Tag Archives: San Diego Italian Food: A Culinary History of Little Italy and Beyond

Candied Lemon and Ginger Slices

Candied Lemon And Ginger Slices
photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

I have an organic lemon tree in my backyard that yields more lemons than I know what to do with. This recipe adds a hint of ginger for a subtle, yet spicy kick. There is enough sugar in this recipe to keep the lemons tasting tart, but not too sweet. If you like it sweeter, feel free to add more sugar. I also like to dry the lemons out a bit in the oven for a slightly chewy texture.

Candied Lemon and Ginger Slices


  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar (more if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger root
  • 3-4 lemons, cut into thin slices
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Place water, sugar and ginger in a medium skillet; bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until all sugar is dissolved. Lower heat to medium-low and add lemon slices in 1 layer.

Steep the lemon slices for about 15 minutes, or until the rind is translucent. Carefully remove lemons with tongs and arrange slices in one layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake lemon slices until dried, approximately 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container.

Recipe by Maria Desiderata Montana

Organic Fresh Pasta In Little Italy

Organic Fresh Pasta In Little Italy
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

Known for their fresh homemade pasta, Bencotto Italian Kitchen and its “little brother” restaurant next door, Monello, have made a big change this year. Both restaurants are saying arrivederci to normal pasta as they announce they will only be serving organic pasta. After extensive research and taste testing, owners Valentina and Guido selected a supplier in Parma, Italy which offers a large selection of organic flours, certified among the best in the world.

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Clever Chef At Catania Hits All The Right Notes

Whole Roasted Branzino with Manila Clams, Spring Onion Pesto, Grilled Asparagus and Chili Bread Crumbs

The smell of wood-fired pizzas hits you as you walk in the door at Whisknladle Hospitality’s Catania, nestled on the top floor of the La Plaza center in La Jolla, California.

San Diego Food Finds Catania Restaurant
Ahi Tartare with Melon, Calabrian Chili, Yogurt, Shallot, Lemon, Sesame, Pistachio and Tarragon

Inspired by Whisknladle Hospitality Owner Arturo Kassel and Culinary Director/Partner Ryan Johnston after their two-week, 1,400-mile road trip through Italy, this innovative 3,750-square-foot restaurant, with an expansive patio and outdoor bar space, puts diners right near the ocean and within walking distance of shopping.

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Kale and Strawberry Salad Recipe

Recipe and Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

This light and healthy Kale and Strawberry salad is the perfect side dish for those sultry summer days!

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Maria’s Almond Tiramisu Recipe

almond tiramisu recipe
Recipe and photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

Also known as a “Tuscan Trifle,” tiramisu, which translates to “pick me up,” is a luscious melt-in-your-mouth Italian layered cake.

The origins of tiramisu are a bit murky. Legend has it that a tiramisu-like dessert was created in Siena during the 17th century. But the known facts point to the dessert’s history as being fairly recent. The first documented tiramisu recipe appeared in 1983, in a book by Giovanni Capnist called “I Dolci del Veneto” (The Desserts of Veneto).

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Landini’s Sicilian Style Pizza

sicilian style pizza
courtesy photo

Although authentic pizza is available throughout the Little Italy neighborhood, it is rare to find a location that sells by the slice. Opened in 2009, Landini’s has built a strong following for its genuine Sicilian-style pies and other traditional baked meals. Its success can be measured by the lines of patrons patiently waiting along India Street to grab a taste of the hand-tossed thin crust. At least a dozen styles are available in the window for a quick bite, and a little patience will award you with any special-order pie. Choose from the more traditional pepperoni, sausage and meatball or the more adventurous combinations like BBQ chicken, spinach, artichokes and jalapenos. Daily specials include various topping combinations that appeal to any palate. Calzones, stromboli and paninis are prepared with freshly prepared dough or bread. Or opt for a dish of pasta and salad. Local craft beers and wine are also offered.

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Eat Local at Ironside Fish and Oyster

Ironside Fish and Oyster
Photo By Maria Desiderata Montana

Named after the previous tenant of the 1920’s–era warehouse, Ironside Metal Supply, Ironside Fish and Oyster is the most recent restaurant innovation of executive chef and partner Jason McLeod. Little Italy, which is historically a fishing village, didn’t have a single oyster bar or seafood joint amongst its dozens of restaurants. McLeod noted the missing link and decided to make a change. He created a menu chock–full of local seafood, including lobster rolls, clam chowder and a raw bar with up to eight oyster varieties. “San Diego is a known seaport city born from a local fishing industry that was once famous as the tuna capital of America,” says McLeod. “My goal at Ironside has been to reintroduce an oyster culture and approachable raw bar concept to the city’s dining scene.” The building and interior boast meticulously crafted design details and the bar menu showcases over fifty unique craft and fortified cocktails, making Ironside the preeminent dining destination in San Diego.

