The stuff of movies, cinematic Naples lives to eat.
But there is far more to southern Italy’s iconic city of epic pizza than scoffing pizza margherita at Da Michele like Julia Roberts did in the 2010 movie Eat Pray Love or frequenting the pizzeria where Sophia Loren flipped ‘n fried dough on screen in the 1950s.
Eating out in this noisy, seething Naples, spun from grassroots tradition and the hot Mediterranean sun, is the original locavore date. Shopping for seasonal veg, fresh seafood, Italy’s silkiest buffalo mozzarella and pungent spices at a market is as instinctive to Neapolitans as scratch cooking and not wasting a crumb.
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Scoffing fried fish on a street corner from a brown paper cone or sharing snack-fueled aperitivi (pre-meal drinks) at sundown is constantly in vogue. Forget current trends or buzzwords like “street food”, “short-circuit” and “sustainability”. Fiery Naples has always done a grand job of following its own rules – and that includes catering to vegans and vegetarians, traditionalists and the unorthodox, prince and pauper with a dazzling feast of old-world osterie and trattorie, fine-dining restaurants, cheap-as-chips friggitorie (fry shops) and, of course, authentic pizzerias straight off the silver screen.
Pick your pizza topping depending on the season: artichokes, asparagus and leafy greens in April and May, sun-spun eggplant and volcanic San Marzano tomatoes in summer, tart red radicchio in December.
From top pizzerias to restaurants serving the ultimate seafood dishes, here are Naples’ very best places to eat.
1. Concettina Ai Tre Santi
Sink your teeth into the city’s chameleon of a gritty, rough-cut neighborhood where Neapolitans wouldn’t even set food a decade ago at La Sanità’s hippest pizzeria. The Oliva family have been whipping up dough here for 70-odd years, but it’s the creative spin of visionary young pizzaiolo Ciro that morphed his family’s business into gourmet hot spot – and underdog La Sanità into an unlikely foodie hub. Pair an artichoke-filled pizza-dough bun or artisanal pizza with a local craft beer or small-production Campanian wine to experience Neapolitan paradiso on earth.
Try Naples’ iconic meaty sauce any day of the week at Tandem © ColorMaker / Shutterstock
Thank heavens for Tandem where dedicated epicureans can tuck into the extraordinarily rich and meaty flavors of ragù napoletano (Naples’ meat and tomato sauce, made with beef cut in chunks rather than minced like bolognese) any day of the week – not just on Sunday as city tradition dictates. Slowly simmered on the stove for hours on end, Tandem’s iconic sauce appears on its increasingly elaborate menu in myriad ways. Stick with tradition: atop fresh pasta or in a bowl with crunchy bread to dunk.
3. Antica Pizza Fritta di Zia Esterina Sorbillo
Thrill out on Naples’ wild contradictions with high-brow artistic opulence at pink-hued Palazzo Reale followed by lunch on the street with laborers and a cold beer at this get-real, fried pizza joint. The original recipe and kitchen kit used by Esterina Sorbillo (Gino’s aunt) after WWII assures the comfort-food staple and hangover cure is precisely as it should be: puffy, light and oozing ricotta, provola cheese and ciccoli (fatty pork lard) on first bite. Scoff immediately or watch the deep-fried half-moon of pizza dough deflate.
4. Cibi Cotti “Nonna Anna”
If you weren’t lucky enough to be born with your own Italian nonna, this legendary market eatery – look for the weeny, no-frills space tucked besides wooden crates of fruit and veg at covered Mercato della Torretta – is the next best thing.
Shopkeepers, stall holders and office workers from the ‘hood can’t get enough of the bargain-priced trippa al sugo (tripe in tomato sauce), tracchia al ragù (pork rib tips in slow-cooked ragù), ceci e scarole (chickpeas and greens) and other time-honored Neapolitan classics cooked with love, sweat and exceptional flavor by Anna Pappalardo from 1968 until her death in 2017. Her children and nephews steer the ship with almost-equal aplomb. Lunch only.
5. 50 Kalò
That each of the 25 wood-fired pizza types – several vegetarian – at Ciro Salvo’s fashionable pizzeria, footsteps from the sea in the upmarket Mergellina neighborhood, are paired with a specific extra-virgin olive oil speaks volumes. Sweet red and yellow San Marzano tomatoes are organic; and artisanal pork salamis, DOP cheeses, capers, olives, artichoke hearts, garlic and rare Slow Food-prized veg are scrupulously sourced from independent producers. No table reservations so arrive dot on.
