Born in Northern Italy, maestro pizzaiolo Fabrizio Cercatore often made over 200 pizzas in less than two hours each day at his restaurant La Tavernetta, which he ran for 14 years in the town of La Spezia. Today he makes pizza at Hot Italian in both Sacramento and Emeryville, California, but he regularly returns to Northern Italy for inspiration. “You can closely recreate Italian dishes with Californian ingredients and produce, but there is something magical about the same products fresh in Italy,” he says. “Good food is a way of life in Italy. Farmer’s markets are an every day occurrence in every town. Italian’s buy groceries on a daily basis: fresh fruit, fish, cheese, and meat.” Cercatore says one of the things he misses most about Italy is the lifestyle. “To me, it seems here in the States, everything runs on a faster clock than in Italy.” Cercatore regularly returns to Northern Italy when he needs to slow down and seek a little culinary inspiration. Here, he shares his favorite spots in and around his hometown.

La Tavernetta, La Spezia
“La Tavernetta is a Tuscan-style trattoria and pizzeria that I still own with my sister, located near Cinque Terre. The atmosphere is casual and fun. You can eat the typical dishes from Tuscany and Liguria, like cima alla Genovese (stuffed veal breast), spaghetti alle cozze (spaghetti with mussels), and panigacci (Ligurian flatbread). You can also find 70 different kinds of pizza and farinata (a thin chickpea pancake). Most of the recipes for Hot Italian were created here. My favorite dish from La Tavernetta’s menu is called trofie al pesto, which consists of handmade pasta served with basil pesto. The pesto is made fresh daily using local basil, which in my opinion has less mint flavor. It’s served with rich ricotta cheese from Val di Vara, a beautiful valley in Liguria.”
Via Fiume 57 La Spezia, 39/0187-704147,

Marina Piccola, Manarola
“Manarola is one of the oldest towns in Cinque Terre and this restaurant is located at the end of the Manarola Marina. The atmosphere is enchanting. The restaurant has an amazing outdoor dining veranda overlooking the marina. During the summer, after a swim, Marina Piccola is the best place to enjoy housemade spaghetti with local seafood, paired with a good glass of local wine, while enjoying the sunset over the sea.”
Via Lo Scalo 16, Manarola, 39/0187-920923,

Restaurant Gambero Rosso, Vernazza
“Gambero Rosso is located on the main central square in Vernazza. The location of the restaurant is great because it is the perfect place to capture all the energy of the village. My favorite entrée here is the stuffed mussels. They are stuffed with local meat and seasonal vegetables, with fresh anchovies for extra flavor. The mussels are then baked with potatoes and tomatoes.”
Piazza Marconi, 7, Vernazza, 39/0187-812265,

Hotel Firenze e Continentale, La Spezia
“Hotel Firenze is my favorite hotel in La Spezia for few reasons. The location is fabulous! You can walk everywhere in La Spezia and the property is a few steps from the train station to Cinque Terre. I also love the staff and the great customer service. One of the main differences from the other hotels in the area, is that you really feel at home.”
Via Pietro Paleocapa 7, La Spezia, 39/0187-713210,

Photo courtesy of Fabrizio Cercatore