It’s no question that pizza is the world’s food. You can find this Italian staple in pretty much every single country in the world now. Whether it’s on a beach in Madagascar, or in the mountains of Peru, pizza is universal and done in some form everywhere.
However, not all pizza is created equal. Most definitely not. Pizza originated in Italy and specifically originated in the Naples area (or so they say). The traditional Neapolitan style pizza is in my opinion also the most superior. Like when I was in Mexico City and spent days eating different style of tacos, I spent all my time in Naples essentially eating at different pizzerias. It was a whirlwind of a few days as I ate pretty much nothing nothing else but pizza, beer, and wine.
If you like pizza and are visiting Naples for any amount of time, you will have all you need in this post as I visited the most famous pizzerias. If you are also a pizza fanatic, then you can also attempt this dangerous gauntlet, otherwise just choose the restaurant that most appeals to you!
History of pizza in Naples
The fact that you found this post on Google means you probably already know something about pizza, Naples, and how they’re related to each other. The history of the pizza and specifically the original type of Neapolitan pizza you’ll find in Naples is fascinating. It’s not just some random guy that mashed up a few things together but the amalgamation of numerous cultures and people that were thriving in Naples centuries ago. Naples was one of the biggest port cities in Europe. It was a hub for international trade, and home to people from all over the world.
The world pizza, actually originated from the Arabic word for pita, or bread. The original Arab bread was large and round. It was made from flour and water, and baked in an oven. These were baked all over town and would serve as the base for the Neapolitan pizza.
Mozzarella, specifically the buffalo mozzarella, is the next essential ingredient. Buffaloes are not indigenous to Italy or any part of Europe for that matter. In fact, they were brought in from India by the Normans to do hard labor. It wasn’t until much later that people discovered their milk is also delicious.
Tomatoes, of course, serve as the last pillar of the Neapolitan pizza. Tomatoes are not indigenous to Europe either. They are a Central and South American fruit brought to Europe after discovering the Americas. The original tomatoes were round and yellow, hence why they are called “pomo d’oro” or golden apples. They were originally thought to be poisonous and used more as decorative “exotic” plants that no one tried to eat. It was only later that people discovered how delicious they were and now Campania is famous for its tomatoes.
Pizza started out as flatbread with tomatoes before someone decided to put it all together to what we know today. Basil, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and dough. The colors thereafter inspired the modern day Italian flag (or so the saying goes, but I’d like to believe this is true).
What makes Naples style pizza so unique?
Neapolitan pizza has a very thin crust at the base, with dough that puffs up around the sides and provides for a very airy crust. The dough must be made with highly refined Italian type 0 or 00 wheat flour, Neapolitan or fresh brewer’s yeast (not dry yeast), water, and salt. It must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer and formed by hand, without the help of a rolling pin.
The pizza is cooked in a wood oven that is heated to insane temperatures at 400c and cooked for only 60-90 seconds. That’s why getting a pizza is very quick in Naples and it’s not meant to be this long drawn out dinner. Some pizzerias have huge lines and look impossible to overcome, but they move fast because pizza in Naples is not meant to be an all night affair.
The dough is topped with raw, pureed San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. It can use only two types of mozzarella cheese. One is fior di latte made from cow’s milk and the other is mozzarella di Bufala, made from water buffalo milk, typically raised in the Campania and Lazio marshlands in Italy. Finally, Neapolitan pizza is topped off with fresh basil and extra-virgin olive oil. The ingredients must be all-natural and fresh.
Because that crust is so light (even though quite large,) certain areas become charred very quickly, which is why it’s important not to overcook and completely burn this type of crust. But just as large as that crust is on the sides, it’s just as thin on the bottom. In fact, Neapolitan pizza is so thin on the bottom that it’s not usually possible to even pick it up with your hands. Always be sure to offer a fork and knife when serving up this dish!
Gina e Toto Sorbillo
The most famous pizzeria in Naples is probably Sorbillo and Michele. If not famous, then for sure the biggest tourist attractions because Sorbillo has 12,000 Google Maps reviews and Michele has almost 20,000. Not many places like this in the world that get this type of recognition!
