The Seattle Pizza Coalition’s Guide to Eating Pizza in Naples

In Napoli where love is king…

FullSizeRender 46Late last year, when we discovered exceptionally low airfare to London, we knew one thing was true – it was time to hit the motherland. After a couple quick stops in Copenhagen and Rome, it was time. We were going to Naples, the undisputed birthplace of pizza.

The chaos that defined our trip to Naples started as soon as we tried to exit the train station. That’s when it became pretty obvious that this was not going to be our typical shiny and tidy tourist destination. And that we would be eating a lot of carbs.

Naples alleywayYou’ve probably heard that on the surface Naples looks pretty dirty compared to wherever it is you just came from. Laundry hangs across alleyways (which upon second look are actually major roads), bright red and orange paint peels off centuries-old buildings, graffiti (infrequently street art) seems to cover every surface and thousand-year-old basilica you see, and small doors down unassuming courtyards lead to ancient Roman theaters. Little dog turds catch you off guard, and the noise of honking and yelling and scooters just adds to the tapestry of the mayhem. So does the occasional unexpected firework show after midnight. If you like the comfort you’ll find in Rome or along the Amalfi Coast, Naples might not be the city for you. But if you love people watching, embracing the madness, getting off the beaten path, and feel like there aren’t that many places left in Europe that have held onto their authenticity/don’t pander to tourists, then this is the spot for you.

Some history of Naples and pizza.

Naples was founded by the Greeks, built up more by the Romans, and has been doing its own thing for thousands of years since then. Here, it seems impossible scratch more than the surface of its history and culture unless you had about a year to spend exploring. Although, that’s probably not even enough.

The same can be said for pizza in Naples. You’d need to have heartburn tablets made from unicorn dust and an unlimited pizza eating stamina to even scratch the surface of the food options here. As the birthplace of pizza, Naples’ streets are literally covered in pizza scenes: fried pizza, famous pizza, tourist pizza, pizza from street carts, pizza covered in French fries, pigeons eating Rhode Island party pizza in the street…. The list goes on.

When visiting Italy, keep in mind that pizza wasn’t always Italy’s national food. It was from Naples. Regions of Italy weren’t united until the 1860’s, and each corner of the country has had thousands of years for their own local cuisines and languages to evolve. Flatbread with stuff on it probably came from the Greeks who founded Neopolis. Tomatoes didn’t even make it to Italy until the 16th century – they’re actually from Mexico. It’s said that until very recently pizza as we know it (bread + tomato + mozzarella) was only really eaten in two places: Naples and New York City. So if you’ve visited elsewhere in Italy and found the pizza a little average, it’s probably because you were tricked into thinking pizza is local to everywhere in Italy. And if you had pizza elsewhere in Italy and found it amazing, then imagine how amazing a Naples pizza would be!

…When a moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s Amore.

With hundreds, if not thousands, of pizza shops in Naples, we chose five places that we felt gave us a good sample platter of the pizza here considering our limited time. If you only have room for so much pizza in Naples, these are some ideas to get you started on your own pizza journey. It would be silly, and irresponsible, of us to rate these pizzas on the same scale as our pizza here in Seattle, so rather we stuck with a ranking methodology, only comparing them to each other. We’ve reviewed them for you in the order we ate them, but stick with us to the end, and we’ll reveal our official ranking of pizza in Naples.

Note: None of the below pizzas cost more than 6 Euros.
Also note: We might have been feeling a little sick by day 3.

The Pizza You’ve Probably Heard Of: L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele

L'Antica Pizzeria da MicheleL’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is  probably the most famous pizza place in Naples, and fortunately not just because it was featured in Eat. Pray. Love. We’re pretty sure it was chosen for the book/movie because it was already so popular. And. So. Good.

In fact, because this is what we both consider to be the best pizza in the world, we’ve actually done a much longer write-up on L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele on another post over here. We also compared it to their brand new second location in London because why not.

While it might not be the oldest pizza spot in Naples (but it’s definitely one of them), with pizza like this it doesn’t matter. It’s pure magic, has a simple menu, and you won’t regret the wait.

