meatball cucina / downtown – san diego, ca

I was invited not too long ago to head Downtown to check out a new restaurant called Meatball Cucina. It’s not even in the Gaslamp Quarter, where every other restaurant in Downtown seems to be. It’s right across from American Plaza/Santa Fe Depot. Their website mentions free parking after 5PM in the parking garage right next door to the building, so that makes it much more convenient to get to than I originally score. Score for parking Downtown!


Things I loved about Meatball Cucina: the hanging lights that reminded me of garage light, but slimmer and cooler looking; the etched glasswear; the swirly/funky retro-que fabric on the chairs.


I also liked that instead of curtains, they have this bamboo in front of the windows. Here’s Stacey mildly agreeing to be in my photo just so I can show off the bamboo.


After being seated, our waiter swung by and dropped off this iPad. He said something about the wine menu being on here, but I actually didn’t even bother to look at it.


[garlic donuts – $3.95]

Okay, listen. See those things above? They are garlic DONUTS. The little donut holes taste just like any donut – chewy, slightly sweet, fluffy fried deliciousness. Take a little twist on that to make them savory and you get these… and they were hands down my favorite thing of the whole night. They’re topped with oodles of garlic/cheese/parsley and you can’t help but “double dip” these back into the goodness to get as much garlic and cheese to stick onto it before you put it back into your mouth again.

To sum up: this item is totally YUMBALLS. Yes, yumballs. This is a new word.


[spinach salad – $8.95 (large)]

To offset that chewy, fluffy golden fried goodness, Stacey and I opted to share a nice, sensible full sized salad that we did not finish. But we heartily gave it our all and polished about half of it. But not before noticing that the dressing was just not here. Our waitress said that the dressing was probably “very lightly coated”. Sorry, no. This salad is DRY. Please bring dressing, ASAP!

Which, of course, he did. The dressing (pomegranate vinaigrette) was lovely shade of pink and so obviously not on this salad that had delicious things like avocado, cranberry, and oranges in it. Very yummy. Avocado should just be in everything.


This was some complimentary bread that I took absolutely no notes about it (*eye roll at self*).


[meatball sampler – chef’s choice – $15.95]

I actually asked for the sauces on the side… but um, we didn’t get that. That irked me a little bit since I’m picky about sauces and I wanted to try the sauces with other meatballs to see how it would pair together. Sigh.

Our waiter also didn’t tell us the right combination of meatballs, so in one case we were expecting a meaty meatball and instead opened up the vegan one which was well… just surprising.


The fish meatball (or I guess… fish ball) reminded me very much of a crab cake. This was paired with the Parmesan cream sauce. The texture wasn’t too bad. I’m not sure what kind of fish they used for the ball, but it didn’t taste super fishy to me (which is something I don’t like). Probably wouldn’t want this one again… but it was interesting to try. 


The vegan “meat”ball consisted mostly of quinoa and huge chunks of vegetables. Like… way too big pieces. The flavor wasn’t bad, the texture just okay… but yeah… I don’t think big pieces of veggies is the way to go here. It made the whole thing fall apart quickly. If they were smaller I think it would all hold better.


For all of the actual meaty-meatballs, Stacey and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between them. Above is one of them paired with buffalo & gorgonzola which made it taste just like a hot wing! I really liked that, the cheese was nice and melted on top and the semi-spicy buffalo sauce made it a winner.

The only other thing I could say here really is that the meatballs really lacked texture. They all had the same very smooth consistency, almost like there was only ground meat in here and nothing else. I personally like meatballs to have some “stuff going on it in them” instead of just a plain old ball o’ meat. I know that’s what essentially this is… but a little texture, please! Breadcrumbs, herbs, cheese, pieces of bread, a chunkier meat, etc. <end rant>


[rigatoni baresi – sausage ragu, swiss chard, garlic, shallots, olive oil, parmigiano and fried breadcrumbs – $14.95]

Right behind the garlic donuts, this Rigatoni Baresi was my second favorite thing of the night. I loved that there was *just* enough sauce and that the dish wasn’t drowning in it. The ragu mix was delicious with lots of garlic and they even snuck in something healthy like swiss chard, which has really just soaked up the other flavors in the dish and makes it all more delicious. The rigatoni was cooked perfectly and it’s just a plate full of yummy, meaty, garlicy goodness.


