CUCINA Urbana in San Diego’s Bankers Hill is not the type of restaurant you miss if you blink when you walk by. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as this restaurant is designed to catch your attention and invite you in for a meal you’ll never forget.
Part restaurant and part retail wine shop, CUCINA Urbana offers reclaimed wood in a stylish and contemporary setting that allows diners to enjoy the best of Italian food with the finest organic Southern California ingredients.
Offering from-scratch meals next to hand-picked wines and eclectic craft cocktails, CUCINA Urbana has become a highly acclaimed eatery among a competitive dining scene. With meals meant to be shared and experiences meant to be created, this MICHELIN-starred Italian restaurant always promises a good time.
CUCINA Urbana is part of Tracy Borkum’s collection of CUCINA restaurants known as the Urban Kitchen Group. The restaurants are popular for combining Italian flavors with Southern California freshness. The retail wine shop within the restaurant features more than 200 labels from around the world. The varietals focus on Italy and California with a goal to share values and celebrate those on the farms and wineries behind the label.
According to their website, the CUCINA family of restaurants is one of Southern California’s first retail wine shop inside a restaurant concepts. The from-scratch menus include sharable portions of Italian favorites like pasta and pizza with a signature cheese and salumi program.
The space is designed to “evoke a modern Italian kitchen-meets-charming bohemian eatery.” This includes open kitchens, alfresco patios, communal seating, and spacious bar areas with intimate table settings. Natural materials, free-spirited gardens, and whimsical lighting are carefully curated throughout the restaurant, which also boasts bold graffiti-style art installations.
The Urban Kitchen Group states their mission is to “successfully craft the perfect dining trifecta: exceptional food and superior service in imaginatively designed environments.”
The Urban Kitchen Group as a whole states they are committed to local and sustainable farming, as well as organic practices, fair trade, and creating a dynamic and diverse work environment. The themes for the food revolve around Americana, Farm-to-Table, Mediterranean, Latin-Fusion, Asian, Traditional and Modern.
The majority of hand-picked vintage finds are readily available for sale. Those who are fond of the tables, chairs, or other artisan offerings can purchase what they like through the Urban Kitchen Shop.
Additionally, the restaurant group works to give back to the communities where they live and work. They create partnerships and charitable donations with numerous local non-profits in San Diego and Orange County. They also have a Sip + Support initiative to highlight a local charity to support each month.
At the time of this writing, the month’s partner is A Reason to Survive (ARTS), a program that believes young people can transform using their creativity. The initiative allows the Urban Kitchen Group to donate a portion of sales from every glass or bottle from their CUCINA private wine table to the current featured organization.
CUCINA Urbana was a hit from the start. The moment we opened the doors into the expansive restaurant, it felt like we’d walked into a VIP lounge. Everything is clean, glittering, and inviting, which sets the tone immediately.
We chose to stick with some non-alcoholic beverages and tried out their Lavender Lemonade, a house-made blend, and the Little Garden with basil, cucumber, lemon, and soda. The lemonade was the right amount of sweetness, and the Little Garden is something I could casually sip on every day.
For the appetizers, we had to start out with the Lamb Sausage and Potato Gnocchi. This stellar dish was served with Bloomsdale spinach, Pecorino cream, and herb pesto. Even the food runner said she was jealous of us when she dropped off the plate. If I could have, I would have ordered three more rounds of this and called it a night.
As it was, we carried on with the Rigatoni Bolognese and the Half Chicken Fra Diavolo. The bolognese had veal, pork, lemon ricotta, and Grana Padano. The olive oil was perfectly blended in with the sauce, and there was a nice buttery taste that accompanied the pasta. The lemon ricotta balls on top were sizable and lovely, and all in all, the dish totally hit the spot.
As for the half chicken, this beauty was served on a mascarpone polenta with charred broccolini, preserved garlic, and lemon. The meat on the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the polenta had a nice, creamy flavor that went well with the charred broccolini. The portion size here highlighted the “shareable” aspects of the menu and was a nice addition to the meal.
We finished off with the Chocolate Budino, a pudding-like dessert that had chocolate, caramel, and whipped cream. This was a great, light dessert to end the meal and still packed in a lot of flavors. Being a fan of chocolate and caramel, this dessert was an easy sell and a great way to finish off the experience.
CUCINA Urbana is open Tuesday-Thursday from 4-9:00 pm. They stay open until 9:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and close at 8 pm on Sundays. They are closed on Mondays. Happy Hour is Tuesday-Friday from 4-6 pm.
Although reservations are often recommended, doing so online may only allow you to book an outdoor table. If you’d like something inside, either call the restaurant or take your chances with a walk-in. Doing so outside of peak hours assures quicker seating.
Metered street parking is available nearby, but if you don’t mind walking two blocks, you can park at Balboa Park around the corner for free.
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