If Little Italy Mercato is any indication, the mission of the Little Italy Association of San Diego seems to be working, infusing the burgeoning neighborhood with a vibrant Saturday morning scene that will soon carry through for the rest of the week. The Saturday farmers market near downtown started small in 2008, now stretches for five city blocks and incorporates more than 140 vendors, many of which showcase pristine SoCal produce or flavorful, seasonally-minded prepared foods. The waters off San Diego are legendary for seafood, and you’ll find a destination open-air raw bar, along with several tables touting magazine-ready fruits and vegetables. Prepared food also plays a sizable part in proceedings, as do music, arts and crafts. Little Italy Mercato operates on a similar level to Sunday’s Hillcrest Farmers Market and clearly warrants a detour. Now that the economy’s reviving, the neighborhood has drawn renewed interest from developers, restaurateurs, brewery and coffee bar owners, and at least part of Little Italy’s culinary energy comes from this farmers market.
Little Italy Mercato extends down a Date Street hillside, with mixed-use developments, residential buildings and ground floor retail flanking tented booths and views of the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Expect bursts of live music and a combination of focused produce hunters and aimless tourists who are out for a leisurely stroll.
Wild Alaska Fish Market offers clear value on fresh seafood like sea urchin. Fishermen catch the spiny creatures off Point Loma and La Jolla. Staffers remove bladders that are used to digest seaweed and serve the cool, creamy “tongues” in the shell with lemon juice and hot sauce. I had uni envy, since the next sea urchin ($6) had bright orange coral colored roe and white spots (male) instead of ours, which was faded orange (female).
Suzie’s Farm, an 80-acre organic farm, grows tempting beets.
Terra Bella Ranch has a diverse roster that includes red walnuts.
In winter, Terra Bella Ranch also grows organic navel oranges.
Prager Brothers bake artisan breads in a stone hearth in Carlsbad, including 100% rye-grain, sunflower-seeded bread ($6).
Since this is California, Rodney Farms was still selling great looking tomatoes to end November, which the farmers vine-ripen in Oceanside.
Oh! Juice specializes in cold-pressed, organic, raw juices. Yes, that’s a whole lot of keywords.
Serenade & Strum provided folk music accompaniment to market goers.
Salty Sisters produce small-batch toffee and caramel using family recipes in Vista, including sea salt dark chocolate toffee.
The Cravory produces playful cookies ($3) like Cannibal Animal, PB&J Brownie Batter, Birthday Cake, Salted Caramel Cream, and Chocolate Truffle.