Our introduction to Naples continues with That Guy From Naples explaining to us what makes Neapolitan pizza so special and why it’s a global phenomenon. He will then recommend his favorite places to grab a pizza while visiting Naples.
In 2017, the art of the Pizzaioli, the local name for pizza makers, entered the list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”; a recognition that brought the Neapolitan pizza world to the next level, recognizing its cultural and social value. Before UNESCO’s recognition, other associations have been working on preserving and promoting the authenticity of the Neapolitan pizza. One to mention is the AVPN, Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. They ruled the production of the authentic Pizza Napoletana meticulously. The ingredients, the production techniques, weight, and size are all regulated by experts in the field and written in their books. They also set up training centers all over the world to spread the Neapolitan pizza culture. At their headquarters in Naples, they also offer daily courses for passionate pizza makers who want to know more about their peculiar techniques. To guarantee the authenticity of the Pizza Verace, they have inspectors auditing pizzerias around the globe asking to be part of their pizza network; a process that ends with a Pizza Verace Certificate hanging outside the pizzeria.
However, the AVPN’s strict rules only apply to Margherita and Marinara pizza, giving space to a new wave of pizza-making techniques called “pizza gourmet”. Within this realm there are newcomers that are experimenting with different dough, toppings, and cooking techniques, shifting the competition from price to quality and creativity. This is triggering again a love or hate reaction in locals. Dividing them into two groups, the first attached to the traditions, the second looking for novelties, believing a fresh approach is needed for a business that has been stagnant for many years.
In Naples, we consume many pizzas; we have 8,200 pizzerias for only one million citizens. That makes one pizzeria for every 122 people.
It’s a lot! Over the years, pizza became a kind of religion for locals, something to venerate and be obsessed with. A humble, yet delicious dish that is an integral part of the local diet. Famous is the prank of a local Pizzeria delivering pizza with pineapple to regular customers. Looking at their reactions you will understand how important pizza is for the Neapolitans.
As you might grasp, visiting and eating in all of those pizzerias is not an easy task. And far from me to say that I know where to eat the best pizza in Naples. The difference many times is slightly noticeable.
But through the years I’ve been to many pizzerias, either for a date, a quick fix, a friend or family night. And honestly, I came back to only a few of them. The choice to come back was made according to a few criteria: the taste, the quality of the ingredients, the digestibility of the dough, the service, and how I felt while I was eating it. There are also two kinds of pizza that I am looking for when in Naples. The famous, regular round pizza, which I like to eat sitting at the table; and the Pizza Fritta, which I usually take away and eat outdoors, sitting on the many steps that the city has. I will talk about the latter in a future article so let’s now focus on the classic pie.
Also, I won’t share why I didn’t come back to this or that restaurant, many times I’ve seen places full but I personally didn’t like their offer. So I presume it is a matter of taste. Instead, I will make note of some addresses that I pay a visit to when I am in the Centro Storico of Naples, places that even after many years still make their mark. Some are famous, others less so, but all have their own charm.
Pizzeria famous for a reason:
Very popular when I was a kid for its light dough that in a way is what every Pizzaiolo tries to achieve. When they don’t, the pizza is hard to digest and can cause some flatulence. Save this tip for your date nights!
Usually, there is a very long queue and bookings are not allowed. Ordering and sipping a beer while waiting is highly recommended. During lunchtime, you can shorten your waiting time by having a chat with the “car taker” in the little square in front of the entrance. He has a few upcoming numbered tickets in his pocket. They are usually reserved for locals going there by car during lunchtime. But sometimes a smile and a tip works.
They only serve Margherita and Marinara. Asking for different toppings, even just spicy oil, will be replied with: No! Mi dispiace. You can ask for a half Margherita and half Marinara though, this is allowed.
Its ambiance and pizzas are without frills, a traditional Neapolitan pizza that doesn’t want to compete with the gourmet pizza movement of the contemporary pizza makers.
Prices are very affordable. I go back to Michele because it’s just a chilled, humble place to eat a good pizza and have a beer. And thanks to hard work, became famous around the world. Good job!
There is a reason why you will always find a long queue at pizzeria Sorbillo ai Tribunali: The pizza is good.
If you are planning to pay a visit and eat at their Pizzeria, plan on spending up to 2-3 hours from the time you give your name to the time you will leave. Not an issue at all because due to its popularity, opposite and beside the entrance, you will find many kinds of services to help you “digest” the long queue. Having a spritz, a glass of wine, and an appetizer while waiting to get in, it’s all part of your dining experience. I personally find queues a great place to meet people and have a chat. On many occasions, it resulted in eating at the same table or having a drink before and after dinner. If you really can’t wait that long for your pizza, the bar with blue chairs in the adjacent alleys can get you a pizza takeaway in a matter of minutes. The deal is: you can consume your pizza from the box at their tables in exchange for ordering a few drinks. Not a bad deal, I guess.
If you’ve enjoyed the line instead and you finally got in, you will be pleased with an extensive menu all made with their light dough and good quality toppings. Any of their pizzas are well done, but if you are just approaching the Neapolitan-style pizza world, try a Margherita or a Marinara. It’s here that you can appreciate the mastery of making dough that you could eat alone because it has been maturing for many hours and in doing so has its distinct flavor.
