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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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