[chocolate lava cake – $7.95]

It ain’t over til desserts been served and Stacey and I shared not one, but two desserts. We might have walked out of here shuffling like penguins crossing the arctic tundra, but who cares! Dessert must be had!

I picked both desserts because people let me do these things.

The chocolate lava cake was dense and EXTREME chocolate. Which means that I liked it. It was smooth and kinda fudgy-like in the middle. There’s vanilla cream sauce and vanilla ice cream, because, GOD, why not? We stuffed it into our mouths and tried really hard to finish it.


[deconstructed cannoli – $6.95]

“Deconstructed” is like, some kind of crazy little key word that restaurants like to throw around to say, “HEY! I’m gonna do something different with this dessert that you’ve probably never seen before!” Or at least, this is my interpretation of what “deconstructed” means. I’m thinking of things like, piles of pastry cream and chocolate mousse with crunchy cookies artfully on a plate, or a pipped mass of sweet cream into a tart with a cannoli inspired shell or … well… something more than this.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The cannoli was still pretty damn good and tasty and all that. But, maybe this should just be called “A la crushed cannoli” or something because that’s basically what it is. You made it easier for me to eat, and I applaud that effort, but this is not what my head was dreaming of when I saw those magical words on the menu.


Let’s recap! I loved those garlic donuts and that sausage ragu pasta – simply delicious! The meatballs left me a little dubious and wanting but they weren’t bad, but a little adjustment in texture and mouth feel could really bring it back up to par. Everyone really must go visit just for those garlic donuts though, I’m telling you. And some pasta. And maybe just nibble on a few other things, too, while you’re at it.

Also! Meatball Cucina offers happy hour specials every day from 4-6PM, featuring different specials each day. If you’re into that kind of thing.

Meatball Cucina
655 W. Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 564-7100

Meatball Cucina on Urbanspoon

* Disclaimer: I was invited to the restaurant on behalf of BAM Communications. My meal was complimentary. I was not compensated for this review and all of the opinions and spouting off are my own.

Author: Mary

Mary is a San Diego native and has been a food blogger for 11+ years. She is an avid reader, a lover of puppies, and loves trying new food. Foods she loves: sweets, peanut butter, pasta, Triscuit crackers with cream cheese, and extra nuts on top of her sundaes. Food she dislikes: pickles, really spicy food, runny eggs, olives, and too much arugula.

9 Replies to “meatball cucina / downtown – san diego, ca

  1. YUMBALLS??!!!! HAHAHAH!!! Patent that yo !! I was laughing so hard when I read that.

    What restaurant used to be here? I can’t remember right now.

    I love the presentation of the meatballs though!

  2. Too bad about the texture of the meatballs. I agree, there should be something to differentiate them, otherwise, the only thing different is the sauce they dump on it.

    Good to know about the free parking after 5 pm.

    Yumballz. 🙂 OMG, garlic donuts! i saw the “deconstructed” cannoli on darlene’s post. Now that is just plain lazy. They should just call it a smashed cannoli because that’s what it is.

    1. Hi CC – Yeah, I wish they had more going on – oh well! The free parking is excellent since it’s right next to the restaurant and you don’t have to go wandering around looking for parking. That cannoli should just be called smooshed or something haha.

  3. I can vouch that those garlic donuts were 100% worthy of new word creation. I’m still having dreams of those damn things. I need them in my life. Every day. Until I am unable to walk through normal sized doors.

    Really, I think I completely agree with your analysis of everything. The pasta was completely delicious, both desserts were amazing (fantastic cannoli, just super incorrectly named). Most of the meatballs weren’t bad flavor wise, just mushy. Most of the sauces were quite tasty.

    Now, stop taking my picture and start feeing me garlic donuts!

    1. I’m pretty sure we need to try and make though garlic donuts at home. Maybe when we do our cupcake experimenting! Need more garlic donuts, STAT.

  4. I think “yumballz” is the spelling used in the Oxford English Dictionary.


    Man, those garlic donuts looked good!!!

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