I'm a long time San Diego resident, although I happen to be living in
southern Arizona at the moment. I've had the espresso at Café Italia
(as well as all the other cafes in little Italy on India Street.) It's
ok, but it certainly is not reference quality. Like most Italian
joints, it uses canned imported Italian coffee. Need I say more?
As to small Italian places in the Gaslamp district (where I lived),
well, that's what the Gaslamp district is - an area composed of small
Italian places. :-) I never had a notable espresso there.
My favorite two places for espresso in San Diego county are Peets, in
Hillcrest, not too far from the Urban Grind (where I've never partaken),
and the Brickyard which is in the Seaport Village neighborhood (though
not in Seaport Village) on west G street where it intersects with the
railroad tracks -- Kettner?
Peets has the coolest four-group Faema I've ever seen, and the baristi
seem to know how to run it. Occasionally there is a trainee there, but
if you order what they consider a "difficult" drink, like straight
espresso, they'll go get the expert.
The Brickyard is a simple, small sandwich shop, but they get their beans
fresh roasted from the roastery that used to be Pannikins, but they
changed their name when they sold off their café business. They have
been roasting in San Diego County for a long time and they are good at
If you do get to the Brickyard, make sure you stop in at the Kansas City
Barbecue, which is just across the railroad tracks on Broadway. Besides
being the famous "dive-bar" where they filmed scenes from Top Gun, it's
a San Diego institution. The newest bartender there has been there for
over 15 years now; someone has to die to get that job. Mention that
"Big Rick" sent you and they'll treat you nice. Or maybe not. :-)