When I graduated from high school, my grandma took me on a 2.5 week trip to Italy. The rich history, the invigorating atmosphere, the lively culture, and, of course, the decadent food, made me fall in love with everything Italian. On a daily basis, I very fondly think back to the train rides throughout the Dolomites, to swimming in the Mediterranean, and to the absolutely incredible food that I ate every waking moment of that trip. Since then, I have searched high and low for a restaurant that can give me an experience that will even remotely mirror what it feels like to be back in that amazing country. It was a failed endeavor until I finally stepped into Mama’s Meatball.
This adorable place could not be more hidden. Even when looking on Google maps, Mama’s Meatball is not visible; you have to walk into a little cove in order to find it.
“There’s that stretch of sidewalk after MoTav that is kind of separated from the rest of Higuera. It just seems sort of abandoned and in limbo. No one really goes to that part of downtown. And then you have Mama’s Meatball, tucked into this little alley. What felt abandoned suddenly felt homey,” Michael Lee, a Cal Poly student, said.
If you happen to stumble upon this part of downtown, Mama’s Meatball should be the first place you check out. You walk through the doors and feel as though you have just stepped off the plane at Fiumicino Airport. The inside is decorated like a typical Italian street, equipped with brick accents on the walls, a floor that resembles cobblestone, and a ceiling painted to look like the sunny blue skies of the Mediterranean, all while Andrea Bocelli and other Italian artists play in the background.
If the ambiance of this eatery wasn’t enough to get you to come for a visit, then the extremely fun and friendly wait staff definitely should. The restaurant is family owned, adding to the comforting feeling in the atmosphere.
“Maria [the ‘mama’] makes the desserts and the three brothers work in the kitchen. It’s very Italian here!” Ilario De Palo, the kitchen manager and maitre d’, said. This was preceded by Ilario yelling to Cosimo and Luca, two of the three brothers (the third is Nicola, who was not there), with Italian words and many, many hand gestures, to gather around and take a picture together.
When Chloe Janda, a Cal Poly student who is also a friend of mine, found out that “Exploring San Luis Obispo” was going to Mama’s Meatball, her eyes lit up. “It’s soooooo good! I got the pesto lasagna. Some of the people who I went with were locals so they knew it was good there,” she said. Chloe couldn’t have said it better. The food at this hidden gem is otherworldly, and every table is given a bowl of fresh, warm, toasted mini garlic bread bites. Having a glass of wine to wash down these tasty Italian treats only makes the experience that much better.
I left Mama’s Meatball not feeling like I gorged myself with food, like I usually feel after going out to most restaurants. With just the right amount of (delicious) food, friendliness that is incomparable, and an atmostphere that made me feel nostalgic but comforted, this experience changed Mama’s Meatball from a restaurant that “I’ve always wanted to try” to “It’s one of my favorite restaurants”.
All photos taken by Ashley Katzeff
Have a great day!