Cinque Terre + Portofino Restaurants
19 Via Volastra
Groppo di Manarola , Manarola
Tel: 39 01 8792 0563
The hamlet of Groppo is just a scatter of houses high up on the hill behind Manarola, but it's here, in two rooms of a converted private house, that you'll find the best restaurant in the Cinque Terre. Chef Maurizio Bordoni is passionate about the local peasant cuisine, which has always been equally balanced between land and sea. This is reflected in the binary menu, which offers two routes through the meal: The menu di terra might kick off with a humble but delicious focaccina, sprinkled with grains of sea salt and filled with local testa in cassetta salame and red pepper purée, and continue with stuffed leg of rabbit in pine-nut and lemon sauce. The menu di mare offers a fishy selection, which almost always features the dish that gives the restaurant its name: Cappun Magru, a rococo assemblage of pesce cappone (a type of gurnard), ship's biscuits, steamed vegetables, broccoli pesto, oysters, mussels, and clams. In each case you pay a fixed price (around $50 for the land menu and $60 for the sea version) and generally get two choices for each of the three courses. Bordoni's German wife, Christine, who takes your order, is a trained sommelier: Ask her to recommend a bottle from their good selection of smaller local producers. If you don't have a car, you'll need to get a taxi from Riomaggiore or La Spezia.
Open Wednesdays through Saturdays for dinner only, Sundays for lunch and dinner.
1 Via Vincenzo Gioberti
Monterosso al Mare
Tel: 39 01 8781 8333
Focaccia, the less doughy Genoese form of pizza, is the staple local snack. Just about every village has a bakery or focacceria where you can buy slabs of the stuff with various toppings, but this Monterosso takeaway establishment, on a side street just off the main drag, is one of the best. Top toppings include tomato and pesto or anchovies and capers, and the turnover is so rapid that you'll generally be eating it fresh out of the oven. They also do a couple of other specialties, like torta di riso salato (a rice, egg, and cheese bake) and, in winter and early spring, a knockout castagnaccio (classic Ligurian chestnut-flour pizza with pine nuts and golden raisins).
Open daily 9 am to 1 pm and 4 to 8 pm.
7 Piazza Marconi
Tel: 39 01 8781 2265
Right above Vernazza's small beach, next to the colorful fishing boats pulled up onto the slipway, this is one of the very few Cinque Terre waterside restaurants to maintain high culinary standards despite the tourist onslaught. The seafood practically lands on your plate from the sea and is prepared with a minimum of fuss in antipasti like moscardini (baby octopus) with crostini, or the marvelous paccheri al Gambero Rossoshort pasta tubes cooked al dente and dressed with a sauce of red mullet, herbs, and spices. Service is efficient, without the smarmy edge that mars not a few Cinque Terre dining experiences. It's not the cheapest meal on the coast, but it's a reliable option if you feel like splurging.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays noon to 3 pm and 7 to 10 pm.
2 Località Beo
Monterosso al Mare
Tel: 39 01 8781 7829
In the hills above Monterosso stands this utterly charming country restaurant (they'll even send a minibus down to pick you up if you book ahead). Eat on the chestnut tree-shaded terrace and watch the paragliders circling above the slopes that descend from here to the sea. The menu is classic Ligurian: trofie (short pasta twists) are served in an herb-rich swordfish and tomato sauce from a huge casserole. Anchovies in various guisesperhaps fried in bread crumbs, or stuffed with cheese and herbstake a starring role among the secondi, which also include coniglio à la cacciatora (hunter-style rabbit stewed in wine.) The house wine is a little on the rustic side, but there are plenty of bottles to choose from if you want something more refined. Finish up with a homemade mandarin liqueur. Service is extremely affable, but you'll have a more rewarding experience here if you speak a little Italian, as the servers' English is pretty limited.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.
126 Via Molfino
San Rocco di Camogli
Tel: 39 01 8577 3835
In such a dramatically perched village you'd expect a panoramic terrace, but apart from a handful of tables near the entrance, "Grandma Nina's Kitchen" is all inside, on the second floor of a typically sober Ligurian house. The approach is so local that the seasonal menu is written in Camogli dialecta challenge even for most Italian speakers. But the attentive owner-host will talk you through the day's highlights in regular Italian or halting English. Starters include a delicate torta rustica di verduresteamed and spiced bietola (Swiss chard), chopped up fine and encased between two thin layers of phyllo pastry. Follow up with a generous plate of tagliolini with branzino (bream) and artichokesthey don't skimp on portions here. If you still have room, try a classic Genoese secondo like buga in carpionea bogue (a small fish with the improbable Latin name Boops boops) that is marinated in vinegar and oil and then fried. If you're planning to walk back to Portofino over the mountain (it's actually a fairly easy 90-minute trek), you may also want to sample their delicious homemade cakes.
