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May 13, 2008 10:38 PM

Good Eats in Little Italy

I'm coming out to San Diego next week, and I'll be staying in Little Italy. That being said, I'm looking for (guess what?!?!) Italian there. It can be upscale or red checkerboard, either is fine with me. I just figure if we're staying in Little Italy, we might as well get some Italian there. Hopefully Little Italy is REALLY Italian and not a tourist trap, but any recs would be appreciated.

The other reservation I have so far is at Urban Solace, and I'm looking to make another reservation at The Better Half.


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  1. Definately, Urban Solace and Better Half but, Little Italy is mostly a TT, if I had to choose it would probably be Mona Lisa, for old school, or Fantastica for a bit upsacle. If you go further on India, there's Shakeaspere for good fish and chips and Saffron has excellent chicken as well as other dishes. Have fun in SD!

    25 Replies
    1. re: cstr

      I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a tourist trap. It's really pretty much nothing. A few short blocks, some uh restaurants and an overrated dessert place. And that's it. For better Italian search the boards--though there isn't much down there including the definite tourist trap--The Gaslamp Quarter.

      1. re: cstr

        I'm a huge fan of fish and chips! Shakeaspere sounds like a definite stop for us.

        1. re: winger1930

          I prefer Blue Water Grill's fish and chips, their fish is top notch. Shakespeare's is good though, if you prefer more the traditional English style.

        2. re: cstr

          I'm going to go ahead and dissent a little bit here with some of the conventional board wisdom, and suggest you consider Ritual Tavern or Linkery instead of Urban Solace. I know a lot of people here like Urban Solace, but if you're here for a short time, I'd say that there are better options to experience San Diego cuisine in that part of town. Linkery is along the same lines as Urban Solace in terms of food, while Ritual Tavern is more along the lines of an upscale pub.

          The big thing that I think elevates Linkery or Ritual above Urban Solace is that they both prominently feature San Diego craft beer. San Diego's breweries are among the best in the world, and win lots of medals and recognition. Urban Solace's beer selection is decent, with a couple of local offerings, but nowhere near as good as the other two. Not sure how important that is to you, but to me it is. Just my $0.02. Let the flaming commence. ;-)

          1. re: Josh

            No flaming but we just went Ritual Tavern last week for the first time and overall the food was very disappointing. The fish and chips were absolutely horrible. I agree that the beer list is good (but that is normally not so important for me).

            1. re: honkman

              Heh, awesome.

              Three cheers for inconsistency. :P

              I've never had that item there, so can't comment. I like things like the burger, the shepherd's pie, and some of the special entrees I've had.

              1. re: honkman

                Sorry about the fish and chips but go back and try the very garlicky shrimp scampi - very rich and yum. Great Niman ranch burger, very tasty shepherds pie and gumbo, and the best onion rings I have found in ages. I am not a big beer drinker, but based on food and vibe I would recommend Ritual Tavern and The Linkery over Urban Solace (which seems to be struggling with some consistency/growing pains recently) for a more current SD restaurant experience.

                1. re: foodiechick

                  We tried the beer-battered vegetables and fish and chips which are both were absolutely horrible, so I have great doubts that anything fried there is worth eating. We also had the shepherds pie which was the best of the three but still nothing special. (In addition the service was also not that great compared ot the Linkery and Urban Solace).So based on this visit I much more prefer The Linkery and Urban Solace in this area.

                  1. re: honkman

                    The onion rings are very good. I don't eat much in the way of fried things, but I like those. I've noticed some slow service there in the dining room, but I normally sit at the bar.

                    1. re: honkman

                      I have to agree with you honkman - I had the battered veg once - pretty close to disgusting. More oil than veg

                      1. re: kare_raisu

                        I have only eaten once at Ritual but I have been wanting to go back. It was relatively soon after they opened and the service was great. Granted the restaurant was not that crowded but still the waitress was very attentive. As for the food, we really liked the fries and mussels. The burger and shepard's pie were both items that I would get again. I would say that the jambalaya was disappointing and it was not the best fish/chips that I have had but I would definitely recommend trying this place. Hopefully it has not gone downhill since I was there last.

                        As for Urban, I have tried it twice and while the second time was a big improvement over the first, I still don't think it is nearly as special as some people claim. It is not bad but I think there are plenty of better options.

                2. re: Josh


                  I agree -- The beer selection at Ritual and Linkery are excellent. Not sure if the OP is seeking out craft beer however... Which would be a shame because we do indeed have some of the best beers in the world.

                  Also be aware that the Linkery will be closing after Sunday, May 18 for their move up the street and will be closed for a few days while they move.

