Little Italy kicks off wave of on-street dining

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jun 15, 2020

SAN DIEGO — The Barbusa Restaurant in the heart of Little Italy is filled with famous guests, so to speak.

Celebrity cutouts of the likes of Tommy Lasorda and the late James Gandolfini take up seats at tables closed for social distancing.

“It's something just cute, and it makes people just feel comfortable,” Co-owner Joey Busalacchi says.

Busalacchi put them there to help make the reopening more festive. Of course, he’d rather have real people in those tables - but can't because of coronavirus restrictions.

The restaurant’s normal capacity is about 160, but had to be reduced to 120.

That all changed Saturday night - when the Little Italy Association arranged for India Street to be closed to vehicle traffic - allowing restaurants to expand into the street.

The extra space meant restaurants, already on razor thin margins, could serve their normal customer load.

Barbusa was filled, serving up to 160 patrons.

“Covid's not going away for a while, so the more we could get people to eat outdoors the better,” said Marco Li Mandri, the Little Italy Association’s Chief Executive Administrator.

Li Mandri says the event was a major success, with good social distancing practices.

The association will do it again this Saturday - with even more restaurants open - and could expand it even more in the future.

Additionally, the Gaslamp Quarter Association announced on-street dining on Fifth Avenue starting Thursday.

The city is also currently weighing a request from the North Park Main Street Association for dining on a stretch of 30th Street near University.