Even with thousands of people coming in every day, the service is impeccable. The ambiance is international with few locals coming from nearby areas that are willing to cope with the line. The only flaw is the use of disposable cups for your beer that, according to the huge number of guests visiting every day, makes a huge amount of rubbish.
Sorbillo is a place loved or hated by locals, in many cases just because one of the owners has been able to transform a family business into a highly profitable enterprise, counting many outlets all over the world. Through a clear understanding of the social media logic, Gino Sorbillo, one of the 31 family members who all became pizza makers, without doubt, helped the Neapolitan-style pizza to find its place in the world.
I often hear: “I can’t stand him, but the pizza is good”
That’s what counts for me when I’m sitting at a pizzeria’s table waiting for my pizza.
One of the few Pizzerias that has more than a century of history. Antonio Starita, the owner, has also been the president of Unione Pizzerie Storiche Napoletane, an association that wants to promote the oldest Pizzerie in town, called: Le Centenarie. Their shop in Materdei was also the setting for the famous movie “L’oro di Napoli”, having in the cast Sophia Loren making fried pizza as street food.
The queue here can get long, but not crazy. They surely know how to make pizza and have been the reference for many Pizzaioli through their long history.
I go there to eat their classic Marinara or the amazing Montanara a pie that is fried and then baked for a few seconds. It is then topped with fresh tomatoes, provola (smoked mozzarella) pecorino cheese, and fresh basil. The taste is unbelievable.
Starita is also one of the few places in town where you can find Pizza Mastu Nicola. It probably takes its name from the “vasinicola“, basil in the local language.
Usually, I order it as an extra. (Yes, you can have more than one pizza; in Naples, it’s quite common!) According to some historians, this pie was what the locals used to eat before the tomato was introduced in Italy from Columbus. The mastery is shown in the dough, the topping is only pork fat, pecorino cheese, and basil. Looking at it, it’s evident that it is a dish connecting what we call pizza today and the pies produced in Greece or the Middle East in previous times. To the fine dough, they add some proteins with the fat, umami with the cheese, and a touch of freshness from the basil. It is not the pizza that sparkles a wow when looking at it, but tasting it is something special. The care of the dough and the few ingredients give it a minimal, yet intriguing taste. Something very different from all the other pies I’ve tried. Salty and smooth at the same time, perfect to start and finish a bottle of wine in one go.
The prices are regular; meaning cheap for the rest of the world, and the ambiance is a typical local Pizzeria with a mix of locals and travelers.
This Pizzeria is a few meters away from Sorbillo, next to the entrance of “underground Naples”: a series of caves excavated to provide building material for the buildings that you see around. It can be visited daily and it’s quite pleasurable as a fresh break while you are touring the city during summer.
The waiting time can get long here, but doable. Meaning you won’t spend your pre and post dinner waiting to eat, you can grab a beer and sit in the nearby square while you are waiting for your table. The pizza is humble and respects the traditional standard. I usually go there for a Margherita and a beer. But every once in a while, I’ve tried the other options and have never been disappointed. The dough is well done, the toppings are of good quality, and the service is caring. I don’t need more, to be honest.
Since the first time I went, I felt at home at the Decumani. Gennaro, the owner, and his staff are all nice guys. They make the time spent there an enjoyable time whether you are with friends or alone.
Expect a friendly mixed crowd of locals and travelers as table neighbors.
Worth a visit:
This pizzeria is not right in the Centro Storico but if you are heading to the seafront, you should have your pizza here. You will find a queue, especially at night. Get there earlier if you can, since locals won’t go to eat before 9 pm.
Ciro Salvo, the owner, is a member of the Pizza Gourmet movement. He has been able to innovate a product that was already perfect, not an easy task at all. He has been one of the few Pizzaioli to not get caught in the trap of traditions as something untouchable. Instead, he has seen tradition as the foundation for something to develop and improve.
He took on a challenge to improve the digestibility of the dough and its outcome is perfect for my palate and stomach. In addition, his research on locally sourced quality toppings completes the amazing work made with the dough.
I go there to eat Marinara Rinforzata, a fresh take on the AVPN-ruled classic Marinara, which has as toppings only tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, and olive oil.
His “reinforced” version includes tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, black olives, fresh anchovies fillet, and olive oil. If you love salty dishes as I do, don’t look further, this is the pizza you want to order. I’ve also had the chance to taste a few slices from friends when there and honestly they all were at the best standard.
Prices here are slightly higher, still very cheap for the majority of people coming from all over the world. The ambiance is friendly and you will find mainly locals eating here since his pizzeria is not on the tourist routes.
I strongly recommend this place if you are up to leave the tourist path for a night and try what Neapolitan pizza has become in the hands of an artisan like Ciro Salvo.
I really hope that you will be able to visit Naples and try……all of the pizzas mentioned here. Meanwhile, if you can’t yet, many of the establishments mentioned can be found all over the world, keeping the same quality and care for the art of Neapolitan pizza. A dish that through its simplicity found a place in everyone’s heart.