Pizza is one of the world's favourite foods, and Naples is its birthplace. Legend has it that the classic margherita pizza was invented in 1889, when Neapolitan pizza maker Raffaelle Esposito created it for the visiting Queen Margherita.
Every day across the city, bands of pizzaiolos (pizza makers) light their massive wood-burning ovens and hand-form thousands of pizzas to feed the hungry hordes of locals and visitors. From the hundreds of tasty pizzas on offer, here are my top ten favourites as a local.
Ascend to pizza heaven at Sorbillo
You may have to brave some hellish queues to eat here, but Pizzeria Sorbillo, tucked among churches, Roman ruins and catacombs in the historic centre of Naples, is a slice of pizza heaven. Gino Sorbillo, head pizzaiolo and heir to this historic family’s pizza making throne, is pizza-making royalty in Naples. Using the same mother yeast his family has used for generations, he makes pizzas that are substantial yet curiously light, with enviably tender yet crunchy crusts. The famous margherita has the perfect ratio of rich fior di latte cheese and mildly acidic San Marzano tomato sauce. For a spicier option, order the carmine pizza, which includes salami and freshly grated parmesan.
Keep it simple at Da Michele
There is a prominent gold statue of Saint Antonio Abate, patron of pizza makers and firemen, mounted above the century-old pizza oven at Da Michele. The connection between fire and pizza is an object of religious devotion in Naples. Tourists arrive in droves everyday to taste this pizza that was featured in the film Eat, Pray, Love. The restaurant is a study in simplicity, offering just two types of pizza: margherita, with tomato sauce, fior di latte cheese and basil, and the even simpler marinara, topped with nothing but tomato sauce and oregano. Under Saint Antonio’s gaze and with the constant din of joking pizzaioli, Da Michele reminds us to eat with gusto and pray for more.
Capricciosa fit for a president at Pizzeria Di Matteo
Neapolitans remember Pizzeria Di Matteo as the place where President Bill Clinton ate pizza during the 1994 G7 Summit, but we recommend it as one of the few places you can get a superb pizza in central Naples without waiting in a long queue. The capricciosa, topped with prosciutto, artichoke, mushrooms and tomatoes, is a stand-out. The crispy prosciutto and briny artichokes combine wonderfully with the richness of the cheese. Elsewhere this pizza can be unpleasantly overloaded, but Di Matteo's version is satisfyingly balanced. The secret, they say, is not adding too much cheese, and sautéing the mushrooms before adding them to the pizza.
The finest ingredients at La Notizia
What sets master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his restaurant La Notizia apart from the crowd is his near-religious devotion to the quality and provenance of his ingredients. In Italy the label DOP (Denominazione Origine Protetta) is awarded to high-quality foods grown or made in locally authentic, traditional ways. Coccia uses three DOP ingredients to make his delicious DOP pizza: ‘00’ Caputo flour, San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese. The rich, volcanic Vesuvian soil gives rise to fruitier, more flavourful tomatoes that combine with fresh mozzarella cheese to produce a deceptively simple culinary triumph.
The sauciest marinara at Starita
Pizzeria Starita is renowned for making the best marinara pizza in Naples. Antonio Starita tops the pizza dough with a delicate layer of San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh datterini (cherry) tomatoes and wild oregano. Just as the pizza comes out of the oven, he adds a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The oregano melts into the saucy folds of crust to form an intoxicatingly aromatic pizza. If you've got room for dessert try the Angioletti Dolci, fried pieces of pizza dough drenched in Nutella.
Pizzeria 900, where pizza is art
Carmine Mauro, the head chef of Pizzeria 900, is quite literally an artist. Since he was seven years old he has been sculpting stuffed pizzas into elaborate works of art. His peacock pizza, stuffed with ham, ricotta and wood-roasted eggplant and decorated with a marinated anchovy in its beak and a nest of pizza chicks and mozzarella-ball eggs, is a perennial bestseller. Mauro's creations get even more spectacular in the festive season. Starting on 1 November each year he crafts a detailed nativity scene entirely out of pizza, finally placing a dough Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve.
Creative inventions at 'A Pizzattata
In a city where many pizzerias are almost a century old, ‘A Pizzettata, which opened in 2006, is a relative newcomer. The most popular pizza here is chef Vicenzo Musella’s unique creation, the Panariello. First he forms pizza dough into a bowl shape and cooks it in the wood-burning oven. In the meantime, he sautés mussels, clams and prawns in a zesty broth of garlic, tomatoes and parsley. Just as the mussels pop open he tosses in linguine and with an efficient swoosh, nestles the seafood pasta into its pizza bowl and gently seals it shut. This generously portioned calzone-of-sorts has a distinctly briny aroma that brings to mind lazy Mediterranean vacations and is more than sufficient for two diners.
Auntie Esterina's fried pizza
Neapolitans have been eating fried pizza – the ultimate comfort food and hangover cure – for generations. Manual labourers staved off afternoon bouts of hunger by filling up on the portable half moons of fried dough stuffed with ricotta and ciccoli (fatty pork), bought at street stalls. One of the original purveyors of fried pizza in the decades following WWII was Zia Esterina Sorbillo, Gino Sorbillo’s aunt. You can still buy fried pizza, made with her equipment to her original recipe from the same shop window she sold it from. Pizza puffs up to twice its size when fried and should be eaten immediately, ideally washed down with a cold beer.
Go gluten-free at Mascagni
You might think that those with a gluten intolerance would be excluded from all the pizza fun, but not here in Naples. Pizzeria Mascagni in the hilltop neighbourhood of Vomero has perfected Naples' finest gluten-free pizza. They use a combination of rice flour and cornstarch to achieve a pizza base with both crunch and bounce. The Tagliere di Fritti, an appetiser board of mixed fried arancini, potato croquettes and fried pizza is also available made with gluten-free flour.
Rustic pizza from the source in Agerola
Nearly all of the fior di latte cheese on Neapolitan pizzas comes from the region of Agerola, perched in the hills above the Amalfi Coast. Heartier than Neapolitan pizza, rugged Agerola's pizzas are traditionally made with thick wholewheat crusts, given a rich warmth by the inclusion of lard. After baking the pizza crust, peasants topped it with fresh fior di latte cheese from local creameries, pancetta, baby tomatoes and a drizzled mixture of warm lard, garlic and parsley. Pietro Iovieno is one of the few pizza chefs who still make this Agerola-style pizza according to original traditions. His Pizzeria Ai Galli operates out of a converted barn that once housed the very cows that produced the milk for this famous cheese. The raw fior di latte cheese melts into the baked whole-wheat pizza just as a piquant splash of garlic and lard seeps into its crevices.