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Tuck into Naples’ perfect wood-fired pizza at Gino Sorbillo © Alexandra Bruzzese / Lonely Planet
6. Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo
Roll out of the 17th-century church in Naples’ pulsating historic center where believers venerate a tiara-crowned skull and into this cult eatery worshiped by local pizza aficionados. The gently charred, thick-crust pizzas, baked to chewy perfection in Gino Sorbillo’s massive wood-fired oven, tick all the “ideal Neapolitan pizza” boxes. The yeast apparently comes from the same mother yeast used for generations by the Sorbillo pizza-god clan.
7. Osteria della Mattonella
In the cinematic Spanish Quarter, make a date with Mamma Antonietta and her grown bambini, Massimo and Fatima at Osteria della Mattonella. Vintage photographs and memorabilia, musical instruments and a gorgeous kaleidoscope of 18th-century majolica tiles create a cozy home vibe. Cuisine is equally old-school osteria (read: unchanged since 1978): comforting soups, fresh pasta, octopus salad, classic Neapolitan polpette (meat balls) and an outrageously good Genovese (traditional Neapolitan sauce of slow-cooked beef, yellow onions and white wine).
8. Pescheria Mattiucci
A white-tiled interior decked out with fishing nets, fan graffiti and a statue of the Virgin Mary is the evocative backdrop for mouthwatering pesce crudo – sliced raw fish – served at this dead-simple fishmonger’s in fashionable Chaia. The Mattiucci family has been fishing and selling their day’s catch here since the 1890s and their pairings of lemon- or orange-marinated swordfish and tuna with fresh fruit and veg (fennel, pineapple, all sorts) are quite simply phenomenal.
It’s hard to know which bit of this Michelin-starred restaurant to rave about more: the modern Neapolitan cuisine with French flair (incredible sauces, 40-egg tagliolini with truffles and sage-laced Norman butter) by homegrown, France-trained chef Domenico Candela; his killer nine-course menù degustazione (tasting menu); or the rooftop garden’s romantic big-blue views of the Bay of Naples.
Some traditional menus haven’t changed in Naples for decades © Paolo Gallo / Shutterstock
10. Palazzo Petrucci
Chef Lino Scarallo has Neapolitan cuisine in his blood. His father was a La Sanità butcher and sopping up sauce with a scarpetta (bread) or scoffing a finger-licking cuoppo (paper cone of fried bites) by hand is as sacrosanct to this Michelin-starred firecracker as creating sophisticated spins on timeless classics in his contemporary seaside restaurant. Walk 10 minutes along the waterfront from Mergellina to feast on o ragù e mare (fish interpretation of the city’s traditional meat sauce) and romantic sea views.
11. Friggitoria Vomero
Graze like a Neapolitan on Naples’ most quintessential street food up at this takeaway fry shop – a haloed 1938 vintage up the hill in leafy Vomero. Everything deep-fried in vats of sizzling oil is insanely delicious: spaghetti, pizza, egg-plant, pumpkin flowers, panzerotti (potato croquettes), arancini (rice balls) or simply addictive shells of flour-and-water dough – plain or spiked with seaweed. Order a cuoppo misto (mixed cone) and devour over jaw-dropping views of the city down below and island-specked bay beyond.
12. Mimì alla Ferrovia
Waltz into old-world Naples – think elegant white tablecloths, frescoed ceiling, framed snaps of illustrious past guests on the wall – at this unpretentious darling of an old-schooler ristorante. Emilio Giugliano (aka Mimì) opened near the central train station in 1944 and his traditional Neapolitan menu hasn’t changed. Top marks for superlative stuffed peppers, parmigiana di melanzane (baked layers of eggplant, tomato sauce, basil and cheese) and spaghetti con vongole veraci (spaghetti with baby clams).
13. L’Ebbrezza di Noè
Despite the wickedly tempting food and wine The Drunkenness of Noah serves, it’s unlikely you’ll leave as inebriated as Noah appears in Michelangelo’s famous same-name fresco in Rome’s Sistine Chapel. Pair one of 2000-odd wines selected by sommelier-owner Luca with a quintessential pizza di scarola (calzone-style dough stuffed with leafy green escarole, olives and capers), paccheri fritti (fried pasta with eggplant, basil and tomato sauce) or some of Naples’ finest seafood. Aperitivo, dinner or apericena (drinks-dinner combo) – all three work.
Slow Food gluttons, eat your heart out. This veteran trattoria blasts you to interwar Naples with original fittings, tobacco-stain yellow walls and the Di Porzio family at the helm since 1916. Non-Italian speakers will cherish the detailed, well-translated menu that flags dishes starring local Slow Food products – salami and blood sausage, dried black cherries and copper-red Montoro onions, ancient bean and tomato varieties – you’ll be hard-pushed to find outside the Campania region. Tuck in.