Sorbillo is located on Via Tribunali, one of the main streets in central Naples. They have a large restaurant space by other pizzeria standards and it’s impossible to miss. As you approach it, you will see the large crowds of people lined up waiting to sample the deliciousness that is Sorbillo pizza.
Don’t be intimidated by the crowds. They look huge and insurmountable but remember that the lines move quick because the pizza takes a minute to cook. Simply walk up to the front, put your name in with the doorman and wait for your name to be called. There are a bunch of bar vendors next door to Sorbillo that sell drinks for a very friendly price. €2 Aperol spritz is on the menu as well as wine, beers, and cocktails.
I ordered the Diavola pizza which is a standard margerita pizza with spicy salame, usually my go to dish. I know traditional Napoli style pizza is just the cheese, sauce, and basil but I just love having meat with my pizza.
The pizza comes out piping how as you’d expect and it is incredibly tasty. Eating it is a bit of an art but I was told I could cut it into slices, fold it in half and tuck the end of the pizza into itself so it’s kind of a sandwich. This way you can get a bit of all the flavors in one bite.
Sorbillo’s pizza is absolutely delicious. The crust is amazing, the sauce aromatic, and the cheese is divine. I really enjoyed the texture of the dough which is what I used to distinguish from different pizzerias.
In the end, we had two pizzas, two glasses of red wine, coperto for 2 and the bill was €22. You should never expect to spend much on a pizza in Napoli because it is not meant to be an upscale luxurious experience. It’s a street food through and through, originally meant for working class.
Location: Via dei Tribunali, 32, 80138 Napoli NA
L’antica Pizzeria Da Michele
Not far from where I was staying is the even more famous Pizzeria Da Michele. It’s a bit of an institution for locals and tourists alike. At all times of the day, you can expect long lines waiting for this pizza. I visited during October 2019 and the lines were at least 20 people deep. The trick is to come here when the first open at 11:30am to snag a table.
Michele only has two pizzas: Margerita and Marinara. They don’t stray from their roots and you can’t order any other styles of pizza. Margerita is the classic pizza with cheese, and Marinara is without the cheese. Almost all Napoli style pizza is topped with extra virgin olive oil but Michele uses soybean oil which gives it a more full and creamy flavor.
The pizza is very delicious with a perfect dough and crust. The cheese is fiore di latte (cow’s milk) and goes perfect with their home made sauce. The pizza is also much bigger than other ones and I was very full after consuming the whole thing.
It’s a must visit so make sure to stop in on any trip to Naples.
Location: Via Cesare Sersale, 1, 80139 Napoli NA
Pizzeria Di Matteo
Located down the same street as the famous Sorbillo, Matteo is no slouch either in its popularity amongst locals and tourists alike. Pizzeria Di Matteo specializes in traditional pizzas as well as fried pizzas which are a Naples street food delicacy.
The lines here are not as long as in Sorbillo or Michele so if you’re looking for an equally delicious experience but without the crowds, then this is the place to be.
The pizza here I thought was delicious, although not quite as tasty as the one from Attilio or Sorbillo. The crust wasn’t as soft as the other places but the toppings were top notch. Expect to pay no more than 15 euros a person for dinner and drinks here.
Location: Via dei Tribunali, 94, 80138 Naples NA
Pizzeria Da Attilio
I first found out about Antilio from watching Ugly Delicious by David Chang. In his first episode, they explore pizza in different parts of the world. Mark Lucali, a famous NYC pizza chef in his own right, travels to Naples to try out the “original style pizza”. They visited Antilio and the pizza just looked absolutely amazing. I knew I had to go.
I came on a weekday as soon as they opened and was the only one in the restaurant. I met the pizzaolo himself and was able to watch him make his famous pizzas right in front of me, snapping photos and videos along the way. He seemed like he was quite used to the action now, especially after Netflix has made him an inevitable celebrity for US food travelers.
I ordered the star shaped pizza. This is like a normal margerita pizza but with corners that have been rolled to a point and stuffed with ricotta cheese. In total, he has 8 corners perfect for 8 different slices stuffed with delicious fresh ricotta cheese. The pizza was topped with salsiccia, bufala cheese, and all around deliciousness.
