Pizza in Naples


The best pizzerias in Naples, the history of pizza, and more pizza, pizza, pizza

JUlia Roberts eating pizza in Naples in Eat Pray Love (2010)
Julia Roberts samples Neapolitan pizza in Eat Pray Love (Sony Pictures, 2010). (Photo by Francois Duhamel.)
Naples holds a hallowed place in culinary history as the inventors of mankind's most perfect dish: pizza. (Back when I was a kid, before the whole "food pyramid" theory ruined my argument, I tried to convince my mother that pepperoni pizza was the ultimate food since it covered all four major food groups: grain, dairy, fruit/veg, and meat. My efforts were unsuccessful.)

The "fact" that Naples (or perhaps some village in nearby Campania) invented the pizza might not actually be true —like most items of divine inspiration, the origins of pizza are lost to the mists of time and conjectures of historians—however, I wouldn't go around Naples saying that.

Pizza misconception
That's not mozzarella melted on top of your pizza—at least it shouldn't be. It's fior di latte—very similar to mozzarella, but made with cow's milk (rather than mozzarella's buffalo milk) and a bit tougher. Delicate mozzarella doesn't hold up well to heat and doesn't melt properly, so it is not usually used on pizzas—unless it it added after cooking, along with fresh tomatoes. Most waiters and menus have given up on teaching foreigners this distinction, however, and just call it "mozzarella" for simplicity's sake.
At any rate, Naples certainly did perfect the pizza.

The city has a bit stronger claim to having come up with the simple combination of toppings that we would eventually become what we call a "plain pizza."

In 1889, in honor of a visit by the queen of the newly-created country called "Italy," a Neapolitan pizza chef at Pizzeria Brandi decided to honor her highness by creating a new pizza in the tricolor of the Italian flag: red tomato sauce, white mozzarella (er, see box on the right), and green basil leaves.

He called his wildly popular new concoction pizza Margherita, which is a pun in Italian, since that was both the Queen's name and the word for "daisy"—which the pizza, with its corona of yellow crust, vaguely resembles.

The best pizza in Naples

Picnic pickings
You can get all the picnic supplies you need in Naples at the string of little shops lining the first block of Salita S. Anna di Palazzo, off Via Chiaia.
OK, calling this section "The best pizza in Naples" was just to get your attention. Everyone—certainly every Neapolitan—has their own favorite pizza parlor in Naples, and everyone has a famous one or two that they will dismiss as overrated.

In Naples, the subject of "best pizza" is hotly debated and intensely argued. It is a subject that has riven families and caused generation feuds across clans. There are camps and factions filled with fans who are as fiercely devoted to their favorite pizzeria as they are to their home soccer team.

Taste is, of course, relative, so this is merely a sampling of some of my own favorite pizzerie in Naples. (One of the best weeks ever in my job was the week I spent in Naples taste-testing the pizza at more than a dozen pizzerie as I researched a guidebook.)

My advice? Try these places. Ask around for other recommendations. Perform your own taste-test challenge and find your own favored pizzerie. You need to try at least four to get a proper baseline determination. Then tell me about and we can argue over whose is best—over a nice pizza dinner, of course.

Will it be Pizzeria Brandi ★★, the place that claims to have invented the classic sauce-cheese-basil pizza Margherita in 1889?

How about Pizzeria Port'Alba★★, a bustling pizza joint on a pedestrian street that gets my nod for best margherita?

Maybe no-nonsense, bare-bones Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro, a place packed with mostly locals, will be your call.

Try those. Ask around for advice on others. You be the judge...

Tips & links



General dining tips
  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 to €15—though most often €2 to €5—per person that is automatically added onto your bill. This is perfectly normal and perfectly legal (though a few trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • Find out if service (tip) is included: Don't double-tip by accident. If the menu has a line—usually near the bottom of the front or back—that says "servizio" with either a percentage, an amount, or the word "incluso" after it, that means the tip is automatically included in the price. (If it says "servizio non incluso," tip is, obviously, not included.)

    Even if the menu doesn't say it, ask É incluso il servizio? (ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo)—"Is service included?" If not, tip accordingly (10%–15% is standard).

    Don't be stingy about tipping, though. If il servizio is, indeed, already included but the service was particularly good, it's customary to round up the bill or leave €1 per person extra—just to show you noticed and that you appreciated the effort.
  • Tourist menus: The concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer a menu turistico ("tourist menu"), which can cost from €8 to €20 and usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurants that the locals wisely steer clear of.

    However, a menu à prezzo fisso ("fixed-price menu") is often a pretty good deal, usually offering a bit more choice than a tourist menu.

    Then—especially at nicer (and pricier) restaurants—there is the menu degustazione ("tasting menu"), usually far more expensive (anywhere from €25 to €110) that is a showcase of the chef's best, or of regional specialties, and can make for an excellent way to sample the kitchen's top dishes.
  • Book ahead: For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book a table—at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening.
Italian dining phrases
English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo
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