Kensington Restaurants San Diego

  • Kesington is a small town in a big city.
  • Image by Frank Colosi Photography

By Barbarella Fokos, Jan. 11, 2017

Dino the dachshund and a Chihuahua/Brittany spaniel mix named Olivia walk through Kensington on a cool, clear afternoon. Behind them ambles Peter LaMontia. The trio head for Village Vino. Every one of Kensington’s restaurants features sidewalk seating. Village Vino is LaMontia’s favorite, partly for their happy hour but also because its situation on the corner of Adams Avenue and Kensington Drive places Peter and pooches in the heart of town. Dino and Olivia tangle their retractable leashes among the chair legs while LaMontia sits at his favorite table, sips wine in the golden light, and chats with neighbors passing by.

Kensington is a small town in a big city. The entire neighborhood is one big cul-de-sac, an engineered refuge that keeps traffic at bay to the benefit of children at play. The eastern end of Adams Avenue, after it crosses I-15, runs through the town’s quaint business district, and it’s the only way in and out (if you don’t count the meandering Marlborough Drive, which eventually leads south to El Cajon Boulevard from its northern terminus on a cliff overlooking Mission Valley). Along Adams in the center of a town that spans five blocks, one can find nearly a dozen restaurants, a library, a park with a playground, a bank, a couple of salons, an organic grocer, a small gym, a deli and liquor store, an ice-cream parlor, a classic one-screen cinema, and a nightclub that is a destination for cheap drinks, live music, and stand-up comedy.

The business district may be the heart of the neighborhood, but it’s Kensington’s residents that keep it beating. LaMontia, a 61-year-old sales manager, lives in Kensington Heights, closer to the canyon than Adams Avenue. Originally from Brooklyn, LaMontia moved from Oceanside to Kensington 30 years ago. “I said, ‘Oh my God, this is like a real neighborhood, ” he tells me as we sip white wine in his backyard, an expansive space designed to look like an Italian piazza: the ground is laid with terra cotta tiles; the trees are Italian Cypress, olive, fig, and lemon; grape vines and wisteria drip from a pergola, and butterflies flit between potted geraniums and lavender; the silence is broken only by the occasional chirp from a nearby sparrow and the steady trickle of water in two fountains.

When asked to elaborate on what makes the neighborhood “real, ” LaMontia says, “People walk their dogs, they say hello, they watch out — they’re not nosy, they keep a little to themselves, but they still watch out.”

LaMontia explains that he has watched out for a woman who lives alone — on some occasions, when he notices her garage door is still open as it begins to get dark, he will call or text to remind her to close it. He is convinced that Kensington is the only “real” neighborhood in San Diego. “Go to Hillcrest, Mission Hills, or North Park, you’ll see, ” he says.

LaMontia recently went on an excursion with his partner Juan to test his hypothesis. They went to other neighborhoods looking for people who were walking their dogs. “They just walk the dog, ” he reports, noting that the dog-walkers he observed elsewhere did not greet the people they passed on the sidewalk.

“There’s little interaction with others, because those communities are so much bigger.”

Though he’s come to love his neighborhood for its sense of community, it was its appearance, namely the style of the original Kensington homes (some dating back to the 1920s), that first caught LaMontia’s eye. The homes were mostly Spanish colonial, with red tile roofs and white stucco walls thick enough to hold the heavy tiles. This style was enforced for 50 years by a local supervisory architectural board. After settling in to his current Kensington home (his first was south of Adams Avenue, or what he refers to as “Baja Kensington”), LaMontia took a trip to Italy. The character of the houses, with the stucco and tiled roofs, reminded him of Kensington, save for one major difference: there, the houses were not white.

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