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The Perfect Order at Ciccia Osteria

An Italian chef turned a burned-out home into the place for pasta in Barrio Logan
Barrio Logan Italian Michelin Restaurant Ciccia Osteria featuring dishes from the menu
Courtesy of Ciccia Osteria

This house burnt near to the studs, and one of my favorite Italian chefs rebuilt it into a restaurant, which feels exactly as it sounds—like an old house someone loved enough to burn down, and like a burned house a chef loved enough to cram a restaurant into. Though crammed is not the right word. It feels like a homely riot of memorabilia and knick-knacks and food-adjacent photos of both the living and dead, all loved or at least admired enough to hang on a wall.

Friends tried to warn Mario Cassineri that he was flirting with career delusion when he decided to open an Italian trattoria in Barrio Logan in 2019. Let alone in a house with its important wood parts black as tires. 

Why not Little Italy, where no one balks at $10 fries that apply truffle oil in the same volume preteens apply Sol de Janeiro? (Sol de J is the Drakkar Noir of Gen Alpha; I had to ask younger editorial staff.) Cassineri has a name, a reputation for quality Italian food that had followed him since he’d opened Bice in Downtown nearly 20 years ago. Why not North Park, San Diego’s urban amusement park, where everyone is a graphic designer and has a side band named after their pet chickens and yet can still somehow can afford food?

But he did it. He built Ciccia Osteria, largely by himself with friends on a Home Depot budget and an Italian’s genetically bestowed instinct for charming design. And it is lovely, in an “I built this” way. What used to be the front yard facing Logan Avenue—that main throb of Barrio, the one lined with lowriders and graffiti and religious talismans both sober and whimsical (like the “piñatas for Christ”)—is now a shaded dining patio, a lovely secret garden, an oxygenated space protecting his from-scratch pastas from the scratchy city air. 

The house, like the food, was built by hand. And it has worked. “Mario is the one who is always there if we need sugar or milk or advice,” a fellow restaurateur told me. 

Barrio Logan Italian Michelin Restaurant Ciccia Osteria featuring dishes from the menu including mushroom flan
Courtesy of Yelp

Try These Dishes from Ciccia Osteria’s Menu

The Mushroom Flan

This dish is why I could go vegetarian, but never vegan. Because cheese and cream are capable of unsurmountable joys. Cassineri soaks porcini mushrooms in milk for 24 hours to make the base for a mornay sauce. It’s solidified into a custard-like texture, given a pecorino butter crust, baked to order, and then—delicious, in a nihilistic way—placed in a small pool of gorgonzola cheese fonduta with a single mint leaf up top (which makes it a salad in creative circles). 

Barrio Logan Italian Michelin Restaurant Ciccia Osteria featuring dishes from the menu featuring pesto gnocchi
Courtesy of Ciccia Osteria

The Pesto Gnocchi

The best gnocchi occupy a textural middle-magic between pasta and puree. Chefs often make wrong turns by adding too much flour, which places the gnocchi between pasta and chewing gum. Cassineri’s are clouds, made even more interesting with the addition of some Asiago cheese, pinched into the middle, nearly raviolo-style. The pesto is strained, not rustic, to match the silky texture of the gnocchi, with roasted pine nuts, tomatoes, and a light rain of Pecorino and Grana. 

Barrio Logan Italian Michelin Restaurant Ciccia Osteria featuring dishes from the menu featuring apricot-habañero ricotta cake
Courtesy of Yelp

Apricot-Habañero Ricotta Cake

First, remember this is not a cheesecake—it’s a ricotta cake. Ricotta cakes are an Italian specialty, less creamy and sweet than the cheesecake most of us know. A bit more savory, just the right amount of sugar and salt, with a texture between dried ricotta and cornbread. Cassineri’s is set on a cookie dough base, then topped with an apricot-habañero glaze, an ode to the Barrio’s deep Chicano culture

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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