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays.
51 Via Bighetti
Tel: 39 01 8530 1063
When you've had your fill of Portofino's yachty elitism, head for the historic town of Chiavari, around 20 minutes away by train. Chiavari rivals Bologna as Italy's arcade town: Most of the lanes in the centro storico are lined with ancient porticoes, and underneath one of them you'll find this buzzing canteen of a place, which has been going strong since 1907. Luchin's specialty is farinata: Liguria's classic chickpea-flour bake, a sort of wheatless pizza (it looks a bit like a burnt coconut pie). Grab a seat at one of the communal tables and watch the farinata being cooked in the huge wood-fired oven. Other local dishes on the menu include burrida di seppie (a filling cuttlefish and potato stew) and baccalà al forno (salt cod baked with tomatoes). Service is unrefined but friendly, and there's a surprisingly good wine selection. Luchin doesn't generally take bookings, but the turnover of tables is rapid.
Open Mondays through Saturdays.
117 Via Fieschi
Tel: 39 01 8782 1166
Aloof on its rocky spur and lacking a port, Corniglia feels less touristy and more authentically Ligurian than the other four Cinque Terre villages. Its more rustic, inland spirit is summed up in this cave of wonders halfway up the narrow main street, where gruff but simpatico owner-chef Agostino Galletti presides. The day's menu is scrawled on a series of blackboards inside the stone-walled main dining room. Pasta dishes might include tagliolini with mixed seafood, or the classic pansotti (spinach-and-ricotta-filled ravioli) in walnut sauce; follow up with a perfectly grilled fish of the day or the rabbit baked with olives and thyme. Galletti's English is pretty limited, but the effort to communicate tends to encourage a communal atmosphere, and by the end of the meal everyone is swapping Cinque Terre tips and anecdotes. Booking is essential, especially in high season.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 1 to 3 pm and 8 to 9:30 pm.
5 Piazza Martiri dell'Olivetta
Tel: 39 01 8526 9037
If you want to hang with the Portofino smart set, book a table chez Puny, the most classic and chichi of the harborside restaurants, with its refined marine decor (including a cool raffia-seated version of Gio Ponti's iconic Superleggera chair). You probably won't recognize most of the VIPs who pack in here on summer evenings, as few of these captains of industry, Roman aristos, and small-time Milanese TV celebs have achieved international fame, but the people-we-know vibe is unmistakable and makes for an entertaining meal. As for the food, it's standard Ligurian fishy fare; competent but unchallenging. On our last visit, the warm octopus and artichoke salad was good, fresh, and herby, but the main-course gilthead bream baked with potatoes and olives was rather too doused in oil. Still, the faithful, well-heeled clientele comes here for '60s-style comfort food, not nouvelle cuisine. And the lemon and wild strawberry sorbet is delicious. Book well ahead or trust in fate: There are times when even the concierge at the Splendido can't guarantee you a table.
Open Fridays through Wednesdays 12:30 to 2 pm and 7:30 to 10:30 pm.
1 Piazza Cavour
Tel: 39 01 8780 8497
In a corner of Levanto's main square, a couple of blocks back from the sea, this local institution is always full of regulars. Angle for an alfresco table on the veranda, which functions year-round (in winter, overhead braziers take the edge off the chill). Best advice is to follow the suggestions of the owner's son Matteo, whose surliness is only skin-deep. The day's offerings might include an antipasto of salted anchovies with roast yellow peppers, or a primo of taglierini neri (thin pasta ribbons dyed black with squid ink) in seafood sauce. In autumn, don't miss the scaloppina (veal cutlet) with mushrooms; the mixed fish grill (for a minimum of two) is another flagship dish. The house white wine is excellent, but there are plenty of other options. Wrap up with a refreshing lemon sorbet. If you're coming for dinner be aware that the kitchen starts to wind down around 9:30 pm.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.