastas with gorgonzola sauce aren't to be missed! The lasagne is many thin layers instead of a few heavy ones. Everything is freshly made, and the quality is superb. Their tiramisu is a great finish. The owners are very involved in the business. Francisco, the husband, runs the front of the house, and his wife is the chef. We take our three and a half year old daughter, and as long as we order a plate of lasagne as soon as we get there for her, we can have a great meal. They even have a little tree swing by the patio. THE BEST!!!!!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: tklemmon

                          I love it too, but his name is Francesco.

                          1. re: deckape

                            I watched that location change names last year and have had it on my list to try. After what I read, I'm moving it up to the top. We desperately need a good Italian restaurant.

                        2. I've been at Mama Mia in PB and It's authentic Italian food made by Italians, It's very simple & rustic restaurant, The BEST ITALIAN FOOD IN SAN DIEGO.they don't serve any alcahool yet, the food has an italian taste and I suggest to order pasta, stroganoff, don't order pizza plssss, you can eat pizza anywhere, I mean, got to enjoy the good food. I ordered shrimp stroganoff...Mmmmm Wonderfull!!!! Don't forget to make resrvation, they are very busy! I loved!
                          CIAO BELLA

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Sara_SanDiego

                            Mama Mia is good and I like it a lot but I am not sure if I would call it the best italian food in San Diego. I was a little bit disappointed for example that their tortellini wasn't made by themself, their gelato is also just bought and not stored properly (large ice crystal were forming) and to get an espresso in an italian restaurant with hardly any crema wasn't really encouraging. But theoir appetizers, gnocchis were outstanding.

                            1. re: honkman

                              After reading the reviews on here I finally got around to trying this place over the weekend. Unfortunately, I was a bit underwhelmed at the end. Overall I would say the food was pretty mediocre.

                              To start my girlfriend had the spicy marinara soup w/ clams, I had a house salad. The soup was excellent, rich in flavor, however my salad was pretty bad. The tomatoes were mealy and flavorless, the dressing tasted just like oil with garlic. It could have used a lot more vinegar (maybe this is on purpose?).

                              For the main course I had the spaghetti with clams and shrimp. The clams were good -- fresh clams and not fishy tasting. However the shrimp came completely unshelled (a sign that the shrimp were previously frozen) and certainly tasted that way as well. The pasta was nicely cooked but the white wine and garlic sauce could have used a little more flavor IMO. But maybe its supposed to be subtle.

                              For dessert we had the tiramisu. It was a little strange that they garnish it with rosemary. The flavor of the rosemary completely threw off the flavor of the dessert and came across as quite strange to me. The tiramisu itself was rather bland, I think due to the lack of espresso taste in the ladyfingers.

                              Perhaps it was an off night but I wasn't that impressed overall. I may go back again to see if it was a fluke.

                              1. re: mliew

                                <However the shrimp came completely unshelled (a sign that the shrimp <were previously frozen)

                                Why do you say that shrimp in the shell would be an indication the shrimp had been previously frozen.

                                1. re: mliew

                                  Shrimp is frozen IQF (Individually Quick Frozen), straight out of the water on board the trawlers. Some, from smaller outfits, are deeply chilled until reaching the processing plant where they are processed. Shrimp freeze very, very well, retaining both moisture and flavor.

                                  They come typically in five pound blocks, shelled or unshelled, whole or headed, depending on what the restaurant prefers to order. A shrimp without its shell is in no way an indication of having been frozen just as the inverse is also untrue. It's industry standard, except in very expensive restaurants, to use frozen shrimp. So, unless you eat at the very best restaurants that obsess over maximum freshness, the likelihood that you are getting frozen shrimp is virtually 100%.

                                  Mama Mia's pastas feature, in many cases, restrained flavors. Flavors more typical of Italian tastes. The chef is from northern Italy which is one reason for the many cream sauces and may also account for the restraint displayed in the southern style sauces and the tiramisu. And one other note, some soak the ladyfingers in an espresso syrup and some fold it into
                                  the mascarpone mixture. I think Mama Mia falls into the latter category, I'm not sure. I thought the tiramisu quite good simply because it wasn't overly cloying like so many examples these days and also relied on balance to make it's point.

