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Little Italy Food Hall, a delicious gastro-gathering place, opens today

Did Little Italy just land the best pizza in San Diego? From the taste of the prosciutto crudo and burrata pizza from Ambrogio 15 at the new Little Italy Food Hall, the answer is sì.
(John Gastaldo photo )

In 2018-speak, Little Italy is so extra.

Already the neighborhood with the hottest, the trendiest and the celeb-cheffiest restaurants in San Diego, it just raised the dining drama to the next level with the Little Italy Food Hall.

Opening today at 3 p.m., the new $2.3 million gastro gathering place gives the county’s eatery epicenter six new dining venues, a bar and an outdoor beer and wine cart.

Beer and wine can be bought right on the Piazza della Famiglia plaza, outside the Little Italy Food Hall. A full bar inside the food hall also serves Italy-inspired cocktails.
(Michele Parente photo )

The centerpiece of the just-opened Piazza della Famiglia public square, the Little Italy Food Hall might be bite-sized, but it’s destined to loom large on the local dining landscape. Unlike the surrounding sit-down restaurants, it’s the only place where people can mix-and-match meals made up of ramen, artisanal pizza, roasted meats, lobster rolls, Peruvian ceviche and quirky tacos, alongside beer, wine and cocktails. Diners can eat there, on the patio, in the pretty piazza or take it to-go. And all of the food stands have locally recognizable roots.

Ambrogio 15, for example, also serves up its exquisite, thin-crust Milanese-style pizza in Pacific Beach.

“We thought (the food hall) was a perfect step up to move to the heart of the San Diego food scene,” said co-owner Giacomo Pizzigoni. “We love the idea of a modern, upscale food hall and we’re proud to be the only Italian representative in it.”

Two San Diego food icons: Tommy Gomes, fishmonger for Catalina Offshore Products and Sam "The Cooking Guy" Zien, who just opened Not Not Tacos at the Little Italy Food Hall.
(John Gastaldo photo )

The Little Italy Food Hall also has its own homegrown food celebrity — Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien, whose Not Not Tacos stand had the longest line at a pre-opening event Monday.

Zien employed his trademark, over-the-top — some would say extra — sense of humor when describing what’s gone into opening his first brick-and-mortar food outlet.

“It’s not unlike having a child,” he said, pausing for effect, “it’s a really good idea in the beginning, lots of joy and happiness. And then the pain starts and it keeps coming and hurts like hell and then you open. Seriously, though, I’m really excited. It’s fun.”

I’d concur — the Little Italy Food Hall is fun. And even considering the standard set in the neighborhood, it’s really delicious. Here’s an extra special preview.

Ismael Lopez pulls a seriously delicious pie from the pizza oven at Little Italy's new Ambrogio 15. Ambrogio is the patron saint Milan; the pizza company was started in 2015.
(John Gastaldo photo )

Extra thin and crispy: Ambrogio 15’s Pizzigoni said he wanted to serve the best pizza in San Diego. Well, cue the brickbats: He does. Between the perfectly charred, delicate crust and the lusciously creamy burrata from Puglia, my pizza was the indisputably best bite of the night — and year.

Not your typical Peruvian ceviche: Single Fin Kitchen serves its fresh seafood with aji amarilli pepper as a Japanese donburi bowl, over corn dust rice. Cool radishes offset the aji's heat.
(John Gastaldo photo )

Extra fresh: Single Fin Kitchen’s seafood comes direct from Catalina Offshore Products’ Tommy Gomes (as does Not Not Tacos’). You can taste the pristine quality in the vibrant Peruvian ceviche donburi bowl.

The super-flavorful spicy miso ramen bowl from Mein St. Asian Kitchen at the Little Italy Food Hall. The stand's owners also run the Zen Modern Asian Bistro in Carmel Mountain.
(John Gastaldo photo )

Extra spicy: Mein St. Asian Kitchen cooks with kick. The spicy miso ramen bowl explodes with flavor, but the heat is nicely balanced by the perfect handmade noodles. The crispy black pepper-ginger-garlic Zen wings are also not to be missed.

Don't get too distracted by all the lobster spilling out of Wicked! Maine Lobster's roll to ignore the key small details, like the perfect amount of mayo and the classic buttered split bread.
(John Gastaldo photo )

Extra loaded: Have you seen the crowds for Wicked! Maine Lobster at Liberty Public Market? They’re due to the crustacean sensations — impeccable lobster rolls, stuffed with plump, succulent chunks of meat.

I normally have Roast's signature porchetta — herb-roasted boneless, but not fatless, pork but this light chicken bowl opened my eyes to the beauty that is a light dish.
(John Gastaldo photo )

Extra meaty: A favorite at Liberty Public Market, Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop specializes in the hearty (prime rib, porchetta, meatballs) and the more healthful (rotisserie chicken). My chicken bowl with kale and lemon kokuho rice was righteously light.

Not Not Tacos unconventional fillings, like pastrami (left) and meatloaf, could have gone so wrong. But Sam "The Cooking Guy" Zien clearly knows how to cook. If you're craving something more conventional, the shrimp and Korean short rib tacos were also excellent.
( John Gastaldo photo )

Extra unexpected: With its cheeky name and unconventional ingredients, Not Not Tacos shouldn’t work. Pastrami tacos? Meatloaf tacos? Turns out, they’re surprisingly tasty. Zien said the stand was a way to dip his toe into the restaurant business. We say, dive in Sam!

Little Italy Food Hall

Where: 550 W. Date St., between India and Columbia streets

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Phone: (619) 269-7187

Online: littleitalyfoodhall.com

On its first night of service Monday, the Little Italy Food Hall was a crowded, delicious success. The hall is located on the new Piazza della Famiglia public square on West Date Street.
(John Gastaldo photo )

michele.parente@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @sdeditgirl


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