Savor San Diego's Little Italy

Here's what to eat, where to shop, and what to do

  • More than 50 years after it opened the original Filippi's Pizza Grotto is still owned and operated by the Filippi family.

    San Diego's Filippi's Pizza Grotto

    Andrea Gomez

    Click to Enlarge

  • San Diego's Filippi's Pizza Grotto

    Dangling Chianti bottles and a menu adhering to the spaghetti-and-meatballs classics draw locals and tourists to Filippi's.

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.

"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. As part of an installation here by artist Nina Karavasiles, there's an old Sicilian proverb embedded in a walkway: "The less things change, the more they remain the same."

There's no denying that. But Little Italy has managed to hold onto tradition even as it embraces a new era. And some residents are making sure the old ways will endure.

"A lot of the old Sicilian guys don't bother with the new bocce courts at the park," Di Zinno says. "They still just set up and play on the lawn by the school."

 

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