Magazine article Sunset

Ciao, San Diego: Little Italy Unites Past and Present with Old World Cuisine and High-End Design

Magazine article Sunset

Ciao, San Diego: Little Italy Unites Past and Present with Old World Cuisine and High-End Design

Article excerpt

YOU STILL SEE THE GREAT, LINED FACES of old men sipping espresso at cafes in San Diego's Little Italy--guys overdressed for the weather who look like extras out of Cinema Paradiso.

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But there's another crowd too, of professionals who walk to jobs from this neighborhood on the edge of downtown, and designers who leave their live-work lofts to lunch at Pete's Quality Meats or run along nearby San Diego Bay. Sometimes both, deadlines permitting.

Part Moonstruck, part Milano modern, Little Italy has emerged as one of the city's most intriguing neighborhoods. It's both red-checked and high-tech--a place where you can pick up fresh pappardelle at Assenti's Pasta, then shop for the latest in cook were at Disegno Italiano. This month and next are ideal times to experience its two sides: at the neighborhood's annual festa and at a gallery open house.

Since the mid-1990s, Little Italy has seen an influx of new housing. Colorful and sometimes boldly geometric, the buildings give the neighborhood a contemporary character, which is a big part of its appeal to residents and visitors alike--especially design buffs. Noted architect Rob Wellington Quigley's mixed-use Beaumont Building on West Cedar Street, where he lives and works, is one of its modern landmarks.

A very different landmark is a block away. Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, built in 1925, remains the neighborhood's heart. "The tolling of its bells is a reminder of who we are," says Tom Di Zinno, an officer with the Little Italy Association.

Considering that this was a working-class neighborhood, the church's statuary, stained-glass windows, and the murals by Venetian painter Fausto Tasca are especially impressive. Di Zinno says that immigrant fishermen pledged a portion of their catch to pay for the church and help bring craftspeople over from Italy.

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"The real language here was fishing," Di Zinno says. "Despite the name, the neighborhood wasn't just Italian. There were Mexican and Portuguese fishermen too."

On one block, the fishermen's homes have been turned into shops. Sloping toward the bay, Fir Street Cottages date to the 1930s and house Little Italy's best selection of stores.

Despite the area's rapid evolution, there are still places to retreat into the more leisurely pace of bygone times. With its bocce courts and shaded sitting areas, Amici Park, at Date and Union Streets, was created for just that purpose. …

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