Owner and head chef Francesco Basile cut his culinary teeth as a young boy in his native Sicily, peeling potatoes and cleaning fish for traditional family feasts. After graduating from culinary school, Francesco broadened his skills and palate, mastering meals of hand-rolled pappardelle at Italian resorts and learning to craft mouthwatering feasts of Italian-American fare at bustling restaurants in southern California. By opening Antica Trattoria in 2001, he built a business dedicated to cooking with fresh ingredients and celebrating simple, traditional Italian dishes, enrapturing diners with meals of pepper-crusted pork loin, melted brie with figs jam, and seafood stews swimming in tomato-herb broth. Together with right-hand-cook Eric Ruiz, Francesco changes his menu with the seasons, delivering seafood plates tinged with the aroma of fresh herbs and fennel in the spring and walnut cream sauces and pumpkin ravioli in the autumn.
The restaurant exudes a rustic, timeless charm, with walls of bare brick decorated with tops of wooden wine crates and colorful murals of idyllic Italian countryscapes. A towering china hutch in the rear dining area evokes images of a grandmother's kitchen, and an elegant marble-topped wine bar brings forth memories of a grandmother's secret speakeasy, inviting diners to sample tasty digestifs of fine vino from across Italy, France, and the Pacific coast.
Swing into the casual eatery elegance of Trattoria Tiramisu, where the crowd is unpretentious, the wine list is extensive, and the menu properly represents Pangaea's lost boot. The multi-regional Italian flavors shine through traditional plates such as mozzarella caprese comprised of fresh mozza, sliced tomato, basil, and extra virgin olive oil ($9.50). Meatier dishes include sliced pork loin dressed in rosemary, sage, and juniper-berry Chianti sauce ($17.50), and the ocean-emptying linguine frutti di mare served up with black mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, and shrimp ($18.50). Eating your fingers is gross, but eating ladyfingers laced with espresso and marscapone cheese is traditional tiramisu ($6).
Since the 1960s, Nonno's Italian Restaurant has remained La Mesa's hub for classic Italian dishes and gourmet pizzas. Executive Chef Gerardo Ortiz continues the eatery's tradition with artfully plated entrees, such as eggplant parmesan and smoked wild salmon coated with vermouth cream sauce. Chef Ortiz crafts his lasagnas entirely from-scratch, layering noodles with Italian sausage and beef or, for vegetarians and cockeyed sailors preparing for a bout of fisticuffs, spinach and ricotta. Gerardo likewise makes his pizza dough and sauce in-house daily, covering them with real mozzarella and a choice of nearly 20 toppings, including meatballs and asparagus. To complement Gerardo's cuisine, Nonno's stocks an extensive wine selection that diners can enjoy by the glass or bottle.