                  Ritual is indeed a treat and their beer float is worth the price of admission alone. That said, I have not been happy with their fish and chips which I find a bit on the soggy side. Other dishes at Ritual have fared much better and it is still on my frequent rotation.

                  A happy medium -- beers at Hamilton's down the street and then a quick 5 minute drive down 30th to Urban Solace.

                  And man, once the Toronado opens... wow.

                  1. re: Ewilensky

                    I can't wait to check out the new location. Not that there's anything wrong with the current space but a less cramped space should be nice.

                    I've only eaten at Ritual Tavern once and was less than impressed. I had the portobello sandwich (it was during Lent) and it was fine, but I greatly prefer the Portobello Burger from The Linkery. The porter shake was fantastic though. Maybe I should give it another try with something meat, but a couple of my friends also reported negatively back when they went.

                    1. re: Ewilensky

                      Well, OP here. Beer is important - actually very important. But I'm also heading to Seattle a week after San Diego, so I'll get my craft beer fix there.

                      I'm going to do a little research on the Linkery. I have a place in DC that sounds very much like Ritual - they also have a beer float and 20 taps and 200 bottles. Plus, all the food they have is cooked with beer. Not to say that everything is good there, but its a great place to knock a couple back.

                      1. re: winger1930

                        Well I love Seattle (and Portland) and my heart is actually there, but San Diego trumps those cities in relation to craft beers.

                        Don't miss out on our local beers as we have some regional specialities such as the West Coast style IPA -- which is essentially an IPA turned up to 11 with a very high alcohol content.

                        If beer is indeed important than Ritual and the Linkery are important visits. (Hopefully the Linkery will have re-opened by the time you visit. It's new location will put it diagonal and across the street from Urban Solace -- run in and grab what they have on cask).

                        Also, Hamilton's Tavern is a must. Tie this into your trip to Urban Solace (before or after -- who am I kidding before AND after) as they are about 5 minutes apart driving.

                        Other places for beer:

                        Pizza Port (a big fan of their Hop 15).
                        Stone Brewery (their Ruination IPA is my idea of a perfect beer)

                        And I am sure others will add their picks shortly.


                        Another EXCELLENT place for beer if O'Brien's Pub but the location is not as central

                        1. re: Ewilensky

                          Alright, you guys convinced me! Sounds like I'll be able to visit the Linkery after dinner at Urban Solace for sure. Both my girlfriend and I are pretty into beer, so it sounds like I gotta visit a couple bars while I'm out here too.

                          1. re: winger1930

                            If you're into beer, you will love our craft brew bars. Make sure to try stuff from Alpine, Lightning, Green Flash, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, AleSmith, and Ballast Point. Those are some of our best beers, but aren't distributed as widely as Stone. Stone makes great beer, too, but they are distributed in a lot of states now.

                        2. re: winger1930

                          Dude, if beer is important to you then you'd be crazy to wait for Seattle for your fix. San Diego passed the Pacific Northwest a long time ago in terms of craft brewing.

                          I suggest checking out the San Diego Brewer's Guild website, as all the good local stuff is listed there, along with special events and info about the different pubs and breweries.


                          O'Brien's Pub in Kearny Mesa has an amazing selection of rare and hard-to-find Belgian bottles, plus 20 taps of great craft beer. Hamilton's Tavern similarly has around 20 taps of equally great craft beer, and a bottle selection with lots of unusual craft beers from around the world and the US. Depending on when you're here, Toronado's San Diego branch might be open, and it's looking like they'll have 30 taps or so, plus numerous bottles.

                          Trust me when I tell you that you won't want to miss out on what's going on here beer-wise. My friend in Seattle is quite jealous of the stuff I have access to on a daily basis.

                          1. re: Josh


                            Do we have an ETA on the SD branch of the Toronado yet? Getting thirsty...

                            1. re: Ewilensky

                              Saturday at 11 AM

                              They had a soft opening the last couple of days. You still might be able to wander in

                              1. re: DougOLis

                                Oh yeah, they have 50 taps too! They have 2 large refrigerators for bottles and what they had in there already was some pretty damned good stuff. Had the Trappistes Rochefort 8 yesterday.

                              2. re: Ewilensky

                                It's opening pretty soon. I think I overheard something about the end of the month.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  You must have opened the page before I posted because look up 2

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      Looks like the Toronado opens TODAY, Wednesday, May 21...

                                      So OP, after dinner at Urban Solace, make a right turn out the door, walk up 30th two blocks and cross the street. Enjoy.