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Experience the Flavors of Italy at CUCINA Enoteca

Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

As a leader in San Diego’s culinary landscape for the last seventeen years, celebrated proprietor, restaurateur and interior designer Tracy Borkum’s CUCINA enoteca is a beautiful two-story, 7,000 sq ft restaurant and wine shop located in Del Mar’s Flower Hill Promenade.

(Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)
Squash Blossoms (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

The exceptional culinary team is led by Executive Chef Joe Magnanelli, who combines the flavors of Italy with the organic freshness of California. Keeping in line with the signature CUCINA experience, the modern Italian kitchen-meets-rustic-farmhouse concept presents guests with the same highly curated “restaurant to retail” environment found in their existing locations. Offering diners nearly everything for sale, including the customized furniture, lighting and décor, CUCINA enoteca Del Mar also features a dedicated wine shop where guests can purchase hand-selected wines at retail price, either to enjoy with their meal or take to go.

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Italian Inspired Bottega Americano

Italian Inspired Bottega Americano
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

Located inside the Thomas Jefferson School of Law directly across the street from the city’s new Central Library in San Diego’s East Village, Bottega Americano is an Italian–inspired restaurant and specialty food marketplace that invites guests to dine in a fun and exciting dining hall.

Together, there are four notable Bottega owners who bring to life a new genre of dining inspired by old–world European style, including Giuseppe Ciuffa, founder and CEO of Giuseppe Fine Restaurants & Fine Catering; avid foodie, investor and East Village resident Chad Ruyle; restaurateurGreg Van de Velde, who most recently managed the iconic Bertrand at Mister A’s restaurant; and noted chef David Warner, formerly of San Diego’s beachfront hotspot JRDN. “My partners and I had a strong vision for the project from the beginning,” says Ciuffa. “Chef Warner and I work together with our culinary team on all of the menu ideas. So instead of having just one chef with only one vision, we are inspired by many different tastes, trends and experiences.”

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PrepKitchen Little Italy

San Diego Food Finds
Grilled Bone Marrow

Prepkitchen, the sister restaurant of critically heralded San Diego staple Whisknladle, is going strong in downtown’s Little Italy neighborhood, melding artisanal ingredients with handcrafted touches to create unpretentious, convenient dining with a nod to all things comforting and gourmet.

San Diego Food Finds
Butter Lettuce Salad

Located on the 2nd floor with a spectacular view of India and Date streets, Prepkitchen Little Italy boasts an airy and comfortable dining room and bar area that is welcoming and inviting. Nearly all design elements are salvaged or antiqued, lending to the restaurant’s hip-meets-home vibe. From communal dining tables to an inviting lounge area, Prepkitchen sets itself up to create an unparalleled social dining experience for patrons.

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Chef Leads With Heart At Savoie

Seared Scallops (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Mikel Anthony started his culinary career by studying the classical techniques at the Art Institute of California in San Diego. After helping to facilitate the opening of four restaurants in America’s Finest City, he quickly learned several techniques and skills. “I’ve had many mentors, from culinary instructors at the Art Insitute to chefs such as Chad White, Daniel Barron and Andres Hinojosa, all of whom helped develop my skill set,” he says. “I’m still in contact with them and often ask for advice. It’s important to have wise counsel.”

Pulpo (Braised Octopus) (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Currently the executive chef at Savoie restaurant in the Otay Mesa area of San Diego, Anthony has created a menu that he believes is a solid interpretation of the owners vision, also taking the guests and demographics into consideration. He enhances his dishes with exciting flavors from France, Italy, and Spain, sourcing produce and meats from some of the best purveyors who work with local farmers across the United States. “I like to frequent Specialty Produce and check out all the goodies in the farmers market section.”

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Civico 1845 In Little Italy

The Next Generation of Italian Cuisine In Little Italy San Diego

Civico 1845 Little Italy
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

Straight-from-Italy brothers Dario and Pietro Gallo are serving up authentic Italian cuisine that is anything but “old school.” Situated in the heart of San Diego’s Little Italy, Civico 1845 (pronounced CHEE-vee-ko), provides a modernized Italian dining experience – with an array of vegan dishes included.

Located at 1845 India Street, Civico 1845 is a contemporary Italian restaurant that features fresh flavors and revamped versions of Italian classics. The Gallos’ southern Italian roots serve as the inspiration for much of the restaurant, both in its cuisine and design.

