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Cesarina Ristorante serves Italian food with heart in Point Loma

Owner Cesarina Mezzoni at her namesake restaurant, Cesarina Ristorante.
Owner Cesarina Mezzoni at her namesake restaurant, Cesarina Ristorante.
(Arlene Ibarra)

Cesarina Mezzoni was only 20 years old when she and her husband, Niccolò Angius, made the decision to move to the United States in 2015 from their native home in Rome, Italy.

“It was an impulsive move,” Mezzoni said during a phone interview. “We liked the city, we liked the weather and so we decided to move here.”

Mezzoni is a self-taught chef whose Seychelles-born mother inspired her love of Italian cooking. Mezzoni’s mother learned traditional Roman dishes as a way of assimilating into the Italian culture. Her mother’s passion for Italian cooking rubbed off on her daughter.

“She’s a very good Italian cook,” Mezzoni said of her mother. “She moved to Italy when she was very young. And then she met my dad, so she started learning basic Italian and Roman traditional dishes. She’s an exceptional cook, so I started getting passionate about it through her. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen together.”

“My dad said of my mom, she learned first how to make carbonara and then how to speak Italian. So that’s how they communicated at the time because my dad didn’t know how to speak English and my mom didn’t know how to speak Italian.”

Mezzoni’s husband, meanwhile, grew up working in restaurants that his family owned. He says his long-time dream was to open a restaurant in the United States, so upon meeting Mezzoni, the dream was sealed and the two decided to emigrate to the United States together.

So, like her mother before her, Mezzoni found herself an immigrant in a foreign land, using her passion for Italian cooking as a way of assimilating.

The couple embarked on a plan to study the dining scene in San Diego, with hopes of opening a restaurant of their own. First, they both found jobs working in restaurants. Then, they decided to open their own business selling fresh, homemade pasta at various farmer’s markets. This led the couple to open Cesarina Ristorante in February of 2019 in the Point Loma Heights neighborhood.

Cesarina has been buzzed about in the San Diego dining scene since its inception. The caliber of food, the ambiance and the hospitality has elevated Cesarina to the top of everyone’s must-try list.

“We were definitely surprised that it happened so quickly,” Angius said of the restaurants early success. “We always had a strong belief that if you work hard and you believe in what you do, things will work out. But it was incredible how it happened. We were not expecting the restaurant full like that after a week, but it was incredible how everybody adapted to it.

“And we hope that we’re going to stay for a long time. We want to make sure that people are always happy,” he added.

As for what makes the restaurant stand out among many other Italian eateries in San Diego? For Mezzoni, it’s all about the pasta.

Cesarina Ristorante's Pomodoro Fresco pasta dish.
Cesarina Ristorante’s Pomodoro Fresco pasta dish.
(Arlene Ibarra)

“The thing that makes us special from other Italian restaurants is our pasta. We make all the pasta in-house and we have a special station in the restaurant where everybody can see the process and how the pasta is made,” she said. “And we have a very special dessert service. Before COVID, we used to make table-side desserts, so people were very impressed by our tiramisu because everybody is used to seeing the tiramisu already made in a plate.”

Angius adds that the magic ingredient in every dish, the thing that makes them really stand out, is that everything offered is made with love.

“This was inspired by Cesarina herself, because when we opened this restaurant, my goal was to bring the love that I receive every single day when my wife cooks for me,” he explained. “I always tell her, her food is not delicious just because the food that she makes is delicious, but it’s delicious because of the love that she adds to it. So I wanted to bring that to our guests.”

In 2020, just like the rest of the world, Cesarina had to adapt to rapidly changing rules and regulations in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“It was not easy,” Angius said. “This is going to be weird to hear, but I have to say it was kind of interesting to have to completely shift from a business model that was proving solid and was giving us great results, and immediately having to readapt to different models. We (discovered) that delivery is actually extremely fun.”

Cesarina has always considered their staff to be family. So, in the midst of the global pandemic, Angius and Mezzoni did what family does: they took care of their staff.

“Instead of outsourcing deliveries, we started using our staff. This was a win-win because not only was our staff able to stay employed, but the people that we delivered to loved the fact that it was the same people that they see every single day at the restaurant,” said Angius.

They also used the opportunity to expand their outside dining, building two additional patios.

“We try to always have a positive approach and find opportunities in everything that comes in. So seeing this tragedy, because it is a tragedy and the cost of human life is huge, but seeing this as an opportunity really gave us the strength to adapt and find solutions that have kept us healthy so far,” he said.

No matter what happens in 2021, the future is already looking bright for Cesarina Ristorante.

Plans are underway to expand the brand into a full-service catering business, and to add a retail segment and perhaps a second restaurant.

For Angius, whatever the future holds, the experience will always come first.

“The thing that we still are reminded of everyday is consistency. [We are] always trying to raise the bar, always trying to move steps forward, always trying to find solutions that will improve the overall experience, not only for the guests, but also for the people who work with us,” he said.

When the employees are happy, Angius believes the guests feel it.

“And the consequence is that in the end, we receive more positive feedback from the guests because this is a job made of people,” Angius said.

For more information on Cesarina Ristorante, visit cesarinarestaurant.com.


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