Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant
1620 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo

My late, beloved, proudly Sicilian mother-in-law Connie, who knew something about good Italian cooking, always said you can tell a good Italian restaurant by its bread.

“If the bread’s no good, forget it!” she’d declare, in a voice loud enough for any kitchen staff to hear.

The bread at Ottavio’s — and the rest of the menu — stood up to Connie’s test, as it has to diners aplenty (Sicilian and otherwise) for the last 50 years. Founded by native Sicilian Ottavio Belvedere and his wife, Noella, the restaurant is not simply a favorite restaurant but a beloved institution in Old Town Camarillo. 

Since 1978, Ottavio’s has been located at 1620 Ventura Blvd., a few blocks west of its original site, where it continues to build a loyal clientele by blending the right amount of tradition, consistency and flexibility that follows in the footsteps of Ottavio (who died 12 years ago) and Noella (now retired). 

“Our success comes from being relevant and keeping up with the times while offering consistently good food and service,” smiles Julie Belvedere-Thomason, the oldest of

Hot-from-the-oven bread rolls. Photo courtesy of Ottavio’s

Ottavio and Noella’s three children. 

Having started working for her parents’ restaurant as a hostess (at age 10), Julie now runs the popular restaurant with her brother, Lenny (who began busing tables at age seven), her husband, Greg (the restaurant’s first waiter) and Lenny’s wife, Kara (who handles Ottavio’s catering service). 

Four generations of Belvederes, in fact, have worked at Ottavio’s, which takes pride in its friendly and experienced wait staff, classy but not uppity decor, a pleasant selection of musical standards (think Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Carmen McRae and more) and satisfying pastas and entrees mixed with innovative specials — all at amazingly reasonable prices.

It starts with the big, fluffy, hot-from-the-oven rolls and continues with tempting appetizers such as Carciofina al Formaggio, baby artichokes baked with white wine, garlic and parmesan cheese. 

The extensive (but not overwhelming) menu offers pasta favorites (with vegan and gluten-free options available), generously ladled with Ottavio Belvedere’s original marinara or meat sauce, and entrees ranging from chicken and eggplant parmesan to flat-iron steak and shrimp scampi.

On a recent weekend, my family enjoyed both old favorites and new pleasures. The latter included Pollo e Ripieno, chicken breast stuffed with Italian bread crumbs, currants, pine nuts, provolone and Italian herbs and baked in a Marsala wine sauce. My wife found the combination both interesting and delicious, especially accompanied by mixed vegetables.

From the regular menu, my Veal Piccata con Limone was fork-tender with a light lemony sauce and capers that enhanced the veal. Our son’s Tortellini Silvana — a heavenly plateful of cheese-filled tortellini tossed with sautéed chicken, fresh spinach, basil and a sun-dried tomato cream sauce — was ample enough to provide lunch the next day.

Lunch and dinner entrees are accompanied by a side of spaghetti, sauteed or steamed vegetables and soup or green salad. (Our son, a minestrone connoisseur, has ordered the thick, hearty Italian vegetable soup so often the waiters rarely have to ask, “Soup or

Minestrone soup. Photo courtesy of Ottavio’s

salad?”). There is also a nice array of Italian sandwiches, pizza and seafood, as well as an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet daily with an extensive salad bar.

The tiramisu and cannoli, as befitting good Italian desserts, are light and not too sweet. But our family prefers Ottavio’s spumoni, ice cream jammed full of mini-chocolate chips and candied fruits — by far the best we’ve ever had.

The nicely appointed bar and separate dining rooms will next year be joined by an Italian deli and bakery with its own dining patio, designed to serve an on-the-go lunch clientele, and offering wine, olive oil and more imported from Italy.