Civico 1845
Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana

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Italian Meatball Soup Recipe

Italian Meatball Soup Recipe
(Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Soup with a bite: Italian meatball soup recipe is family-favorite comfort food

My Italian upbringing meant “meatballs in the house” — meatballs covered with marinara, fried meatballs, baked meatballs, meatball sandwiches, you name it. I thought making meatballs had been explored at every angle imaginable, until I discovered my mom’s meatball soup.

Italian meatball soup is comforting, delicious and easy to prepare

Back in the day, when I came home from school, a pot of simmering goodness was often waiting for me. Smelling the aroma of fresh garlic, I remember lifting up the large lid off the soup pot and seeing little meatballs floating about in a sea of greens and bright orange carrot slices. It was even more special than traditional meatballs covered with sauce, because it was a fun way to eat soup.

A tad earthy and all-around comforting, delicious, and a bit unexpected, this is one of the best soup recipes from my mother’s kitchen. It’s easy to prepare in just one pot, the ingredients are affordable, and it’s ideal for lunch or dinner now that fall is in the air.

Your family will love it so much that you’ll want to make it often.

Italian Meatball Soup With Organic Mixed Greens

Makes 8 servings

  • 12 cups chicken broth
  • 8 ounces organic mixed greens and spinach salad mix, rinsed and drained
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1½ cups bread crumbs
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pecorino-Romano cheese, for garnish

1. Pour chicken broth into a large sauce pot and set aside.

2. Rinse and drain the mixed greens, set aside.

3. In a large bowl combine ground beef, garlic, parsley, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and eggs. With your hands, incorporate all ingredients until thoroughly combined.

4. Roll meat mixture into meatballs, as big or as little as you like. Place meatballs on a large plate.

5. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat just a bit and carefully drop meatballs in, one at a time.

6. Add mixed greens, carrots and olive oil. Cover and let soup simmer until greens are wilted and meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.

7. Ladle soup into bowls and serve. Garnish with grated Pecorino-Romano cheese.

*This story by Maria Desiderata Montana first appeared in the U-T San Diego

Italian Meatball Soup RecipeGet more of my Italian recipes in my newest book San Diego Italian Food: A Culinary History of Little Italy and Beyond

As ethnic neighborhoods in other cities assimilate to American life, the exuberant local flavor of San Diego’s Little Italy remains both culturally and culinarily distinct. Tucked between Interstate 5 and San Diego Bay southeast of San Diego International Airport, the blocks surrounding the landmark Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Church contain many of the most notable eateries and gourmet cafés in “America’s Finest City.” Join Maria Desiderata Montana, a daughter of that Italian heritage and one of the city’s most notable food writers, on this savory tour through the zesty Italian food traditions, businesses and recipes both in Little Italy and across San Diego.

Classic French Cuisine at Bellamy’s

Classic French Cuisine at Bellamy's
Burrata and Prosciutto (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Located in Downtown Escondido, the award winning Bellamy’s restaurant is a hidden gem that offers classic French cuisine and a unique farm-to-table dining experience. Think California Modern Cuisine with French influences in a cozy yet upscale environment (new remodel coming soon).

California Bouillabaisse (Photo by Maria Desiderata Montana)

Originally from France, award-winning Chef Patrick Ponsaty is a fifth-generation chef and one of only two French Master Chefs in San Diego. He trained with his father Andre Ponsaty at his father’s restaurant Cochon de Lait in Cazeres France. As a teenager, Ponsaty moved on to become an apprentice at Darroze Restaurant (1 michelin Star) and continued on to successfully pass the necessary exams.

Ponsaty says his mentor is chef Didier Oudill who trained chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse and Martin Berrasateguy (all at 3 star restaurants). “Didier showed me how to create a amazing dishes with noble products like tomatoes, sardines and anchovies. It’s easy to create a good dish with truffles or caviar.”

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Gourmet Fare At The Front Porch


The Front PorchSuccessful Retail Concept Set to Expand, Bring Gourmet Goods and Specialty Items from Around the World, and Around the Corner, to Coronado 

The Front Porch, one of San Diego’s favorite neighborhood retail shops, known for its curated collection of handcrafted, gourmet food and specialty goods from around the world and around the corner, today announced it has expanded with a second location of its successful retail shop and tasting room, in scenic Coronado. The Front Porch Coronado, set to open in early July 2015, will bring gourmet pantry items, kitchenware, luxe home décor, garden, and vintage finds specially selected from both local purveyors as well as from some of the world’s most exciting locales, to San Diego’s most renowned resort city.

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