My Favorite Restaurant in the World – Leivi, Italy / 02.11.12

Imagine sitting inside a gourmet Italian chef’s home with the chef himself greeting and welcoming you into his home. Imagine slowly savoring the first of over 10 courses (counting drinks)in a set meal, which is beautifully and simply local olives soaked in herbs and olive oil, while sipping on local wine that has no lable with enough for nearly one bottle per person by the end of the meal. Then, Liquors following the meal that you pour yourself. Finally, imagine on top of all of this, taking in a breath-taking view down a beautiful valley of olive tree groves and medieval churches to the Mediterranen Sea, where on a clear day, one can see the island of Corsica in the distance. Price for everything: only 30 Euro a person.

IMG_6931 Leivi, Italy - The view from Ristorante San Rufino, my favorite restaurant in the world, over the Mediterranean Sea.

I have discovered that one unexpected challenge of extensive living and traveling abroad is that one’s favorite “whatever” is usually thousands of miles away across a sea from where ever one is at any given moment. For example, my favorite dance club is in Mombassa Kenya, my favorite 2 hour get away bike ride is in the western mountains of Beijing, and my favorite restaurant in the world is in northwestern Italy. Of course it is an enormous blessing to have this kind of “rich person” problem. Nonetheless, I rarely get to re-visit these favorite places. This bicycle expedition has allowed me to re-visit one for my third time: My Favorite Restaurant in the World: Ristorante San Rufino in Leivi, Italy (take the west coast train to Chiavari,the larger coastal town).

IMG_6917 Leivi, Italy - At Ristorante San Rufino, my favorite restaurant in the world

Why is it my favorite? The food ofcourse! I am known among my friends as a big, no, HUGE eater (especially when biking 70km a day). My high school friend, Kevin, LOVES telling the story of how I wiped out a whole pan of lasagna on my own at a church retreat in 10th grade because I was obsessed with not wasteing food (true story by the way). In college I often mixed things on my plate because I ate to live instead of living to eat. Despite this emphasis on quantity over quality, believe it or not I DO know and appreciate quality when I eat it. Amazingly, Luigi’s Ristorante San Rufino has both the highest quality AND abundant quantity (through many small portions)! Perfect!

IMG_6919 Leivi, Italy - Amazing ravioli in walnut sauce At Ristorante San Rufino, my favorite restaurant in the world
Amazing ravioli in walnut sauce

But the best part of the whole experience is Luigi and his wife Barbara themselves.

IMG_6924 Leivi, Italy - At Ristorante San Rufino, my favorite restaurant in the world, with owner and chef, Luigi! He is extremely warm hearted.

The first time I visited Ristorante San Rufino in 2002 with high school friends Brian and Sunia (after studying abroad in Germany where I had heard about it from my 2nd host father in a second city I’d arranged)I was struck by the manner in which Chef Luigi served each course. He brought around a family size platter of each course and carefully and gently served a portion on each of our plates. The way he handled the food gave me the strong impression that it was a real culinary masterpiece. On all of my visits, I have been moved by the related love and kindness that radiate from Luigi. Although he only speaks Italian, his wife and partner chef, Barbara, speaks German and a bit of English. As it turns out, this was my first time meeting Barbara. It was so great to actually be able to communicate with Luigi beyond telling him thank you and how good his masterpieces tasted.

On the evening at San Rufino this time, our gracious host, Micky, offered to drive us the 10km up the mountain from Chiavari to the small village of Leivi where the restaurant actually is.

IMG_0357 Italy, Chiavari - cooking dinner for our host, Micky and his parents, in nice and cozy kitchen in his sweet attic apartment. Menu: Curry soup, Chicken masala, rice, and Tori's famous homemade nan.
With Micky, our host, and his parents outside their family apartment building and olive grove in Chiavari, Italy

Since I still wanted to get photos with my bike there, Lindsey and I biked up the next afternoon.


Luigi heard us taking photos by his sign, and called up to me by name. Embarraced that he had caught us, he then motioned for us to follow him into the restaurant part of his house. Luigi offered us wine, coffee, and the amazing Italian liquor, lemonchello, not has choices but he gave us each one! He also gave us a bag of chocolate candies. After getting Barbra, we wound up talking with them for over an hour. Absolutely amazing and humbling hospitality. THANK YOU!

IMG_6938 Leivi, Italy - Ristorante San Rufino - Luigi warmly welcomed Lindsey and I in for wine,coffee, and lemonchello when he heard us taking photos with our bikes by his sign the day after we ate there.  All for free and with a 1hr chat.  He was deeply

It was wonderful to finally communicate with Luigi after so many years of remembering his restaurant. He was eager to tell us about his grandfather, who had gone to California in the late 1800’s to work as a farmer and launderer near San Francisco. He saved up money and returned to Italy to purchase the small olive farm Luigi’s home and restaurant now sit on. Luigi has never been to the US but really wants to visit San Francisco. I told him he is always welcome. They now have two kids, new since my last visit in 2004 with my great college friend, Dusty. They explained how they had deliberately decided to live in the countryside even though that meant Barbara had to give up working in government in Genova 45min away by car. They said their kids are maybe missing some of the benefits of city living, but the benefits of growing up in the countryside outweighed them.

IMG_6947 Leivi, Italy - At Ristorante San Rufino, my favorite restaurant in the world, with owners and chefs, Luigi and Barbara and their daughter.  Luigi graciously invited Lindsey and I back in when we biked up the following day for photos with our bike
With Luigi, Barbara, and their daughter

IMG_6948 Leivi, Italy - At Ristorante San Rufino, my favorite restaurant in the world, with owner and chef, Luigi!  What a great view he has.  He told me his grandfather went to California via San Fransico in the late 1800s to work as a farmer to save up
With Luigi on his patio with a beautiful view over the valley

I told them that I was worried that their restaurant was going to be closed. When I had last visited with Dusty, I had noticed many campaign signs with Luigi’s photo on them. I was worried that if he had been elected to public office, he would close his ristorante. Barbara told me that indeed Luigi had ran and won, serving as the mayor of Leivi for over four years. Thankfully for me and countless other guests, Luigi and Barbra had continued to run their ristorante.

Italy My favorite restaurant in the world's sign with dusty &
With Dusty on my 2nd visit to San Rufino in 2004

I’m not sure when I’ll make it back to San Rufino, but I know I will. It’s my Favorite Restaurant in the World after all.


P.S. If you happen to be interested in going yourself, be sure to call at least a day beforehand to make reservations. The Chiavari office of tourism can help.

« Previous Post: FBR Status Update

Next Post: Greece! »

Leave a Comment...