We are fortunate to have several great farmers markets in various neighborhoods throughout San Diego. Perhaps my favorite, though, is the Little Italy Mercato Farmers’ Market. Held every Saturday year-round from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Cedar Street between Kettner Boulevard and Front Street, the Mercato has fresh produce, meat and seafood, flowers, clothing, artisan foods, and much more. With more than 200 vendor booths, you should take your time strolling through the market with a coffee and panini in hand. Along the way, enjoy free samples, listen to live music, and meet several local farmers, artisans and artists. Some of my favorite vendors include ILNLYF Foods (poké), SoCal Candle Co., Pacific Beach Peanut Butter, and Baba Foods (hummus). Parking can be tricky in Little Italy, especially on the weekends and during the Mercato, so plan accordingly. There are a couple parking lots belonging to Washington Elementary School that are free for the first two hours for market patrons, located at West Fir & State streets and West Date & Union streets. Be sure to grab your reusable bags out of the trunk to carry your market purchases.
For a sit-down meal, head over to Bencotto Italian Kitchen where they make fresh pasta. Bencotto is an Italian term meaning “a meal well done,” and that’s exactly what you’ll get. The owners are from Northern Italy and they also run adjacent restaurant Monello. On the Bencotto menu you’ll find salads, cheese and charcuterie, appetizers, meat entrees and pasta made in-house daily. I also like to sip on their house-made negroni. Start with the ricotta-stuffed squash blossom appetizer (fiori di zucca ripieni) that comes with a creamy parmesan sauce and sun-dried tomatoes.
If you choose to create your own pasta dish, I recommend the pappardelle or gnocchi paired with pesto, arrabbiata or alle noci sauce. Be sure to check out the entree specials like the turmeric gnocchi (gnocchi alla curcuma con tartufo), which is homemade turmeric potato dumplings in a creamy porcini mushroom sauce, topped with freshly shaved black truffle. I’m a fan of anything involving truffles, but this dish is particularly good because of the flavor of the turmeric and the light fluffiness of the gnocchi. Turmeric was named the 2016 “spice of the year” because of its recent growth in popularity. It has also been praised for its medicinal health benefits – win-win!
Finish dinner off with something sweet like tiramisu or semifreddo alla banana (banana Ice cream mousse with walnuts and caramel). One thing is for sure – you won’t leave Little Italy hungry.