The last time I had a seriously excellent pizza was at Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica. It is so difficult to find a decent pizza in Orange County — well, one that constitutes as a perfect pizza in my book — and I am elated to report that I’ve found some in San Diego!
Isola Pizza Bar in Little Italy is one of those little gems which I hoped would have reasonably good pizzas but ended up being SO much more than just a pizza bar!
I loved the hustle and bustle of the restaurant and was offered a glass of Prosecco Nino Franco, Valdobiaddene, NY veneto ($10/glass) while we perused the menu. It possessed a lovely effervescent sweetness which was also light enough for this balmy evening.
The menu was simple and my eyes were immediately drawn to Polipo ($12), a salad of charred octopus, Kalamata olives, fingerling potatoes, celery, lemon and an Italian parsley based salsa verde. I loved the hints of tartness from both the lemon and olives, as well as the crunch from the celery.
Pepata di Cozze al Forno ($12), a beautifully prepared wood-fired mussels were cooked in white wine and garlic with cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes and chile. The mussels were melt-in-you-mouth tender and the broth they were swimming in was so delicious I couldn’t stop spooning it into my mouth. These are a MUST in my opinion.
If you are a shrimp fan, Gamberetti alla Diavola ($12), also wood-fired in the pizza oven, is salty and tart in a light tomato sauce with white wine, garlic, capers, Kalamata and chile. I was so delighted to find two triangles of polenta on the bottom of the plate which was sublime when eaten with the broth. Again, this is highly recommended and should be shared if you want to leave some room for pizza.
But before pizza, I was intrigued by lardo on the menu. The last time I had lardo was in Italy and I’d never seen it on any menu in southern California before now. Vannellini e Lardo bruschetta ($8/4pcs) is served on a piece of toasted bread topped with cannellini beans, lardo, a splash of extra virgin olive oil and rosemary.
Lardo is a type of Italian charcuterie — a piece of fatback cured with rosemary and other herbs and spices. I remember having a hard time eating lardo on its own while in Italy, but here, with the beans and bread, the entire thing was a rich, decadent treat. Since each order is four pieces, definitely share because you don’t want too much of a good thing when there is a lot more to experience.
After all this deliciousness, we still had to eat the pizzas. Burrata e Pomodorini ($15) is one of the restaurant’s favorites, and mine as well seeing it is topped with burrata, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh oregano and basil. The pizza is thin — very thin — and held up well even with the toppings. When I picked it up, it didn’t dip in the center, an this in my book is an absolutely flawless pizza.
We also ordered the Guanciale ($15), a white pizza with broccoli rabe, guanciale, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and fennel pollen. Both pizzas were perfectly executed and only required two to three minutes cooking time in the pizza oven imported from Italy.
An impeccable evening isn’t only about the food but also, the service. Our server Alex was extremely knowledgeable about the food, wine, but to top it off, he was passionate and entertaining throughout our meal. He will tell you about the wines from the owner’s family’s vineyard in Italy and describe the notes and finish like the ultimate sommelier so you get the best experience ever. Isola Pizza Bar is much more than pizzas, it is your gateway to dinner in Italy, right here in southern California.
Isola Pizza Bar
1526 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101