                                  1. re: deckape

                                    "Flavors more typical of Italian tastes" - As I mentioned in my post I think Mamma Mia is one of the better Italian in SD but the flavors and quality are still made for the American taste, e.g. pasta/sauce ratio, portion size, one recent ragu bolognese didn't have much to do with original ragu bolognese (using milk to tenderize the meat) but was the standard ground meat with tomato sauce you get way too often etc.

                                    1. re: deckape

                                      In my experience most of the time when I find completely shelled shrimp in a dish, they usually have far less flavor and the texture of the meat is more "mushy" than that of shrimp with the shell on. Perhaps the difference is just due to the shell and not because the shrimp has never been frozen.

                                      1. re: mliew

                                        Miliew, Deckape makes a good point. Shrimp can be purchased in some of the most diverse formats; i.e. raw, cooked, shelled, unshelled, whole, pieces and in every combination imaginable. Much shrimp *is* deep chilled or flash frozen on the shrimp boat immediately upon being brought out of the ocean.

                                        My personal experience with mushy shrimp has been that's it's old, not whether or not it's in or out of the shell. Thawed, refrozen and then thawed again...or perhaps thawed and refrozen multiple times also adversely affects the texture and will make it mushy.

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          Ok I guess its unfair for me to have drawn the conclusion that the shrimp quality was due to freezing when like you said it could be that it was old or simply frozen and thawed too many times. In any case, the bottom line was that the shrimp did not taste like quality shrimp, frozen or not.

                              2. Great news! The ABC approved MMs liquor license -- so no more BYO as they finalize the ppwork (bummer now, but for the best). The ravioli special w/ shrimp and mushroom topping was great, the mushroom and saffron risotto will surely please. A little chilly on the patio in February, but a must-visit-again soon. I'm bad at accents, but I'm pretty sure this is authentic ethnic italian!

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: deanobrown

                                  Hi guys! My name is Cinzia, i'm the chef/owner of Mamma Mia's! Thank you very much for your post here!
                                  Just want to tell you the we are waiting for our license very shortly, so get ready to celebrate!!!
                                  Hope to see you all soon at the restaurant!!!
                                  Cinzia M

                                  1. re: deanobrown

                                    Why is that great news? Now you will pay 3 to 4 times what it costs at the store.

                                    1. re: pantani

                                      i thought the exact same thing. having a place that was byob was a refreshing change.

                                      1. re: DoctorQuality

                                        I believe it's a matter of convienence, plus it's better for the waitstaff, as in tips, without beer & wine, the tips can be very lean. The waitstaff needs to make a living and Mamma Mia's needs a method to help revenue and keep good staff. Besides, how many customers would tip extra for BYOB.

                                        1. re: cstr

                                          customers with class? That's what you do at a fine restaurant that has no corkage, you tip in accordance for them providing stemware.

                                          1. re: clayfu

                                            Absolutely, clayfu, my tip reflects what I thought of the complete service package. I tip well, especially in a BYOB with minimal corkage fees and also if I have a coupon for some type of freebie, waitstaffers need to be appreciated, and I want them to know that in a monetary way. I have experienced many a warm welcome on my return visits. You know, like paying it forward, it always seems to be remembered.

                                            1. re: cstr

                                              Hi again!
                                              I'm proud to announce that WE HAVE THE ALCHOOL LICENSE NOW!
                                              We will wait for You to come and visit us for a complete Italian meal!
                                              Cinzia M.

                                              1. re: Cinzia M

                                                Wow, I was there last week, I couldn't bring it and you couldn't serve it yet. Wine Limbo!