                    2. You'll be very happy with The Better Half (probably San Diego's best at the moment, IMHO). Urban Solace is nice as well. As for Little Italy's Italian -- can't really help you there. I love Little Italy. For many year I worked for the BID that turned that neighborhood around. But for Italian food, it all blurs together. For Italian we like Arrividerci, a few blocks away from The Better Half in Hillcrest.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Ewilensky

                        I also love LI but, not it's way overpriced, over rated restaurants, I mean you can't even get a simple Italian cookie for less than 2 bucks. LI, sold it's sole to condo development, a shame. The only time I go is for Art Walk. I agree on Arrividerci, excellent chow!

                      2. I wouldn't exactly call it a tourist trap, but Little Italy definitely makes most of its money from tourists. Nevertheless, it's possible to get a good meal there. I agree with Mona Lisa for the spaghetti-and-chianti vibe, but my personal favorite is Buon Appetito where I've had some memorable meals (ambitious risotto, vitello tonato, and some delicious but affordable Italian wines). In Little Italy, I think the distinction between formal and casual is generally whether or not there's a cloth on the table.
                        . . . jim strain in san diego.
                        p.s. You're gonna love The Better Half.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Jim Strain

                          I'm definitely excited about the Better Half. Funny story about that place too - I'm originally from Philadelphia (but in DC now), and the owner is from Philly too. Turns out he used to manage a restaurant in Philadelphia with one of my current co-workers. I tell ya, its a small world...

                          1. re: winger1930

                            I used to be a restaurant mgr in Philly and am now a fan of the Better Half so I am just curious- which restaurant did the owner used to manage there?

                            1. re: bethsd

                              He worked with my friend at Novelty, and he mentioned he did some work at Buddakan and Le Bec Fin. I don't know if what capacity, but it sure does sound he comes from a solid background.

                        2. I like breakfast at Solunto's. Their zucchini frittada and pepper and eggs are both tasty. I also like their homemade soups, turnovers, and cannoli.

                          Little Italy in San Diego is not a tourist trap, it is an excellent shopping resource. We are lucky to have Mona Lisa, Assenti Pasta, and Solunto's on our back porch. If you like to cook Italian, you should count your blessings, not bag on LI.

                          1. My favorite stuff in Little Italy is the downscale stuff - Pete's Meats and Mona Lisa's delicatessen are awesome. Pete's Meats is in the center of Little Italy, across from Filippi's, and they make great Italian sandwiches with grilled meats or eggplant. The spitini is really good - veal rolled around a parmesan breadcrumb filling, flame grilled, in a roll with sauce and peppers and onions.

                            Mona Lisa's restaurant is just OK, but the attached deli is very good. They use good bread, and make sandwiches with stuff like soppressata. The caprese sandwich with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella dressed with balsamic vinegar is awesome. If they happen to have bacalao (salt cod) salad, do try it.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Josh

                              I agree with the deli at Mona Lisa. I'm heading down there today to pick up some prosciutto and salami.

                              1. re: Josh

                                I agree on Pete's and the deli in Mona Lisa. I also agree with Jim Strain that Buon Appetito is pretty consistently very good and reasonably priced and (I think) owned by the same people that own Arrivederci. Some of the same menu items too, unless I miss my guess.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  Good call on a deli. I will say, I am originally from Philadelphia, so I can be a snob about good hoagies. Although, since I live in DC, a hoagie by way of San Diego might actually do me good.

                                  Between Pete's and Mona Lisa, which one has the better deli?

                                  1. re: winger1930

                                    Pete's does not have a "deli". They serve about 5 kinds of hot sandwiches, sausage, meatball, and I forget what the others are. They are grilled in front of you and are excellent.

                                    Mona Lisa is a full market/deli that has Italian deli meats and other food available. Both have excellent sandwiches.

                                    1. re: winger1930

                                      The other options at Pete's are the aforementioned spitini, eggplant, and steak. The best to me are the spitini or the sausage. I agree with JRSD that you can't really call one better than the other, what they serve is quite different.

                                    2. re: Josh

                                      I am a huge fan of Mona Lisa's sandwiches. They take my vote as best non-banh mi sandwich in the city. Pick up a few for an awesome picnic near the statue of Balboa in the park!

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        I agree about the downscale being better than the high end in Little Italy. To what Josh said, I would add recommendations for the cannolis at Cafe Zucchero (not so much the other stuff or regular food) and gelato at Pappalecco.

                                        As far as sit down places, I've liked Buon Appetito, but I haven't been in a while. Just noticed a new burger place opened up in the old Bud's location - not sure how that will go over, right next to Waterfront. There's also a new "Red Mango" yogurt place where the Scarab Pottery gallery used to be.

                                        1. re: Alice Q

                                          I LOVE cannolis, so Cafe Zucchero is on the list!