Family-run Ciao Ristorante in Vista unveils dramatic transformation


After six years of planning and three years of construction, Ciao Ristorante Italiano in Vista is finally finished with its vast expansion project.

Since 2016, the popular family-owned restaurant at 2015 E. Vista Way has been undergoing a gradual expansion that has quadrupled its size from 3,000 to 12,000 square feet. Along the way, the original restaurant/bar has been supplemented with a wine bar, a second restaurant, a delicatessen, a gelateria, a bakery, a wood-fired pizza oven, a 250-seat ballroom for special events and a large paved parking lot. Still to come this spring is an outdoor patio seating area.

Ciao was opened 21 years ago by Giuseppe Di Giovanni, 69, and his Chilean-born wife, Gloria, who opened their pizzeria and pasta house in the former Cappucino’s space in 1998. Di Giovanni is a native of the Isola di Ponza, a small island off the Roman coast of Italy. When he was 19, his family moved to New York and then relocated to San Diego County, where they have operated restaurants, including Gaetano’s Italian Restaurant in Lakeside, for more than 40 years.

Giuseppe and Gloria Di Giovanni relocated to Vista in the late 1990s when they found their Ciao restaurant location and it’s where they have raised their three children, Valeria, Bianca and Giuseppe, who have all grown up working in the restaurant and its catering operation.

In its early years, the restaurant offered a simple menu of pizza, pasta and spaghetti and the family lived in a red barn behind the restaurant. Ciao became known for its large portions, its fresh-baked Italian bread, its lasagna and its tiramisu dessert.

But Valeria Di Giovanni said her father always had ambitious dreams to expand the restaurant. When the family moved out of the barn building into a new house a mile away in 2012, Valeria said her dad started making plans to use the barn space and an adjoining lot to expand Ciao into a full-service Italian culinary center.

Construction began in 2016, but Valeria said the project hit numerous delays along the way. Drainage issues on the property led to permitting problems with the city and her father’s dreams for the property kept expanding.

“He kept changing his mind about adding new things. The original blueprints look totally different from what we ended up with,” she said.

The original Ciao restaurant still stands at the north end of the property with all of the new construction stretching south along Vista Way. In the new entryway, there’s now a large market/delicatessen area that opened in February. There’s a pastry counter selling traditional Italian desserts like millefoglie and sfogliatelle and a deli offering Italian cheeses, salumi and other gourmet items by the pound, as well as fresh-cooked panini sandwiches.

There’s also a gelateria that opened March 1. It sells 28 classic flavors made in-house by Valeria’s sister, Bianca, who was trained in the art of gelato-making by an aunt and uncle who flew out from the Isola de Ponza.

A new bar, selling boutique Italian wines, opened in mid-November. And in December, the venue’s second restaurant opened. It’s an enoteca serving more modern takes on Italian cuisine, fresh pasta made in-house daily and Neopolitan-style pizzas. Finally, at the south end of the property is a ballroom that can be divided up into three smaller rooms or opened up to seat up to 250. It also opened in December.

Valeria said her father is happy with the finished project but he’s still looking for other things he can do. Besides opening a patio for outdoor dining, he’s also considering adding breakfast service in the near future.

“My father is not retiring anytime soon,” she said. “The Italian men in our family have the reputation that they don’t really quit. They like to keep working.”

Ciao Ristorante Italiano

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Where: 2015 E. Vista Way, Vista

Phone: (760) 630-7333