                                                Had a small party for dinner, Started with Focaccia and salad. The salad, SEMPLICE, was very generous and I enjoyed the housemade dressing that used good quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), it had a nice green hue to it, and for $4, I thought it was a good value. Next came a 'special of the night' homemade lasagna made with spinich, gorgonzola cheese in a bechamel sauce. The pasta sheets were homemade, the dish was light and tasty, excelllent for $13. Homemade! Wonderful. Next veal scaloppini style dish with proscuitto in a spicy maranara sauce made with fresh herbs tomatoes and a side of fresh sauted baby spinach, $14. Lastly homemade gilato lemon and pistachio. The pistachio had whole nuts in it, no phony coloring here, the lemon was more like a frozen slush that you will find in NYC or BOS, tangy and icy. I liked the texture, very palate cleansing. The gang had a nice stay, the staff was very friendly and we talked about our experiences in Italy. Mamma Mia is small and very casual, paper place mats and silver wrapped on a paper napkin but, the food was great thank you Cinzia, can't wait to come back and enjoy some wine with dinner and maybe sit in the future patio wine bar. I hope some CH'ers will come and try some excellent homemade Italian food. Ciao!

                                                  1. re: clayfu

                                                    After hearing so many good things about this place, I was excited about trying it so I recommended it for a friend’s birthday party. It was certainly not what I expected. There were 10 of us and the waitress basically came over to tell us to order family style. We explained that some of us had different food preferences and she said that she guessed it would be ok to order our own entrees but that it may take a long time. Real nice of her. She made it sound like that we were causing a problem for wanting to try multiple things on the menu and that we should have known the protocol. No one told us when we made the reservation (as she claimed they usually do).

                                                    As for the food, we tried a few appetizers, the calamari, bruschetta, and their version of mini calzones. All were pretty good, although the calzones were lacking in the amount of filling the dough itself was well cooked.

                                                    As for the entrees, I can only comment on the ones that I tried, those being the lasagna and a bowtie pasta with spinach, vegetables and garlic. The lasagna was basically flavorless and reminded me more of something that I would get on an airplane instead of an Italian restaurant. All I could taste was garlic in the pasta dish. I like garlic but it was overboard. We tried the tiramisu, which others had said they enjoyed. I found it to be too dry and not great either, but better than the main courses.

                                                    I still want to find some good Italian so I will try some of the other places people have recommended. Btw, the corkage is now $7 for those that are interested.

                                                    1. re: sdaints

                                                      If no one has recommended Trattoria Antica on Lake Murray Blvd at Baltimore Dr. (in a Von's shopping center) in La Mesa, I will. Do give it a go. It's very good, a little pricey for the location, few people really leave disappointed.

                                                      The DD

                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                        Totally agree DD, this place doesn't get enough press, probably because it out of the way a bit. Very good chow, sort of reasonable for SD.

                                                        1. re: cstr

                                                          Not enough press, maybe, but, at least during the dinner hour, they're always busy. I believe that's usually a sign of a good restaurant - no press, no advertising, but always hoppin'! We used to be able to get in without a reservation, and now we always make one beforehand.

                                                          1. re: phee

                                                            LOL, you're right it really doesn't need any press! For me, I certainly don't mind the drive or the gas to get there, well worth it. Oh yah, always reservations to ensure a seat.

                                    2. The place wouldn't be bad if it wasn't for the owner and his wife. They fight in front of clients and they have no respect of their workers, I've seen Francesco threatening his workers in a very bad bad bad way, I will sure not come back to this shameful place. I don't think you will enjoy your dinner over there

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: cavicchi.giuseppe

                                        I have lunch at Antica 2-3 times a week, always quite excellant. What's more if you don't see your favorite dish on the menu, just ask for it, and they will make it for you, if they have the ingridients. For example, I like to eat steak salads for lunch and they make it for me, it's not on the menu. I've been a loyal and very happy customer of Antica since they opened in 2001, when I bought my house about 1m from the place.

                                        1. re: 4wino

                                          2 different places, Mama Mia is in PB, Antica Trattoria in La Mesa. Agree Antica is super.