Every afternoon during our stay in Italy, Patrick and I would stroll into a gelateria. I would go for the lemon sorbetto, Pat for the richer gelato.
“Gelato has less calories and less butterfat than ice cream in America, so eat up,” I joked.
Here in San Diego, my man has been itching to find the best gelato shop. The idea bloomed during an outing to Little Italy’s Café Zucchero (cafezucchero.com; 619-531-1731), where the sidewalk seating in the shadow of the Little Italy sign made for fun people-watching.
We ordered a hazelnut and a chocolate chip gelato (small, $2.96). The flavors were good, but the texture was all wrong. “It’s frothy, almost like a shake that you could suck with a straw,” grimaced Patrick.
“There’s got to be a place that makes gelato as good as it was in Italy,” I said.
The next day, we hopped into the Prius and headed out to find one. We started at Pacific Beach’s Gelato Bus Stop (gelatobusstop.com; 619-578-3828) on Garnet. The shop was light, beachy. The young girl behind the counter recommended the “Columbus”: mascarpone, vanilla, and chocolate cookie crunch. We found it to be too heavy. “Not a lot of cocoa flavor, just sweet,” Pat remarked (small, $3.50).
Next stop: Midtown’s Gelato Vero Caffe (619-295-9269). The narrow, corner shop featured indoor and outdoor seating and a hip café vibe. Fliers for rock shows were posted by the door. The worker behind the counter wouldn’t recommend a flavor. “After years of doing this, I’ve learned people’s tastes are very different.”
After many delicious tastes, we asked for a small cup — made of biodegradable corn-based plastic — of Tahitian vanilla, mocha rum, and raspberry sorbetto.
The salesman weighed the three-or-so-ounce cup and the price came out to $2.75. Patrick rolled his eyes and moaned his approval with the first bite. “The texture is perfection,” sighed Patrick. “Creamier than ice cream but somehow also lighter.”
The mocha rum was a touch heavy for my taste. The deep color of the raspberry sorbet was eye-catching and its flavor rich without feeling heavy. Our favorite was the Tahitian vanilla: soft, creamy, rich, yet somehow with a touch of lightness. And the vanilla-bean flavor...I didn’t know vanilla could be so good.
Down in the Gaslamp, we popped into two spots: Chocolat Cremerie (chocolatsandiego.com; 619-238-9400) and Cremolose (cremolosesd.com; 619-233-9900). “A breach of ancient gelato tradition,” grumbled Patrick, heading out of the Chocolat store. “He wouldn’t put two flavors in a small cup. I had to buy the medium” ($3.95). The airy, high-ceilinged place with swirling wall mosaic boasted over 20 flavors. “The macadamia nut is delicious, but the coconut makes me think I’m eating suntan lotion,” said Patrick. “And the rum chocolate the guy recommended was so heavy it felt and tasted like canned cake frosting.”
Cremolose, situated in the old San Diego Hardware Building, offered 30 different flavors of gelato and sorbetto. “This is not a gelato atmosphere,” said Patrick gazing around the snazzy looking place. “Gelato is like tacos — it’s street food, not high-end fare.”
He wasn’t impressed with their gelato, either. “I like the flavors in the ‘bacio’ [chocolate and hazelnut]. But the texture is too much like ice cream” (medium, $5).
Coronado’s Nado Gelato (bottegaitaliana.com; 619-522-9053) offered a perfect gelato spot: a little shop and outdoor seating on quiet C Street, just off of bustling Orange Avenue.
My opera-loving husband zeroed in on the “opera” flavor. “That’s a new one,” said the saleslady ($3.75 for a small). “We’re one of the first places to make this. It’s made with pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds. Even in Italy there are only a few places that have this.”
Patrick declared it to be the tastiest gelato he’s ever had. I still thought Gelato Vero’s Tahitian vanilla was better, but I loved the lingering nuttiness and smooth texture.
Last stop of the gelato tour was at La Mesa’s Centifonti’s Bar & Restaurant (centifontis.com; 619-461-4434), a family restaurant in La Mesa Village. The rocky road suffered from an identity crisis — ice cream versus gelato (small, $4). But the banana/pineapple had Patrick waxing poetic. “I’d come back for this; it ranks in the top three of the afternoon.”