The Best Portovenere Restaurant not in Portovenere

A Ligurian Seafood Restaurant to Remember. 

In the little port of Le Grazie, a part of Historic Portovenere near Cinque Terre.

Antipasti misti di mare at Il Gambero Restaurant, Le Grazie, Portovenere
The Antipasti misti di mare at Il Gambero in the little port of Le Grazie, Portovenere, Liguria. 
Italy is famous for wonderful seafood, and Liguria is one of the absolute best places to find a great variety of fresh fish and shellfish.  The puzzle is finding a restaurant that adds unique flavors and textures to your lovely dinner while remaining affordable.  Thanks to the advice of our friend Julie-of-Perpetual-Travel, we recently enjoyed a real winner, and after a couple of visits, we know Il Gambero is going to be a regular on our restaurant rotation.

Il Gambero restaurant, Le Grazie, Portovenere
The Il Gambero dining room is cozy and welcoming.
Il Gambero is in a frazione of the town of Portovenere called Le Grazie – and it is truly graceful as the name implies.  The little port is well back on the peninsula from the ancient city of Porto Venere*  so that the driving and parking are not a major problem. Our Story: Portovenere Travel Guide.

Le Grazie is situated on a small harbor with a nice walk along its perimeter.  The restaurant is on the harbor road, right across from the water, and it’s rather small so reservations are a very good idea. There are two dining rooms inside, and half dozen tables outside. The staff is wonderfully friendly - you'll relax in a second.

Tagliolini, truffle and shrimp, Il Gambero, Le Grazie, Portovenere
Tagliolini, truffles and true "Giant Shrimp".
If you decide to start with the Antipasti misti di mare, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. What a variety!  There’s a warm caponata in the center of the plate, with little chunks of fish in it; the best carpaccio of tuna you’re likely to find; little polenta-based fish sticks; a skewer of cornmeal-coated fried mussels, and another of zucchini; light seafood foam in a scallop shell, and a silky smoked salmon, all light and tasty. Sharing a portion with a (polite) companion is no problem: uno per due.

Fish and lobster ravioli in lemon sauce, Il Gambero, Le Grazie, Portovenere
An amazing lemon sauce is perfect with a special Ravioli.
The menu offers several really admirable pasta plates, and it will be hard to choose - and don’t forget to ask about the daily specials, which also look spectacular. The dish we will never forget is the fish and lobster ravioli in lemon sauce.  For the first time ever, we could distinctly taste both the fish and  the lobster in the ravioli filling, and the sauce is perfect with it, making the more common fresh tomato treatment look rather pedestrian.  When we asked about the unusual lemon sauce, the chef explained – it’s simple, just put special cream (40%), in a special pan (high sides that heat evenly), add olive oil just so, grate some lemon peel in to it, boil up, season with salt and pepper, and add the ravioli along with some cooking water.  So all you need are the right ingredients in the right quantity and the right tools, and, she says smiling, it’s kind of hard to do at home.  Okay, just get it here, then.

Another winner pasta on the Fall menu was Tagliolini con gamberi e tartufo nero, fresh pasta topped with a generous heap of truffle, surrounded by three gamberi that prove that the term "giant shrimp" is not necessarily an oxymoron.

Grilled Octopus and Shrimp , Il Gambero, Le Grazie, Portovenere
All the flavor, none of the burn.Octopus & shrimp skewers.
Secondi piatti are a real value, and a real revelation.  The Orata in crosta di patate e lardo di Colonnata was irresistible.  The light fish was covered in a blanket of thinly sliced potato slices that were crisped to a lovely brown on the edges and covered with a delicate layer of lardo, and the combination of flavors was fabulous.  But the Spiedino di polpo e gamberi was even better, two skewers with large pieces of tender octopus and an enormous grilled shrimp, accompanied by grilled polenta with a layer of ham and served on a bed of mixed lettuces.  How do they get such a wonderful grilled flavor without burning the food?  It’s like a miracle of taste.

Most people left room for dessert, which certainly looked delicious, but - typical - we can only mention that the coffee is excellent.

In Spring, 2015 the cost of a terrific lunch of one antipasto, one pasta dish, two fish dishes, a half liter of the very good house white wine, and coffee was 63 Euro.

Ristorante Il Gambero
Via Della della Liberta 143, Le Grazie, Portovenere, Liguria 
Phone 0187-798023      Il Gambero Website  E-mail:

* Write it as you will. It means the port of Venus after a Roman shrine to that Goddess. The Comune uses the Roman version, Porto Venere. Other Italian sources, including the Region of Liguria, use Portovenere.

Written by Martha