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Home / Life! / Dining / Enjoy culinary delights at Taste of Little Italy San Diego

Enjoy culinary delights at Taste of Little Italy San Diego

by May Ruiz
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Thinking of traveling to San Diego this summer? Make sure you schedule your trip to include the Taste of Little Italy event which returns for two nights of delicious bites on June 18 and 19, 2024. First held in 2018, this famous foodie experience features restaurant exploration, live music, and memorable dishes.

From 4 to 8 pm on Tuesday, June 18, and Wednesday, June 19, visitors to Little Italy can immerse themselves in a gastronomic journey that spans 40 square blocks. Each day of the event brings a new culinary adventure, with different selections available from more than 20 restaurants in the neighborhood. From classic pizza and pasta to gourmet burgers and sushi, this dynamic approach guarantees a fresh and exciting experience for both loyal patrons and newcomers.

Photo courtesy of Little Italy Association

While other Little Italies in the United States have declined because of the growth of other adjacent ethnic neighborhoods, San Diego’s Little Italy has remained a vibrant symbol of the remarkable contributions Italians have made to this country. Since the 1920s, it has been a stable ethnic business and residential community; it represents Downtown San Diego’s oldest continuous-neighborhood business district.

However, the area’s history is not without its dark period. At one time, more than 6,000 Italian families lived in Little Italy and toiled to build San Diego into the global hub of the tuna industry. When the tuna industry on the West Coast waned and 35% of Little Italy was torn down during the construction of Interstate-5, the neighborhood suffered nearly 30 years of neglect. Then, in the early 1990s established property owners and family-run business proprietors decided to take their fate into their own hands.

New Italian American and non-Italian business owners opened retail and professional spaces while creative builders and architects constructed beautiful developments. That it is today a model urban neighborhood not just in San Diego but also for the handful of Little Italies remaining throughout the country is a lesson in a community’s resilience.

Photo courtesy of Little Italy Association

This remarkable accomplishment can be credited mostly to the Little Italy Association (LIA), which was established in 1996 during the time of the revitalization of the Downtown area. The only district management corporation of its kind for any Little Italy neighborhood in the United States, it is run by a board of directors comprised of 29 individuals who represent property owners, residents, businesses, and the community at large. It advocates on behalf of its members’ best interests in matters of public safety, beautification, promotion, and economic development, while preserving the unique cultural resources of the area. Since its inception, it has been re-energizing this neighborhood while telling the story of Little Italy to its visitors through public art displays and amazing piazzas.

Visitors to Little Italy for the event will check in at the vibrant Piazza della Famiglia, where they will receive their exclusive Taste Passport. With this passport, attendees will embark on a culinary adventure, visiting a wide range of restaurants, checking off as they stop, to savor their curated “tastes” while they stroll through the neighborhood. For those who prefer a more leisurely experience, ample seating will be available at the Piazza della Famiglia, complemented by live music there and at Piazza Basilone.

Photo courtesy of Little Italy Association

Curt Brooker of FUSE Events, which partners with the association to make this a successful endeavor, tells the origins of Taste of Little Italy. “There are many neighborhoods that hold ‘Taste of’ events, but Little Italy quickly started to showcase a growing number of restaurants that were being recognized throughout San Diego. The Little Italy Association decided to create an event that brought people into the neighborhood so they can sample the variety of restaurant options old and new.” 

“Taste of Little Italy began as a one day event and featured a handful of restaurants,” Brooker explains. “As the restaurant numbers grew, two routes were created on the same day with about 15 restaurants each. We were getting feedback from attendees that they just couldn’t eat so much food in one night. Now, Taste is a two-day event that features approximately 20 restaurants each day. Tickets are $55 each day – it’s a great value for being able to try that many restaurants in a night.” 

“The number of restaurants have increased over the years and we continue to add new concepts as they come into Little Italy,” continues Brooker. “The restaurants are a true partner in this event and we make it a priority to not make it a burden on the restaurant or staff. We limit the number of tickets sold each day to 750. Over the two-day event, a total of 1500 tickets are sold.”

Pizza della Familia at night / Photo courtesy of Little Italy Association

Brooker says they are constantly making changes and adjustments to improve the event throughout its existence. “The Piazza della Familia has been the biggest change over the years. We now have this wonderful space to hold the registration area and have sponsor activations to enhance the attendee experience.”

Food and drinks aren’t the only things visitors can enjoy at Taste of Italy. Brooker clarifies, “We want to make each night an experience. So along with the food and drinks that are offered on the routes, we have live music placed throughout the neighborhood to give it that fun foodie vibe. Of course, we have a lot of the same restaurants participate each year, but there are new options that change year to year. Also, our sponsors bring new experiences each year. We’ve had a full ‘beer garden’ one year thanks to Birra Moretti and last year we had fun photo opportunities courtesy of Campari. We’ll again have new and fun activities for attendees this year in the Piazza.”

The community spirit which has made this little corner of San Diego flourish in spite of the economic downturn and global catastrophe was on full display a few years ago. Recalls Brooker, “One of the most memorable Taste of Little Italy events was during COVID. The neighborhood was quiet and the restaurants had obviously slowed down. We came up with a very unique idea that allowed people to enjoy the restaurants with a ‘Take Home Edition’ Taste concept. We had four nights where we curated a four course meal from four different restaurants. One restaurant provided an appetizer, another the main course, dessert and a paired drink. It was a fun way during COVID to still enjoy Little Italy’s restaurants by taking home a variety of options from multiple restaurants.” 

Photo courtesy of Little Italy Association

Planning Taste of Little Italy is year-round. Brooker states, “Once the event ends, we are taking surveys and brainstorming how to make it a little better. Then it’s back to communicating with the restaurants on what to expect next year. There’s no Master Chef that leads the event; restaurant and bar owners have to secure their spot by February and our team works with them to try and bring as much variety as possible and highlight what each restaurant does best.”

There’s no fee for restaurants to participate and all the funds raised during the event go the Little Italy Association. The money is then used to help keep the streets clean, maintain the beautiful flowers and trees, and support the businesses with marketing and promotions.  

Taste of Little Italy is hugely popular and it’s a big attraction in San Diego. Says Brooker. “People try to walk up on the day of the event to buy tickets and are disappointed that we are sold out. I would recommend buying tickets as early as possible.”

So don’t miss out! Purchase your Taste of Italy ticket now and take a leisurely two-and-a-half-hour drive to San Diego for an unforgettable culinary experience.       

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