Little Italy signage

Marinara memories

April 25, 2022

Love the hanging art

   If I were ever to have a bonkers food dream, where I went from one Italian restaurant after another, eating a full meal of sturdy, al dente pasta and buttery meat sauce at each one and never getting full – or fat, I’ve been to the place where that dream will likely be set.

   India St. In San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood is home to several blocks of literally one Italian eatery after another. Strolling there one night, we passed a gentleman who observed aloud, “I can’t decide which one to choose.” I wanted to tell him to just pick one that doesn’t have a wait line, but I didn’t want him suddenly creating one for some place we might choose later.

I’m a sucker for mozzarella and oregano, but even if there was an Italian restaurant named Angioplasty’s, I’d still order the lasagna with extra parmesan.

italian food
Ambrosia- Italian style

   Carol and I have now graced four of these eateries on two recent trips there. And we can’t wait to experience the fifth, because from what we’ve seen of the first four, each one has been better than the previous one. And the first was as good as any I’ve ever been to. I know. I’m a sucker for mozzarella and oregano, but even if there was an Italian restaurant named Angioplasty’s, I’d still order the lasagna with extra parmesan.

   I don’t know where this affection for Italian food comes from. I grew up in New Orleans where the first rule of cooking was, if you don’t know what it is, fry it. Somewhere along the way, though, I ate a well seasoned meatball and my culinary fate was apparently sealed.

   Carol says I’m an accomplished cook. That’s not true. I’m an accomplished eater (I have the girth to prove it). I cook what I like to eat, and that’s why I cook Italian, as opposed to, say, Peruvian, Bulgarian or Tibetan. There’s just something about the mélange of tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella that is a Holy Trinity for me.

   The second most favorite place I love to visit after an exposed brick, red checked tableclothed Italian restaurant with a low slung ceiling featuring empty chianti bottles hanging like tinsel is a genuine Italian grocery and deli, especially one smelling strongly of provolone and capicola. Carol has caught on to this as well, immediately differentiating among the delis that “smell Italian,” and the ones that smell, well, like a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Can’t you just smell the provolone?

   San Diego’s Little Italy is vibrant today, but that is a 21st century reclamation. Back in the 1970s urban planners, apparently whose idea of Italian cuisine was Chef Boyardee’s SpaghettioOs, pulled a Robert Moses and gutted the original Italian fishing community of San Diego in half with the construction of the I-5. The original tight knit community was split like a mackerel and both halves died. It took what became credited as the most dedicated and forward looking community association in the country to restore the city’s Little Italy to an even more pulsating neighborhood than it was in its original heyday.

   I have come to love Southern California, in spite of its overall Republican blight, but San Diego’s Little Italy is now my most favorite place here and maybe in the whole country. Except maybe for New Orleans, but that’s, of course, another story entirely.

  1. Bonnie Cramond says:

    OMG! This made me hungry for a hearty Italian meal. Your vivid descriptions are very sensual. However, I have to take exception to you description of New Orleans food as “if you don’t know what it is, fry it.” How can you so reduce the cuisine of this city, which many noted foodies, such as Bourdain, have described as unique and incomparable?

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