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In a town rich with Italian food, Parma Cucina stands out

Simple, unpretentious, and date-friendly in Hillcrest

Linguini frutti di mare, a regularly offered shellfish pasta special at Parma Cucina Italiana
Linguini frutti di mare, a regularly offered shellfish pasta special at Parma Cucina Italiana

In the greater San Diego area, you could visit three different Italian restaurants every week for a year and still not try them all. More like five a week if you include pizza counters. And that wouldn’t include all the contemporary restaurants and steakhouses that feature pasta menus. It’s enough to make you wonder how we ever have time for Taco Tuesday.

Place

Parma

3850 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

Anyway, that’s my excuse for being late to the party with regard to Parma Cucina Italiana. The charming little Hillcrest restaurant has been busy winning over loyal customers for the better part of a decade, and I’m certain all of them have been recommending it to friends the entire time. Surely, I would have have caught on sooner, had I not been distracted by the annual onslaught of new Italian restaurants that seem to open every year.

As with so many more recent arrivals, native Italians are behind the menu and atmosphere at Parma Cucina, setting a tone both friendly and authentic to northern Italy. I’m inclined to think a lack of hype or pretension has something to do with the cheerful and steadily growing crowd that filled its dining room (and parklet seating) on a recent Saturday evening. But, per usual, credit must be given to the stellar simplicity of the food.

Nearly ten years in Hillcrest (which more recently includes parklet seating).

We began with a salmon carpaccio starter that featured so much fish for $17, I worried it would derail our appetites. Instead, my wife and I both went on to devour our pasta entrees, and follow them up with dessert: one of the more satisfying examples of tiramisu I’ve tried. Even the accompanying espresso shot tasted perfect.

Despite the sort of tried-and-true simplicity we encountered — the menu highlights dishes such as lasagna ($24), pesto with shrimp scampi ($23), and gnocchi with four cheese sauce ($23) — my main course selection did give me a chance to try something for the first time. That would be the stuffed pasta shape, fagottini, made to resemble the sort of candy wrapper with a single twist at the top (usually found with hard candies). Here, the homemade pasta is filled with a mix of ricotta cheese and truffle, covered in a cream sauce featuring more truffle, as well as porcini mushrooms ($25). If you find any dish with a deeper umami profile, please tell me about it.

A generous portion of salmon for a carpaccio appetizer

As a husband, I was particularly appreciative for a dish I didn’t try. My wife’s favorite Italian order is linguini frutti di mare, in other words shellfish pasta. I’ve spent the better part of a year taking her around to Italian restaurants, in search of a good one, but it’s mostly led to disappointment — especially considering I get paid to recommend restaurants.

A small, well attended Italian restaurant — one of hundreds in greater San Diego

Finally, here was Parma Cucina, with a regularly offered special, which lays shrimp, mussels, and clams with white wine and tomato sauce, over your choice of linguini or risotto. Not only is it one of the restaurant's more visually stimulating dishes, it earned me bonus points for booking a romantic night out.

Stuffed pasta in the shape of candy in a single-twist wrapper, filled with truffle and ricotta cheese, n a creamy mushroom sauce

That said, when I do it again, it will be on Tuesday. That’s owing to an ongoing special that prices a three-course meal for two at $56. Now that I’m finally acquainted with the pleasant night out offered by Parma Cucina Italiana, I might have to leave Taco Tuesdays to the single folk.

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Linguini frutti di mare, a regularly offered shellfish pasta special at Parma Cucina Italiana
Linguini frutti di mare, a regularly offered shellfish pasta special at Parma Cucina Italiana

In the greater San Diego area, you could visit three different Italian restaurants every week for a year and still not try them all. More like five a week if you include pizza counters. And that wouldn’t include all the contemporary restaurants and steakhouses that feature pasta menus. It’s enough to make you wonder how we ever have time for Taco Tuesday.

Place

Parma

3850 Fifth Avenue, San Diego

Anyway, that’s my excuse for being late to the party with regard to Parma Cucina Italiana. The charming little Hillcrest restaurant has been busy winning over loyal customers for the better part of a decade, and I’m certain all of them have been recommending it to friends the entire time. Surely, I would have have caught on sooner, had I not been distracted by the annual onslaught of new Italian restaurants that seem to open every year.

As with so many more recent arrivals, native Italians are behind the menu and atmosphere at Parma Cucina, setting a tone both friendly and authentic to northern Italy. I’m inclined to think a lack of hype or pretension has something to do with the cheerful and steadily growing crowd that filled its dining room (and parklet seating) on a recent Saturday evening. But, per usual, credit must be given to the stellar simplicity of the food.

Nearly ten years in Hillcrest (which more recently includes parklet seating).

We began with a salmon carpaccio starter that featured so much fish for $17, I worried it would derail our appetites. Instead, my wife and I both went on to devour our pasta entrees, and follow them up with dessert: one of the more satisfying examples of tiramisu I’ve tried. Even the accompanying espresso shot tasted perfect.

Despite the sort of tried-and-true simplicity we encountered — the menu highlights dishes such as lasagna ($24), pesto with shrimp scampi ($23), and gnocchi with four cheese sauce ($23) — my main course selection did give me a chance to try something for the first time. That would be the stuffed pasta shape, fagottini, made to resemble the sort of candy wrapper with a single twist at the top (usually found with hard candies). Here, the homemade pasta is filled with a mix of ricotta cheese and truffle, covered in a cream sauce featuring more truffle, as well as porcini mushrooms ($25). If you find any dish with a deeper umami profile, please tell me about it.

A generous portion of salmon for a carpaccio appetizer

As a husband, I was particularly appreciative for a dish I didn’t try. My wife’s favorite Italian order is linguini frutti di mare, in other words shellfish pasta. I’ve spent the better part of a year taking her around to Italian restaurants, in search of a good one, but it’s mostly led to disappointment — especially considering I get paid to recommend restaurants.

A small, well attended Italian restaurant — one of hundreds in greater San Diego

Finally, here was Parma Cucina, with a regularly offered special, which lays shrimp, mussels, and clams with white wine and tomato sauce, over your choice of linguini or risotto. Not only is it one of the restaurant's more visually stimulating dishes, it earned me bonus points for booking a romantic night out.

Stuffed pasta in the shape of candy in a single-twist wrapper, filled with truffle and ricotta cheese, n a creamy mushroom sauce

That said, when I do it again, it will be on Tuesday. That’s owing to an ongoing special that prices a three-course meal for two at $56. Now that I’m finally acquainted with the pleasant night out offered by Parma Cucina Italiana, I might have to leave Taco Tuesdays to the single folk.

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