In 1959, Domenic Donato ventured from his hometown of Cosenza, Italy, to California, where he opened his first Italian restaurant with recipes from his mother, Rosa, whom he considers the best cook in Italy. Donato soon opened a succession of Italian restaurants now owned and operated by his sister, brother, and sons. In 2006, Donato passed down Mangia Italiano on Third to close family friends Adam and Kathy. The pair faithfully continues to follow the recipes passed down through generations of the Donato family, as well as adding modern twists to Italian classics.
Inside the kitchens, chefs bake eggplant parmigana with ricotta and romano cheese and lightly flour and saut? veal with fresh mushrooms and marsala wine sauce. In the dining area, murals of Italian seascapes are dotted with white sails puffing in the wind and depict ancient ruins full of crumbling columns and Betamax players. When not inspecting the restaurant's art, patrons can dig into plates of housemade cannolis and tiramisu.
Though named for a fiery volcano, Krakatoa Café reigns as the coolest spot in Golden Hill. This charming olive-colored Craftsman bungalow has an abundance of character, and good eats to back them up. Locals chill on the wooden deck, shaded by a fig tree, enjoying the lush foliage and bamboo wind chimes. It’s easy to relax here, sipping coffee drinks, smoothies or craft beers with friends and snacking on decadent house-made pastries or gourmet sandwiches, like the Ubehebe, complete with maple-cured bacon, roasted turkey, cream cheese, cranberry sauce and crisp romaine. One of the West Coast’s finest roasters, Caffe Calabria, supplies the coffee beans and artisan teas, while manager Julie bakes divine desserts and always has gluten-free or vegan treats on hand. Happy Hour calls for a Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale or orange blossom mimosa on the dog-friendly patio.
Set in a low brick building on the western edge of San Diego’s East Village, Basic Urban Kitchen and Bar is a reconfigured work space that’s been laid out to take advantage of a relaxed, downtown vibe. The 1912 warehouse corner space is arranged with plentiful WiFi for afternoon meetings and casual dining, including thin-crust brick oven pizzas like their signature mashed potato pie. There’s a chain-curtained central VIP lounge for special group events, and the long bar is bordered by huge garage doors rolled up most days, with a pool table near the back wall. The seating invites conversations on low, upholstered platforms that can be wheeled into comfy configurations to fit the size of your party.
Step back in time to the 1950s and meet friends for a special dinner at Lou & Mickey’s. Designed as a post-World War II supper club, the dining room features green, leather upholstery insets on the walls, dark wood archways and an opulent tile floor, imported from Italy. Time has a way of standing still at Lou & Mickey’s, where the attached cocktail lounge sports a solid, zinc bar – rare for its temperature controlling properties– that is never too cold or too hot, a comfortable feature for the Convention Center neighborhood where days can turn from a chilly, marine layer to blazing sunshine in a few short hours. The menu honors that mid-American past with contemporary updates to its steakhouse and seafood specialties, without losing sight of the heritage that has kept it going. A large patio waits outside but hardly competes with the elegant dining room.
Acqua Al 2 carries the legacy established across the Atlantic at its Florence flagship restaurant, importing the exact menu that has been delighting Italian patrons and travelers since 1978. Owner and executive chef Martin Gonzalez spent a year in the kitchen at the Florence location, mastering the menu firsthand to ensure the authenticity of his San Diego satellite. His dedication shines through in more than a dozen pastas as well as hand-cut steak, veal, and chicken entrees. Imported mascarpone cheese flavors bowtie pasta sautéed with porcini mushrooms, and gnocchi bathes in a house tomato sauce with Italian red cabbage and parmesan. Cooks hand-carve filet mignon served in a blueberry sauce, and sauté chicken breast in a port-and-light-cream sauce. Dozens of Italian and Californian wines complement the cuisine, including a house-label Sangiovese, envied by the other wines because it gets to work from home.
For more than a millennium, Cafe Sevilla has stood as one of Spain's great historic cities. In 1987, Spanish-born entrepreneurs Rogelio and Janet Huidobro opened the Cafe Sevilla tapas bar as a tribute to the longstanding cultural and culinary traditions of their homeland. Since then, the authentic Spanish eatery has expanded to three locations, each with a nightclub where live musicians take the stage every night in a celebration of Latin, Arabic, and gypsy music.
Cafe Sevilla's executive chef constantly experiments with his cooking, devising adventurous new dishes while highlighting cuisine from the varied regions of Spain. His menus encompass more than 40 tapas plates hailing from regions throughout Spain, such as skewers, ceviche, imported Iberian ham, and paella valenciana, a saffron-infused bomba-rice dish loaded with shellfish, Spanish sausage, and vegetables. Despite the ingenuity that suffuses the menu, one thing has remained constant: the sangria recipe, which is exactly the same as it was 25 years ago. On Saturday nights, there's an extra garnish for the cuisine: a three-course dinner is underscored by performances of flamenco, an Andalusian dance form that expresses love, pain, and passion through elaborate movement. Engaging the audience in a full sensory experience, the dancers?many of whom were trained in Spain and now run their own dance studios?are dressed in colorful, traditional garb and are chased off the stage by stampeding bulls at the end of each set.