One of the most pedestrian-friendly areas in San Diego, Little Italy is a charming jumble of bars, trattorias, shops, and markets—and it’s one of those rare neighborhoods that’s as lively during the day as it is in the evening. Spend the day window-shopping and checking out the local galleries, stop for a virtuous lunch at Café Gratitude, stroll down to Waterfront Park, and should the afternoon bleed into evening, you’re perfectly positioned to treat yourself to a cheese tray and a glass of Verdicchio at Enoteca Style wine bar (which is as much a name as it is a design aesthetic).
675 W Beech St., Little Italy
A hidden tiki bar sounds like something you’d find at an amusement park, but designer Ignacio Gonzalez took every step to make sure that the False Idol tiki bar was cool, thoughtful, and anything but cheesy. But first you have to get there. The entrance to the bar is hidden within Craft & Commerce. (Look for the steel door to the walk-in cooler—the human skulls inside really set a mood—then open the second door, which is the actual entrance.) The inside will leave you speechless—and make you feel as if you’re underwater thanks to the colorful glass buoys suspended from the ceiling in a fishing net. Then there’s the waterfall, the authentic Polynesian art and memorabilia, the elaborate wood carvings, the skulls on spikes, and the occasional fireballs: It’s an inspired sensory overload. And we haven’t even mentioned the cocktails. If you’re overwhelmed, order a Panther’s Fang (rum, honey, lime, club soda) and take it all in.
Craft & Commerce
675 W Beech St., Little Italy
A night in Little Italy can easily start (and occasionally end) at Craft & Commerce—and that’s a very good thing. The gastro pub has a hipster Brooklyn vibe down to the exposed-brick wall, wood-beam ceiling, well-stacked bookshelves, and ambitious displays of taxidermy. Chef Ted Smith has created a menu that’s heavy on meat and vegetables (this is not a seafood place), and the charred eggplant dip, wood-fired carrots, and burrata and goat cheese tart are all fantastic. The drinks and desserts are all stellar, but save room for an after-dinner drink at the hidden tiki bar False Idol. Just open the steel door to the walk-in cooler. You’re getting warmer.
Born and Raised
1909 India St., Little Italy
The Born and Raised website is a single picture of a raw T-bone. That’s it. In other words, if you’re a vegetarian, skip ahead to the next listing. On the other hand, if you enjoy caviar, a New York strip, a side of crispy smashed potatoes, and a cold martini, this is a meal for the ages. Born and Raised is an event—the place seats 250 people. But it’s somehow intimate at the same time: leather banquettes, marble tabletops, brass details, all with a cool Art Deco vibe. Then there are the tableside carts where servers prepare things like beef tartare or another round of martinis in front of you. It’s as decadent as it gets. After a night here, we always feel like watching L.A. Confidential again.
Herb & Wood
2210 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy
Herb & Wood is as much the name of this Little Italy restaurant as its design ethos, with its wooden plank ceiling (inside and out), generous greenery, and plant-forward menu. To be fair, the menu is pretty fish- and meat-forward, too, which means this place suits everyone. Chef Brian Malarkey’s menu changes frequently, but expect things like crispy potatoes with lemon vinaigrette and Parmesan as well as mushroom truffle pizza with goat cheese and a festive drink menu with feisty cocktails like a Bourbon & Honey with chili oil. Then expect to stay a while—Herb & Wood makes for a delightful evening.