Balboa Island Culinary Spotlight
Historic Balboa Island, a small slice of land nestled between Beacon Bay and the Balboa Peninsula, is accessible via Marine Avenue, by ferry, yacht or perhaps even a Duffy boat. Despite its small stature, the charming island still a variety of fun food options, all located along Marine. Make a day of it on Balboa Island, or maybe a whole weekend. Happy eating.
Amelia’s Seafood & Italian Restaurant
Sorrento native Amelia Arbace Seton opened Amelia’s in 1961, and her family’s third generation is now involved. The restaurant combines family recipes from Italy with local seafood. A green gate gives way to a tiny tile patio and dining room with white tablecloths and art-lined walls, including a mural of the Sorrento waterfront. Given her background, it’s only fitting that Amelia’s menu is particularly strong on seafood. Amelia’s Calamari comes stuffed with crab and cheese before getting broiled and slathered with marinara sauce. Bay scallops luxuriate in butter and garlic. Looking to maximum your seafood enjoyment? Consider Bouillabaisse all Amelia bursting with fish, shrimp, clams, mussels and scallops.
This Italian restaurant features a red and yellow color scheme indoors and out, including sumptuous red banquettes, mottled canary yellow walls, and accents from potted plants and decorative vases. Lunch brings salads and sandwiches, plus an array of pasta dishes. Dinner is a tick more formal, expanding offerings while pulling proteins between bread. Compelling pasta dishes include linguini Luciana with baby squid in spicy “Barolo style” tomato sauce. Veal Tre Colori combines thin-sliced veal, artichokes and fresh tomatoes, matching the colors of the Italian flag.
Chef-owner Bernard Althaus launched this Swiss-French restaurant in 1997. The space features a burgundy awning, houses a single outdoor table. The interior contains only 24 seats and includes art-lined walls and white clothed tables. Unique starters include blunderfleish, Swiss-style air-dried beef, and molten raclette cheese with fingerling potatoes, cornichons and pickled onions. Entrees lean French, including coq au vin and steak au poivre. Basilic also offers a five-course prix fixe menu filled with daily specials for $68 per person if the whole table commits. Parmigiano – eggplant and chicken – are also popular as sandwiches and plates.
This brick-fronted restaurant with a neon-framed serves New York-style Italian food. Inside, the Godfather himself, Marlon Brando, watches over customers, as do stylish cartoon gangsters and the cast of “Goodfellas.” People can order wine and beer at the tile-fronted bar, or can eat in a dining area where speckled tables predominate. Sure, they’ve got salads and seafood dishes, but most people gravitate to Ciao for pizza, including playful twists like cheesesteak and pizza alla vodka with sautéed chicken breast, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in creamy marinara.
This L.A. based juice shop chain promises to “revitalize your life” by delivering “nature’s medicine in the form of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes extracted from pressed produce. This outpost is nice and clean, with raw wood, white subway tiles, blackboard menus, and shelves of fresh fruit. They feature cold-pressed juices chock full of greens, vegetables and herbs, including Green #1 with kale, spinach, parsley, cucumber and celery. You’ll also find smoothies and nut milks.
At Matthew Pour’s Balboa Island olive oil store, you’ll find a conservative white and olive green facade. Inside, you’ll find shelves of packaged ingredients that aren’t just derived from olives and walls that are (you guessed it) olive green. Olive oil of course stars, and you can fill bottles from stainless steel dispensers, which could include Caninese Reserve from Italy, Arbequina from Portugal, or perhaps Coratina from Australia. If you’re looking beyond single origin, consider oil infused with crushed habanero, rosemary or pink grapefruit. Olive Oil & Beyond also promotes the “healing power of vinegar” and sells jams, jellies, honey and more.
A fresh sign and pastel green awning give way to a dining room with art-lined walls and tables sporting dark cloths. Each meal comes with a dish of wonton squiggles and sweet and sour dipping sauce. The sign promises Mandarin cuisine, and menu delivers fairly straightforward Chinese comfort food minus any regional affiliation, including egg drop soup, beef lo mein, kung pao shrimp, and orange chicken.
This stand dates to 1945 and features a sign sporting a cartoon peeled banana. Helen Connolly is the third and current owner for over 20 years. Her crew continues to hand-dip bananas to order, along with ice cream filled Balboa bars. Both get dipped twice in milk chocolate and rolled in the topping of your choice. Sugar N’ Spice’s owner bills their business as the “original” home to frozen bananas on Balboa Island. They also sell cheesecake on a stick, banana splits, drumsticks, soft serve ice cream, and corn dogs.
Trattoria Mediterranean Cuisine
This showcase for Mediterranean cuisine sprouted from Sean and Elie Dadmand, who operated Favarito Pasta Trattoria until 2012 in Vancouver. Their contribution to Balboa Island includes a black awning, mottled walls, tile floor and pops of plant life. The menu leans heavily on Italy, though they do have a hummus platter and Mediterranean sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, olives, capers and buffalo mozzarella, served with French fries. For dinner, hearty plates include fettuccine alla carbonara and salmon puttanesca.
This charming restaurant houses a peaked roof, planter-lined patio, marble bar and mural of shorebirds and frolicking dolphins. Maurice and Wilma Staudinger debuted Wilma’s Patio in 1975, and the Staudinger family still owns and manages the restaurant, which serves three meals daily. Their eclectic menu includes Balboa Belly Bombers for breakfast, featuring cored French bread rounds filled with fully loaded scrambled eggs. Charbroiled burgers are popular at lunch. Dinner brings pot roast, pasta and seafood.
This is a great place to catch an NFL game, grab a cocktail, watch live music, or perhaps all three. The brick-wrapped space contains communal high-top tables with cushioned stools, a sizeable wood bar, an atmospheric fireplace, and of course a stage. The menu stays constant, whether you’re at The Village Inn for lunch or dinner. Highlights include nachos with house-made tortilla chips and flank steak, sautéed halibut sandwich with roasted lemon and garlic aioli, and the half-pound burger with crumbled blue cheese, caramelized onion and house “spread.”