Pro Tip: This will not be a quick lunch, but the line isn’t as bad as it looks….most of the time. Avoid going here on public holidays because it’s popular for Italians and tourists alike. We’ve also heard this place is less crowded at dinnertime, depending on cruise ship traffic. On the plus side, hanging out with your friends on the street will give you a true taste of “Naples like a local” anyhow.

To get in “line,” grab a ticket from the server near the front door, hang out for a bit, and do what the locals do: grab a beer to enjoy outside while you wait (for your friends to get off work). This pizza will cost you about €4-5. A beer is like €2. So it’s basically free.

If you want to know more about this pizza, and trust me, you do, make sure you read the full write-up here.

The Pizza That Tastes Like a Volcano: Ristorante Pizzeria Lucullus (Pompeii)

A true Neapolitan pizza is cooked on bricks that come from Mt. Vesuvius, the dormant volcano that rises up from Napoli and wiped out Pompeii, Herculaneum, and a lot more in AD 79  (There’s also a much larger super-volcano hanging out in the area but it’s not as well known). Well, the bricks in this oven must be pretty fresh because this pizza tastes smoky enough that you might think it was cooked inside a volcanic vent.

Ristorante Pizzeria LucullusPizzeria Lucullus mainly caters to tourists looking for lunch while visiting Pompeii, but still serves up a decent pizza. It was part of our organized day trip to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, so they’re used to large crowds and English-speakers. If you’re not visiting Naples but are swinging past Pompeii, it might be a good compromise.

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This pizza was tasty but the smoky flavour was a bit overwhelming for me. It was a bit thicker and less soupy than the magic pizza at da Michelle, making it more difficult to cut. The crust was very soft and fluffy and would have been top notch if it didn’t taste like an actual volcano.” – Kerri

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To me, the smoky flavor stood out immediately and I wasn’t sure if it was caused by the cheese or the crust. I loved the sauce, but the cheese was a little more solid than some of the other ones we encountered on the trip. What started to stand out about all the pizzas as I ate them is how the pizzas in Naples don’t always bother being perfect circles. It cooks up to whatever shape it feels like. The crust also has a different texture on some of the pizzas we had here. It was still very fluffy but the crumb is different: oily and more dense when you bite it, all while maintaining its fluffiness. A chemical reaction not yet discovered in Seattle crusts.” – Sara

We were able to scrounge up some special guests at this location, as we shared tabels with other tour-goers. Connor from North Dakota enjoyed the sauce. “The texture of the cheese was good, the crust had a nice char,” he said. “It reminded me of a nice summer walk along the river.”

“It was alright,” Sharon from New Zealand confirmed. Her husband Brett thought it would have been good to have some black pepper and more basil.

The First Pizzeria in the World, Probably: Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba

Because we had limited time in Naples, we ate multiple pizzas per day (call us your hero, we know). In our second pizza stop on Day 2, we headed to what is widely believed to be the oldest pizzeria in Naples, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba. Originally a stand for peddlers in 1738, Port’Alba opened as a restaurant in 1830, and hasn’t moved since. It’s been around since before the Margherita pizza had a name. Heck, this pizza is even older than AMERICA. So if you come to Naples with a hankering for a history lesson with your pizza, this is the place to go.

Antica Pizzeria Port'AlbaMost of the pizzerias we had visited up until this point had fairly limited menu options, and as our fourth pizza in 48 hours, we were starting to feel a little over saturated with Margheritas. Luckily, Port’Alba has quite a diverse menu, so we switched things up with a Mozzarella D.O.C. and a Diavola. To add to the historical ambiance, we ate outside under the archway that gave the pizzeria its name, as ragazzi cruised by on scooters.

Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba“I had the Mozzarella D.O.C. and really liked it despite the fact it had no sauce and just cherry tomatoes. The cheese was amazing: buffalo mozzarella is my favourite after all. I also loved how soft the crust was and how it didn’t have too many burnt spots. Sara also liked this pizza for piece, as the cherry tomatoes made it taste much fresher than all the carbs that were starting to weigh us down.” – Kerri

Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba“I ordered a Diavola which had salame that was quite piccante. The texture of the salami was amazing though. The pizza had what I call a “burnt pancake” element to the bottom of the crust. It’s not burnt like blackened, but more the texture of when you leave a pancake on the heat for a little too long—it’s still fluffy but the outside kind of cracks when you cut it. It’s become very obvious that Seattle pizzas don’t quite have the same diversity in crust as the ones in Naples do. The sauce on the Diavola was a little chunkier than usual, but bright and fresh and almost seemed like it hadn’t been cooked as the others. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cheese on its own, but maybe I’m a terrible person. Kerri also commented that the sauce was bright and tangy, but thought it made the flavor a bit unbalanced.” – Sara

The Pizzeria Frequented by Celebrities: Dal Presidente

Dal Presidente might be more proud of the celebrities who have stopped by than they are of the magical pizzas that their oven spits out. They seem to be most proud of a visit from President Bill Clinton, although it is unclear if he is also the namesake of the pizzeria itself. With pictures of Italian celebs all over the walls, MTV Italia pumping from the TV, and possibly a Roman arch in the women’s bathroom, this was a pretty fun spot. And the waiter will tip himself so you don’t have to worry!

Dal Presidente Pizzeria“I had a Margherita di Bufala, and found the crust to be a little bit tougher on this pizza, and not as big and fluffy. The cheese was very good and plentiful, and the sauce was bright without being overwhelming. Dal Presidente PizzeriaThere was a bit of char to it, giving some bites a very smoky flavor (which we all know isn’t my favourite). It wasn’t as smoky as the volcano pizza though, so it still ranks higher than that for me.” – Kerri

“I opted for a lighter option and finally tried a marinara pizza. It has no cheese, just sauce and lots of herbs like thyme and oregano. I loved the flavor and found it to be much different to Kerri’s sauce. The crust here was breadier and less focaccia-like and more similar to the ones we find at home.” – Sara

The Pizzeria Run by a Celebrity Chef: Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo

The only other place we waited in line at, Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo, was the perfect end to our pizza journey. It’s because of Gino Sorbillo that pizza is now respected as its own cuisine, not just a type of fast food. He is considered Naples’ best pizza maker, and is large part responsible for the pizza boom heard round the world. We were also intrigued by the story of how the Camorra (local Mafia) burnt down his pizza shop on Via dei Tribunali, because he refused their protection, but just a few days later, he set tables outside and it was business as usual.

FullSizeRender 28Pro Tip: A few doors down from Gino Sorbillo is another pizza spot with the name “Sorbillo.” Don’t be fooled – it’s not actually run by the same chef. If you’re not at the one with a line (and possibly a Dolce & Gabbana banner), you’re at the knockoff pizzeria.

We found the restaurant to be a bit disorganized considering it’s the most commercial of spots we’d been. And in the end, we were never too sure which pizzas actually ended up being delivered to us.

Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo“I really enjoyed the pillowy soft crust, though it was a bit charred in spots. I found the center of this pizza to be magical, with a few special surprise tomatoes.” – Kerri

Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo“My maximum pizza limit was acquired a few hours before Kerri, and I sadly wasn’t feeling too well at this spot. The pizza was one of the prettiest of the trip, still. I might have been eating a Margherita, but whatever it was was much different and cheesier than Kerri’s double cheese pizza with mozzarella di bufala. I liked that the cheese at Sorbillo was different and a little saltier. However, the ingredients didn’t seem to melt together as much as they did on other pizzas we had. This would be great for those who appreciate cheese on its own and the different flavors more than the combination of everything.” – Sara

These were tough pizzas to eat last, because we had reached our pizza limit and couldn’t give them our full respect, but it’s definitely a strong pizza. We would recommend you come here earlier rather than later on your pizza journey. And if you can’t make it all the way to Italy, never fear, there are two locations in NYC now.

The Rankings: The Best Pizza in Naples

While we didn’t rate these pizzas on our usual scale, we did rank them amongst each other. So if you can only choose a few, let this list guide you:

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BONUS: The Honorable Mentions

Let us be real, these aren’t the only five pizzas we ate on our trip to Naples and beyond. Here are a few honorable mentions that we met along the way:

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And thus concludes our guide to eating pizza in Naples. Can you imagine what we would have done if we were there for longer?

Ciao,
Kerri and Sara18077055_10100509095894717_3821879065180746100_o

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