Best Cannoli in Little Italy

Pat’s friend, Guido, is coming for his first visit to San Diego. Guido loves a great cannoli, hates a bad one. The Sicilian dessert was his mama’s specialty. I was determined to find tasty cannoli within walking distance of his hotel.

So, Pat and I met up with our friends, Frank and Bernice, to saunter around Little Italy and taste cannoli.

“What does cannoli translate to?” asked Bernie.

“It means ‘little tube,’” answered Frank.

“I’ve heard they were considered a fertility symbol, a treat for Carnevale,” I offered.

“That makes sense,” winked Patrick.

We started with a long Mimmo’s cannoli ($5; mimmos.biz; 619-239-3710). It was minimal on powdered sugar, generous with chocolate chips. The filling smelled and tasted of cinnamon.

“The filling is so spicy that it’s brownish,” noticed Patrick. “It’s ruins the cheesy goodness.”

Frank pointed out the whiter color of Buon Appetito’s cannoli ($6.75; buonappetito.signonsandiego.com; 619-238-9880). “A lacing through of chocolate chips rather than a dumping of them on the ends. And a nice drizzle of chocolate.”

“But the texture is too much like buttercream frosting,” Patrick countered. “I’d love to buy a pint of this and frost a cake.”

“A little gluey, and too much vanilla — it leaves you with an alcohol burn,” noticed Bernice. “But the shell has that homemade waffle lightness.”

“This is the fatty,” exclaimed Frank, pulling out the wide Café Zucchero cannoli ($3.50; cafezucchero.com; 619-531-1731).

“Quite a dark shell.” Bernice nibbled a corner of it and winced. “Oh...burnt. Tastes like it was cooked in old oil.”

“Makes me think of gingerbread,” added Frank.

“That’s odd — the lady at the counter said they make these every three hours,” said Patrick. “Maybe just a bad batch?”

We hit a winner with Filippi’s cannoli ($3.99; realcheesepizza.com; 619-232-5094). The desserts came with chopped almonds sprinkled on the ends.

“The shell gives way to the filling and doesn’t taste like a cookie,” said Bernie.

“The experience often gets heavy too quickly with cannoli,” said Patrick. “This is light yet has some complex texture.”

Pappalecco’s cannoli ($4.75) came with a smear of hazelnut chocolate on top (pappalecco.com; 619-238-4590).

“Soupy filling, very cheesy with pleasant citrus,” noted Bernice.

“The shell has the texture of a stale graham cracker...too soft,” I said. “And the chocolate on top overpowers the filling.”

“This one is overpoweringly sweet,” said Patrick, holding up a Mona Lisa cannoli ($3.50; monalisalittleitaly.com; 619-234-4893).

“The filling is the texture of cream of wheat,” grimaced Bernice.

“I’m thinking more Cadbury Creme Egg filling,” countered Patrick.

“Too sweet. Hand me my insulin,” joked Frank.

Bencotto (lovebencotto.com; 619-450-4786) sells Tris Cannoli ($8), three mini cannoli in chocolate chip, pistachio, and espresso flavors.

“What, is it St. Patty’s Day?” joked Patrick, holding up the bright green pistachio dessert.

“A tiny bit of tang, nice and light. I love the pistachio,” said Bernice. “The espresso one, however, is too overpowering in coffee flavor; you can’t taste the cheese.”

“The shells are too bland, like a baby biscuit,” noticed Patrick. “I can understand going a little bland with the shell when there is so much flavor in the filling, but not this bland.”

Po Pazzo (popazzo.com; 619-238-1917) won the plate presentation award for the evening. Fresh blueberries, raspberries, and mint leaves were scattered around the cannoli ($7).

“This is just a little bit crazy,” laughed Patrick (po pazzo means “a little crazy”). “The crust is as hard as a baseball bat.”

“And it suffers from filling that tastes like icing, not filling,” added Bernice.

Petrini’s (petrinisitalian.com; 619-595-0322) lost the plate presentation award ($4.75 per cannoli). Maraschino cherries colored the filling a disconcerting pink.

“Somehow this filling is both grainy and runny,” complained Patrick.

Bernice agreed. “Curdled cottage cheese texture, and gritty.”

Last up: Caffe Italia (caffeitalialittleitaly.com; 619-234-6767). Shaved almonds covered the ends of the cannoli ($3.95). The shell was completely covered in chocolate, inside and out.

“The way I like everything,” I said.

“But why, after dipping the entire shell in chocolate would you add chocolate chips to the filling?” Patrick asked. “Chocolate is all you can taste.”

“‘Cannoli reinvented,’ you could call it,” Frank replied.

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