Food Along the Cinque Terre
I have read every post I could locate about the Cinque Terre. I will be traveling with my family from Tuscany to the Riviera and decided to take an overnight along the Cinque Terre. I would love to stay in a town to dine at a special restaurant. In all of the posts I have seen general good restaurants but nothing special.
We travel to Italy regularly (once a year) and prefer great meals rather than the fanciest meals. My favorites are the special "locals only" restaurants and Tratorias. My wife speaks fluently and I speak enough to order my food and vino.
If anyone has a recomendation, let me know.
We just returned from 3 days in Vernazza. Our favorite place wouldn't qualify as "locals only", but it was very delicious, and one of our favorite places on the 3 week trip, so you can decide. It is easy to get to from the train station, just walk up the street away from the water. The street follows a little stream. The restaurant is Il Pirate, or Pirates Cove, or three Pirates depending on who you ask. I actually don't remember seeing a sign, but I'm sure there was one. It is a smallish very simple place, belonging to twin brothers from Sicily. The mixed seafood platter was unforgettable, as was the pesto lasagna and the bolognese sauce sent our friend into food stomping table slapping joy. Their cannolis were also the best I've ever had, ever.
We had dinner there one evening, and saw the nice couple we'd met who had recommended it to us, then the next morning the breakfast crowd was basically the same bunch of people, so everybody waved at each other. pleasant and kind of funny.
We weren't all that impressed with the food at the restaurant up at the castle. Great view, but not as good seafood as the Sicilians.
They also told us they have rooms for rent. We stayed down in the town right next to the Gelateria by the water. (it is good too!)
PS: I've often heard good things about the agriturismo Villa Gnocchi in San Lorenzo della Costa (just above Santa Margherita Ligure) but I'm not sure if it is always possible to eat dinner there. But it might be done for you on request.
If dining isn't possible there, La Cucina di Nonna Nina is a 5-minute drive, Recco is 15 minutes, etc. There is also a perfectly nice trattoria right in San Lorenzo della Costa, whose name escapes me, but it's something about friends -- Amici?
Ah, you mentioned Recco! The famous focaccia col formaggio di Recco! Each time we drive back to Italy (we are in Spain) we ALWAYS make a stop here (usually at Manuelina's) for some focaccia col formaggio...just thinking of it now makes me salivate! This is a real "chowhound" trip.
Yes, well, I hesitated to direct bmohen to stay in Recco because it is one of the very least scenic towns in the Riviera Levante (it was bombed by the British in WWII). But if food is the priority, I believe Manuelina's may have rooms. If not, try Da O Vittoria (also has a restaurant) or for simple lodgings without a restaurant, Hotel Elena. (Although there is a good trattoria next door to the Elena, Ai Pesce Vivi.) Recco is a five-minute car trip from Camogli, so one can stay there as well, and if you don't mind stretches of stairs, you can use the trains rather than drive between the towns.
Because Recco is considered a destination for Genovese and MIlanese foodies, many of its restaurants are mildly fancy. They are not countryside trattorie. At the same time, Recco is at the sea, so the ambience is relaxed and unpretentious.
(Just as a side note, while I love foccacie, I personally don't happen to like foccacia al formaggio, although it is fun to watch it being made. Many of the restaurants have open kitchens.)
I mainly live in Liguria (Camogli) and part of your problem is that there are almost no "locals" left in the five towns. They cashed in on their real estate and moved elsewhere. The towns are so overrun with tourists I actually avoid going there, even just to walk around, so I can only give general advice.
As someone pointed out in another thread about Venezia, good food and good views usually don't converge In Italia. The most enjoyable restaurants are often in the Ligurian entroterra -- deep in the hills, where an owner really has to cook well to draw a crowd. The Italian Touring Club Guide is a fairly reliable guide to finding these restaurants. Also, some of the less scenic towns along the coast -- such as La Spezia or Recco -- are known for their good food and regional specialites.
I have also found living in Italia that anytime you are willing to walk up hill, you will leave the tourists behind. The only time I visited Cinque Terre, I escaped the crowds by walking up hill in Manarola (to my eye, the least touristy of the towns) and there is a wine cooperative/social club up there by the church. I bet the locals up there have some ideas where to eat.
If your wife speaks fluent Italian, she should be able to ferret out some recommendations
Finally, if your plans are not set in stone, take your overnight someplace other than le Cinque Terre. When you say you are going "from Tuscany to the Riviera," is the French Riviera your final destination?
You might consider staying in Camogli and eating at La Cucina di Nonna Nina in San Rocco di Camogli, a little village perched high on the hill above the sea.
If you would like simple lodgings near the restaurant, you might enjoy this:
Othewise, there is a range of hotels in Camogli itself, by the sea. If you are staying in Camogli proper, Da Paolo is also a good choice.
Between Genova and the French border, another fine choice is San Giorgio in Cervo, which also lets some rooms above the restaurant, but there are a few other lodgings in town as well. Stick to ordering the most seasonal dishes. This is one restaurant that breaks the "view" rule. The view is lovely. The feeling can be a bit fancy.
Another possibility is to stop short of le Cinque Terre in the very pretty hilltown, Castelnuovo di Magra, overlooking the Versilian plain and distant sea. It has two restaurants of note, Armanda and Ristorante Vallecchia, (the latter is actually above the town in a tiny frazione of the main town).
I also agree Portovenere is a lovely, lovely town (and it has boats to le Cinque Terre) but I've never eaten there, and it is dominated by daytrippers from outside Liguria.
But to ferret out the best place to stay to get the best food to eat, a combination of Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler (he has lived in Liguria) and the Italian Touring Club Guide can zero you into the right place:
I will also be in this area, in September. Summer, can you tell us anything about U Giancu, near Rapallo? I have heard good things about this restaurant, as well as about La Brinca, in Ne.
(We will be based in Camogli and in SML for a total of 6 nights).
There are several SlowFood picks in the CT, including Il Ciliegio, in Monterosso.
Once I gave up my car, I gave up the ability to get to the places you mentioned -- and when I have a car, I tend to use it to go outside of the area. I think I'm most curious about Ne. I don't know anything about the food at U Giancu, but I do know that the chef or owner is also a satirical cartoonist.
I've been to Cinque Terre 3 times now (my husband is Italian) and I've always found it difficult to find a place to eat there that isn't too touristy...not that I've eaten badly there...just nothing special. However, there is one little area that always seemed like it had the best choice of restaurants (2 in particular) and has remained fixed in my mind as the place I'd like to try, when we go back. The town is called Portovenere...although it's not technically considered part of the 5 Terre, it's actually very beautiful and is a UNESCO heritage site. It's located at the very tip of land between Riomaggiore & La Spezia. Definitely worth seeking out.
Anyway, if you do happen to be there in time for lunch or dinner (we weren't) avoid the restaurants along the waterfront & head one street up & inland running parallel with the lungomare...it's called Via Cappellini...and there are 2 seemingly very good - not too touristy restaurants: Antica Osteria del Carugio (www.anticaosteriadelcarugio.com) and L'Osteria Baracco (www.osteriabaracco.it).
I realise this isn't exactly a proper recommendation, since I haven't actually eaten at the restaurants...but they smelled good & were full of locals...which is usually a good sign. I did, however, pick up some yummy focaccia with pesto at the focacciaria on the same street for a snack...and there is a cool shop there selling local Ligurian olive oil & products...giving free tastes! Hope this helps & have a fun trip!