Ciao, bella: Little Italy beckons

Little Italy is undoubtedly the hottest neighborhood in San Diego right now, thanks to its exploring restaurant scene, bountiful boutique shopping and wide-ranging lounge appeal from sipping espresso at sidewalk cafes to soaking in the atmosphere at Piazza Basilone.

With something to do for just about every mood, this neighborhood has managed to transcend its Italian Theme while staying true to its roots. We have the Little Italy Association to thank for that, along with the neighborhood's pristine appearance and pedestrian friendly landscape.

Enjoy the outdoors

Hanging out in Little Italy - during the day anyway - is all about enjoying the outdoors.

On the corner of State and West Date streets, Amici Park is home to a bocce ball court, basketball court, leash-free dog area, an intimate amphitheatre, where you can experience the Little Italy Summer Film Festival ($5 donation) from 8-10 p.m. every Saturday night through Sept. 5. For the schedule, visit littleitalysd.com/events.

Design and art

Running parallel to India Street is Kettner Boulevard, home to a mini-design district with business to scour for rare finds, from antiques to fine art.

Subtext. Showcasing midcareer contemporary artists in San Diego and beyond, with a focus that spans pop-surrealism, low-brow and street, illustrative and graphic design genres. For upcoming shows, visit subtextgallery.com, 2479 Kettner Blvd.

jdc Fine Art. Edgy, bold photography is what you'll lay eyes on at this contemporary gallery. Established by Jennifer DeCarlo in 2011, exhibitions feature work from both emerging and established local and international talent. 2400 Kettner Blvd., #208, (619) 985-2322.

Eclectic shopping

Stroll. Don't pass by this men's and women's boutique with its unique, reasonably priced selection of bohemian, beach-chic apparel and accessories you won't find elsewhere.2034 India St., (619) 431-5225.

Vitreum. If you're into creative plant displays, then stop by this magical gift shop and behold its dizzying array of glass orbs and to suspend from ceilings or top tables, plus more modern home design goods. 619 W Fir St., (619) 237-9810.

Love and Aesthetics. Besides well-made wares for the home and body, it's the intriguing collection of coffee table books here, ranging in subject from travel to art and design, that make it nearly impossible to escape the whimsical gift shop's vortex. 621 W Fir St., (619) 546-6143.

James Coffee. Inside this huge warehouse is something of a hipster mini-mall complete with locally made clothing, restored vintage furniture and a barber shop; at the center of it all is James Coffee Co. counter and its adjacent modern lounge. Caffeinate and shop from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. 2355 India St., Little Italy, Jamescoffeeco.com, (619) 756-7770.

Where to eat

In just a few short years, Little Italy has gone from being spaghetti and meatball central to multicultural culinary mecca, where visitors can feast on high-end Mexican at Javier Plascencia's Bracero Cocina de Raiz (1490 Kettner Blvd., bracerococina.com; Richard Blais' acclaimed "left coast cookery" at Juniper & Ivy (2228 Kettner Blvd., juniperandivy.com, and a mix of classic and modern seafood preparations at Consortium Holdings' Ironside Fish & Oyster. (1654 India St., ironsidefishandoyster.com). Wash it down with beer made just up the street at one of San Diego's godfather breweries, Ballast Point Tasting Room & Kitchen. 2215 India St., ballastpoint.com.

However, this wouldn't be a proper guide to Little Italy without talking about Italian food. Our top picks in the neighborhood include:

Bencotto Italian Kitchen. The pillar of fresh, delicious pasta - not your Nana's spaghetti with red gravy - served in a sleek, modern setting. 750 W. Fir St., lovebencotto.com.

Monello. Little sister to Bencotto known for house-made sweet vermouth, gelato, pizzas and more casual Italian fare than its more buttoned-up relative. 750 W. Fir St., lovemonello.com.

Isola Pizza Bar. Impossible-to-beat happy hour with its $5 and under menu that includes wood fired margherita pizza, $5 wines by the glass and $4 beers. From 3 to 6 p.m. daily. 1526 India St., isolapizzabar.com.

Pan Bon. For a "food hall" experience unlike any in downtown San Diego, visit this veritable foodie playground with its multiple stations for pastries, cured meats and hot prepared items. Upstairs, Pan Bon's fine dining concept is open for dinner only. 1450 Kettner Blvd., panbon.us.

Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at amytgranite@gmail.com.

Source: DiscoverSD

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