This pizza was absolutely divine. The dough was kneaded and cooked to perfection in his wood oven. The texture was a perfect mix between chewy and soft allowing you to taste just the subtle hint of the oven char. The cheese and the meat complimented each other perfectly. The sauce was of the top quality you’d expect from San Marzano tomatoes. I was greeted with the rich and creamy flavors of the ricotta that was the perfect ending to each slide. All in all, a must visit!
Location: Via Pignasecca, 17, 80134 Napoli NA
Pizzeria Imperatore 1906
I walked by this pizzeria after eating at Sorbillo and it looked very appealing. As the name suggests, Pizzeria Imperatore 1906 has been operational for over a hundred years now and they know their stuff very well.
I came here the following evening and got a table right by the oven, admiring the pizzaolo and his craft. The pizzas here are cooked in the traditional way and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve had. The dough is absolutely superb and char just perfect. The staff were also very friendly and the vibe was perfect. If you are looking for an alternative to Michele and Sorbillo without the wait, and with a more warm atmosphere than Matteo, then this is the spot to be.
Location: Via Duomo, 218, 80138 Napoli NA
Pizzeria Concettina ai Tre Santi
Another amazing pizzeria I ate at was at Tre Santi north of the main center. I found Tre Santi just by perusing through Google Maps and I’m glad I did. It’s a bit of a more modern youthful take on the traditional pizza. I think the owner is a younger guy who is putting new twists in his pizzas allowing for more topping combination that what would normally be “Acceptable”.
The inside is a nice atmosphere too with lots of energy and pizzas being dished out constantly. The pizzas themselves were absolutely divine as to be expected.
Location: Via Arena della Sanità, 7 Bis, 80137 Napoli NA
Other things to eat in Naples
It’s clear that Naples is a destination for foodies. There is so much deliciousness to consume in this town it’s a bit overwhelming. I didn’t even eat non-pizza Italian food when there are so many shops that serve amazing pastas and seafood. Prices in Naples are very affordable compared to say nearby Amalfi coast so you’ll never worry about breaking the bank.
Although I didn’t eat at many other places, here are some other foods that are a must try on your
This is not a pizza restaurant but it’s located in the old town and is a must visit for anyone that likes home cooked Italian food. Tandem is known for its ragu and meatballs which is the perfect way to mix it up in between pizza sessions. Also, if you’re feeling like you’re running low on protein and overdosing on carbs, you probably are and this is the perfect remedy to that.
Located in the old town nearby to many of the famous pizzerias, this little shop dishes out some of the best meatballs with ragu sauce I’ve ever had. This place is definitely more of a to-go type of spot but they have other locations where you cans it down and have a proper meal. Nevertheless, for €6, get the Cuzzetiello which is a thick bread with round and crunchy edges stuffed with meatballs and ragu.
This is the perfect to-go dish and you’ll be in meatball heaven. Alternatively, skip the carbs and just get the meatballs with ragu with nothing else. Make sure not to skip on the provolone cheese!
If you like desserts and pastries, look no further than eating the sfogliatelle in Naples. Famous to the Campania region, the sfogliatelle is a mix of a croissant, cannoli, and absolute deliciousness in one pastry. It’s essentially a crispy croissant textured pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese with powdered sugar sprinkled on it.
There is no better place in the world perhaps than at Sfogliatelle Attanasio. It’s located right near the central train station and is a must visit as soon as you step outside. The lines are long but that means you are in the right place. Attanasio serves these pastries warm and fresh out of the oven. I’m not a dessert person normally but this pastry really blew my mind. The combination of the sweet juicy crunch of the pastry combined with the warm and sweet ricotta was something out of this world.
Best of all, these are only €1.30 each and they have two versions of them: Crispy and soft. Both are a must try but the crispy with its sugary juices are my preferred. Whatever you do, do not go anywhere but Attanasio. I tried sfogliatelle from a few other shops and it was akin to eating boxed pizza after dinner at Sorbillo.
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