Italian food is among the top favorite cuisines in America, and The Red Door in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood may just be one of the best places in the country to find some.
A homey and refined eatery, The Red Door combines Italian-American comfort food with garden-fresh produce and some of the friendliest service in town. With a passion that seeps through every corner of the restaurant, it isn’t hard to see why tables require a reservation. That, mixed with sizable portions that are great for sharing, make The Red Door an absolute must for those looking for stellar Italian food in San Diego.
The Red Door is owned and operated by Chef Luciano Cibelli, who we had the fortune of meeting on our visit. Cibelli discovered his passion and respect for food as a young boy in Milano, according to their website.
From there, Cibelli perfected the traditional Italian techniques he learned from his family and set off to Koln, Germany, to work at the prestigious La Vita restaurant. This taught him to hone his skills and learn how to fuse other cultures to form newer cuisines. He continued his global travels and learned about food from Thailand, Spain, and the Caribbean before he landed in the United States.
Once stateside, Cibelli worked as a head chef in New York’s Four Cats Italian restaurant and Nick and Maggie’s steakhouse before making his way to San Diego and opening The Red Door, which provides Italian comfort food with a modern flair.
The bread, dessert, and pasta (including the Gluten Free Bucatini) are all made fresh in-house, and the wine list includes selections by varietal expression and regional character, each personally selected by Chef Cibelli. The restaurant’s commitment to excellence has earned them several awards over the years, including San Diego’s Diner’s Choice, Open Table’s Best Italian Restaurant, and Modern Luxury San Diego’s Best Italian Restaurant.
The Red Door prides itself on sustainability, and Chef Cibelli told us the Italian flour, and currently, some of the truffles were among the few things imported from outside of San Diego. The menu notes that San Diego County houses 5,700 small farms, which makes the area the leading county in the nation for small independent farms per capital.
By sourcing locally from farms like Fallbrook Hacienda, Stone Brewery, Black Sheep Farms, Catalina Offshore, and 2 Peas in a Pod, The Red Door helps make sure that money stays within the San Diego county local businesses. They believe in sustaining and strengthening the link between the farming community and hospitality and do what they can to support that. Additionally, The Red Door website states that Chef Cibelli personally selects every ingredient and has forged close relationships with the local artisanal providers. The local food, mixed with the personable approach to service, helps maintain the theme of food integrity that matters to the brand.
Even in the middle of the week, The Red Door was busy when we came in for dinner. We were greeted by a server who said he’d be right with us, but as he went to take an order, Chef Cibelli himself greeted us and sat us at his favorite table in the house. He welcomed us and told us he’d come back to check on us, which he did, and often. One of his table touches included a bag of the imported truffles, which he let us smell and noted were currently selling for $2200 per pound.
The food was astronomical, and even if we hadn’t felt the passion coming from the chef, we’d have been able to taste it in the food. We started out the meal with the Butternut Brie, which was served with pear, spiced butternut squash, onion, cranberry, pecans, and a triple cream brie with some of the house-made bread. I was expecting more of a charcuterie plate and was pleasantly surprised to find it was a dip instead. I’ve never had pear in a dish like that, and it was amazing.
For entrées, we tried out the Free Range Chicken Parmesan and the Cavatelli. First of all, I’ve never seen a dish as large as the chicken parmesan in my life. It was big enough to feed three people, and I ended up having to take some home (which is rare since I’m six and a half feet tall.) The chicken is served in a fresh, house-made tomato sauce with fresh basil and a side of spaghetti.
The tomato sauce especially was incredible and tasted even better the day after.
As to the Cavatelli, the fresh pasta brought a great flavor. Labeled on the menu as “farm to fork,” this pasta dish was served in the same tomato sauce with zucchinis, carrots, and tomatoes with some aged pecorino cheese on top. This was also a sizably portioned dish and paired really well with the chicken and spaghetti.
When Chef Cibelli asked us how our meals were, he noted if we were ever to return, we had to try the flatbread and the Beef Wellington, which is a dish they’re known for and brought in a few of their awards. As it was, we closed out the meal with the Chocolate Lava Cake, which was a triple dark Belgium chocolate served with a raspberry drizzle and strawberries with whipped cream on top. This was definitely one of the most decadent and memorable lava cakes I’ve had and was the perfect way to end the meal.
The Red Door is open Monday-Thursday from 5-9 pm. They’re open from 11:30 am-10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and from 11:30 am-9 pm on Sundays. Reservations are highly recommended, as this is a popular spot that stays busy even during the slower season. There’s metered street parking around the restaurant, although it may be hard to come by.
Those interested can also book private events and catering experiences for their
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