Little Italy in San Diego. To be honest, I never knew this existed. To be fair to myself, I’ve only been to San Diego a handful of times over my 50 years.
Luckily for me I have a cousin that lives there so on a trip West last fall during my past life in corporate, I was able to meet her for dinner outdoors before flying home to the incoming winter weather of Michigan. That was when I was introduced to San Diego’s Little Italy and, thanks to internet, Ristorante Illando.
My trip was in October and Little Italy was celebrating Halloween on the streets with businesses opening their doors to kids decked out in costumes from princesses to superheroes. I was able to slide into a coffee shop that shared a courtyard behind the building with some apartments and chill over a decaf espresso while watching the chaos from a distance prior to meeting Janice for dinner. Little Italy in southern Cal was a relaxed vibe, seemingly lacking the “old world” architecture, charm, and décor I was expecting. That said, it all changed when I approached Ristorante Illando.
This place has the authenticity and appeal you’d both want and expect in a Little Italy venue. The interior is modern, yet rustic, however- it was autumn and I would be in Michigan in less than 24 hours so, there was no doubt, we were going to eat on the rooftop patio. Twinkle lights, greenery and a feeling of fine dining mixed with “home,” I knew we chose well for dinner. And so a glass of red was ordered. To be honest, I rarely drink, and I cannot tell you what it was beyond being imported from Italy. That said, the wine list is extensive, and the server was a great guide.
And now the food
Whenever I see octopus on the menu, especially grilled, it gets ordered. Period. It’s not something you come across in Mid-Michigan. Now I admit I can buy it at the Whole Foods seafood counter, but I haven’t gotten myself educated enough to be skillfully cooking it up at home. So when I sat down on the beautiful patio, red wine in hand, I asked the server, who had authentic Italian accent (she did say she was from Italy and if not, who cares?), the Polpo alla Mediterranea was ordered. By me, but my cousin was in for the ride!
An octopus tentacle was done to perfection served with grilled shrimp and fresh arugula. I must recommend this as your starter to an amazing Illando meal. Next up for me was pasta for my main: Tortelloni al brasato. Big huge tortelloni filled with short rib meat (braised?) also done to perfection. It was sauteed in a butter and sage sauce. A combo I crave in October.
The menu is filled with delectable, scratch-made Italian food and I cannot wait to get back.
Let’s close with a few tips and side notes:
- From 12-4 you can get their Pranzo Pronto (express lunch) for $15.
- Parking is not easy; same in any city, find a side street or get a paid spot. I took a Lyft from my hotel, which I would highly recommend if you’re in from out of town.
- Reservations are a good idea if you’re there on a weekend like I was.
- As of October 2020, the dining room was open but check their website for any COVID updates: https://www.illando.com/.
San Diego has a plethora of restaurants, many of them worthy of your time and money. However, if you’re near the downtown area, Ristorante Illando more than deserves it.