If you’re thinking about eating in Naples, you’ve probably got one thing on your mind: Pizza. Crackling crust, fresh mozzarella, sun-ripened tomatoes. Naples claims to have invented the modern-day pizza, and locals consider their thin-crust version ideal.
There’s more, however, to Naples cuisine than simply the perfect pie. Southern Italian classics such as ragu, eggplant Parmesan, and arancini all have roots here. There’s seafood plucked fresh from the sea. Pastas with fresh tomato-based sauces. And be sure to leave room for the many sweets that are offered for dessert, too! Read on for our top tips about what to eat when you’re in Naples.
Accept no substitutes for the addictive Neapolitan pie. The authentic pizza (it even has a DOC seal from the Italian government) is prepared using simple ingredients; usually just buffalo mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil for a “Margherita,” or San Marzano tomato (grown on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius) sauce, oregano, olive oil and garlic for a “marinara.”
Where to find it: If you ever saw Eat, Pray, Love, you’ll remember the long communal tables, nondescript décor, and the hubcap-size pizza that inspired passion in Julia Roberts’ character. That spot is L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale 1/3; cash only), and it’s worth waiting on the quick-moving line filled with locals and visitors to sample this storied pie. (If you want other toppings on your pizza, which da Michele eschews, visit equally acclaimed rival Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, Via dei Tribunali 32).
Meat sauce like your mama would make, if your mama were from Naples, that is. This is a real stick-to-your-ribs dish of rich meat and tomatoes simmered into a thick sauce or “ragu” and then served over pasta.
Where to find it: Try it at Tandem (Via Paladino 51), which serves Neapolitan classics such as penne arrabbiata (a spicy vegetarian tomato sauce with red pepper) at reasonable prices.
Crispy, crunchy, flaky and then suddenly sweet and creamy in the center, these multilayered pastries are a popular breakfast and coffee treat. Shaped like a shell, layers of crackling pastry dough are filled with sweetened ricotta cheese scented with lemon. The whole thing is topped with powdered sugar, so expect crumbs and lots of sugar mess, but it’s worth it.
Where to find it: Follow the pastry’s fans to Pintauro (Via Toledo 275), which has been baking and selling these crunchy pastries since 1785.
Creamy, fruity, crunchy, smooth, chunky. No matter what flavor of Italian ice cream you’re craving, the gelato masters in Naples have you covered. Another frozen specialty of this warm-weather city is lemon granité (similar to lemon ice), a granular ice with bits of lemon rind and a sharp citrus taste. It’s sold at push carts around the city.
Where to find it: Gay-Odin, the city’s best-known chocolatier as well as gelato producer, has nine shops across the city, including one on Centro Storico’s famed Spaccanapoli. The shops sell gelato in flavors ranging from hazelnut to zabaglione to a stellar dark chocolate.
Fishermen cast their nets right off the coast of Naples, and their fresh catch of the day turns up on tables by lunchtime. Look for fried calamari, scampi (shrimp), seafood salad, spigola (sea bass), zuppa di cozze (big pots of mussels), and spaghetti alle vongole (pasta with clams).
Where to find it: Try one of these delicious seafood dishes at Da Dora (Via Fernando Palasciano 30), a popular seafood restaurant on the waterfront.
Yes, espresso is served all over Italy, but coffee aficionados consider the strong, bitter cups served in Naples to be the best in the country. At the very least it may be the most potent, which is why it’s often served with sugar already added (ask for “amaro” if you want it unsweetened).
Where to find it: Gran Caffé Gambrinus (Via Chiaia 1/2 - Angolo Piazza Triste e Trento) has been serving coffee with a view of lovely Piazza del Plebiscito since 1860. It’s a bit more expensive than an espresso served standing at a bar, but it’s worth the price to sit and sip in a slice of history.
This vivid yellow cordial is made from the large fragrant lemons that grow nearby in Sorrento. It’s popular served very cold, both as a pre- or post-meal sip.
Where to find it: Sit in a café facing the water and try a small glass of this bit of southern Italy in a bottle.
The fresh cheese — such as mozzarella, ricotta and mascarpone —in Naples, and the entire Campania region, is some of the best in Italy. The secret? The milk used is from water buffalos that graze in the rich river valleys.
Where to find it: You can sample the creamy fresh mozzarella in a caprese salad with fresh tomatoes and basil at most restaurants in the city.
For a quick savory snack on the go, seek out the vendors serving up these piping-hot, golden-fried rice balls stuffed with minced beef and oozing with melted mozzarella.
Where to find it: Small shops throughout the historic center sell these street-food treats for about one euro; head to Via Tribunale for a selection of vendors.
More cheese, more bread, more deliciousness. This is Southern Italy’s version of grilled cheese, a bit like an inside-out pizza: a slab of mozzarella sandwiched between two pieces of bread, deep fried to a golden brown, then topped with thick tomato sauce.
Where to find it: Try it at Pizzeria di Matteo (Via dei Tribunali, 94), which is known for its deep-fried antipasto (you can get pizza here as well).