The Market: Mona Lisa Italian Foods
Location: 2061 India Street, Little Italy, San Diego
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 9am-9:30pm; Friday and Saturday, 9am-10:30pm
Specialities: Italian foods
This family-run market and restaurant was first opened in 1956 in downtown San Diego. The shop is a wonderland of Italian imports, from wine and olive oil to freshly made pastas and salame. The prepared foods counter is destination worthy in and of itself for the killer sandwiches and antipasto. We loved weaving up and down the aisles, perusing the fresh pizza dough, canned tomatoes, jarred spreads, and unusual beverages. And a major bonus? These guys have their own dedicated parking lot, so you won't have to battle it out on India Street.
Cheese, All the Cheese
You want cheese? They got cheese: Asiago, Burata, Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmagiano Regiano, Percorino Cotonesse, and our favorite, the Boccini, a smokey aged provolone sold in 1-3/4 pound, hand-roped rounds.
We all know the best part of a cannoli is the creamy, slightly sweet filling. We so won't judge if you decide to attack this stuff with a spoon and call it a day, but we also have visions of filling cakes with it, spreading it on brioche, and smothering our French toast with it. The possibilities are kind of endless.
Polenta by the Pound
In the front of the shop, you'll find a rack of dried grains being sold in bulk. The coursely ground polenta is just 89 cents per pound, which might be the best deal in town.
Sure, you'll find bathtub-sized growlers of your grandfather's favorite Chianti, along with lemonchello, all the vermouths, and even craft beer. But we were delightfully surprised to happen upon a collection of Italian soft drinks as well.
Fresh and Dried Pasta
Fresh pasta and ravioli are sold by the pound at the deli counter, while the dry goods section is home to a rainbow of imported, dried pastas in every shape and color imaginable. We were intrigued by the all-in-one seasoning and noodle packs near the deli, which featured the likes of black spaghetti (squid ink?) alla marinara with capers and paprika.
Cured meats are in abundance at this market, with Bresaola, Cappicola, Coppa, Genoa Salami, Pancetta, Pepperoni, Proscuitto, Speck, and Sopresatta, gracing the shelves. We were especially taken by the insanely large salame on offer, which might just be the perfect party food.
The Essentials: Sauce and Olive Oil
Red sauce and olive oil are pretty fundamental to Italian American food. Mona Lisa's makes their own sauce, available in the refrigerator, and might be the best place in San Diego for buying good quality olive oil at a fair price.
Dried Goods and Canned Goods
Salt fish, sardines, pistachio creme, and monsterous tubs of nuttella are packed on heaving shelves throughout the store. It is worth taking the time to go through the shop, aisle-by-aisle, searching the treasures for a new ingredient, an old favorite, and a bit of inspiration. In one corner, you'll even find a hodgepodge of cooking equipment, from pasta makers to pizzelle presses.