Homemade Italian Gnocchi with Red Sauce and Cheese | Brent Hofacker/Flickr
Naples abounds with great restaurants where visitors can enjoy the exquisite, traditional dishes of the local cuisine. But a few dining venues emerge as veritable institutions, strictly interwoven into the city’s cultural fabric, and each celebrates the stars of Italian gastronomy, pizza, coffee, sweets and deep-fried street food. Eating out in Napoli is a truly wonderful experience with this guide to ten of the best restaurants in the city.
Restaurant, Mediterranean, $$$
When it first opened in 2006, Palazzo Petrucci set itself a challenge, and won it. In a city which so strongly holds on to its traditions, chef Lino Scarallo managed to create a restaurant where the basics of Naples’ culinary heritage are reinvented and offered in new, surprising ways, while respecting the flavors of the freshest, seasonal ingredients used throughout the menu. Scarallo rearranges the succulent and simple local dishes into more elaborate but nonetheless exquisite meals, without forgetting to please the eye through colorful and careful presentation. The extent of Palazzo Petrucci’s success is all the more incredible, since the restaurant is located in the competitive Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, in the very heart of the city’s historical centre.
The match between Naples and pizza was made in heaven. In no other city in the world can a more inviting and delicious pizza be found. It’s more difficult to say where in Naples the best pizza can be found. But, all in all, Sorbillo wins the race. Nestled in a maze of narrow streets in the historical heart of the city, Sorbillo’s pizzas, ranging from the simple and traditional to the more elaborate and creative, are simply glorious, and expertly prepared by some of the best Italian pizzaioli. The venue is always packed, with the waiting time easily amounting to a full hour, especially at nights. But the most patient will not regret it. For other recommended pizzerias in Naples, try Dal Presidente, Di Matteo, Da Michele, and Brandi, which claims to have invented the classic pizza margherita.
Another side to Naples’ typical food is a range of fried preparations, mostly taking the form of street food. These specialties may not be the healthiest, but are simply irresistible and a great way to have a quick bite while out and about in the city. The extraordinarily rich variety of these specialties includes panzarotti (potato croquettes), arancini (fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs), deep-fried zuccini flowers or eggplant slices, calzoni, and more. They are all traditionally served in paper made into the shape of a cone, called cuoppo. Among the many friggitorie which sell these, found at every turn in Naples, Friggitoria Vomero has a reputation for being the best in town. It also has the added advantage of being located in Vomero, the most hip and fashionable neighborhood in the city.Via Domenico Cimarosa 44, Naples, Italy
Il Transatlantico is found at the foot of Castel Dell’Ovo, the oldest castle in Naples and one of the unmissable sights in the city. The castle lies on the tiny Megaride island, just dozens of meters away from the city’s promenade. All around the castle is the picturesque Borgo Marinari, a strip of land bustling with small shops, cafés and restaurants. Among these, Il Transatlantico boasts one of the most striking locations and design. The restaurant’s rectangular, elegant dining room has large windows on the side facing the sea. Customers can taste the fish-based dishes while enjoying the fabulous view of the water, the numerous small boats docked all along the island’s coastline and, at night-time, the romantic lights of the city in the distance. Restaurants Zi Teresa and La Bersagliera, also found in Borgo Marinari, are worth a try too.
Literally translated as the Lawyer’s Small Restaurant, Il Ristorantino dell’Avvocato has nothing to do with the world of lawyers. The setting is intimate and cozy, and perfectly matched to the restaurant’s tasty courses. Here, the key ingredients of Naples’ gastronomy become the starting point of creative, tantalizing dishes that combine tradition with the latest achievements in culinary techniques. Customers undecided on what to order have the option of choosing between the two tasting menus, one inspired by freshly fished sea produce, the other made with meats, seasonal vegetables and dairies. A triumph in creativity and refinement, Il Ristorantino dell’Avvocato is recommended to those who want to experience Naples’ typical flavors in a contemporary setting.
Along with the rhum-saturated babà, the sfogliatella is the queen of Naples’ traditional sweets. Small delicacies in the shape of shells, sfogliatellas are obtained by rolling a delicious filling of ricotta and almond paste into a rich number of dough layers. When baked, the layers become crisp and separate from each other, giving the sfogliatella its characteristic ridged look. Icing sugar sprinkled on top completes these heavenly bites. Pintauro has been serving sfogliatellas ,and sfogliatellas only, since 1785, but never ran out of business. It is so popular among locals that a saying in the Naples dialect says tene folla Pintauro, meaning ‘there’s a queue at Pintauro’ is used when talking about particularly crowded venues. Other than at Pintauro, similarly mouth-watering sfogliatellas can only be found at the Attanasio bakery.Via Toledo 275, Naples, Italy
Ciro a Mergellina takes its name from the neighborhood in Naples where it is located, Mergellina. Home to the city’s beautiful promenade, with a panoramic view of the sea and the Vesuvius in the far distance, and with the picturesque Posillipo hill in the background, Mergellina is one of the most scenic and captivating areas in the city. Ciro a Mergellina is the best choice to enjoy a meal in the neighborhood. The restaurant spoils its customers by offering a truly rich menu of succulent courses. Unsurprisingly, fresh fish (seafood, shellfish, swordfish, lobsters, codfish, and many others) is the key ingredient, and served in ways that interpret traditional recipes, yielding more sophisticated results suited to contemporary tastes.Via Mergellina 21, Naples, Italy
Similar to the elegant, turn-of-the-century coffeehouses found in cities such as Vienna or Paris, Gran Caffè Gambrinus, founded in 1860, is a historical café located in a prominent spot, right next to the stunning Piazza del Plebiscito. At Gambrinus, illustrious Italian personalities, such as poet Gabriele d’Annunzio and philosopher Benedetto Croce, have shaped the country’s culture. Here, the President of the Italian Republic traditionally stops for coffee on the first day of the year. Although more expensive than the city’s many other bars, this Liberty-style luxurious venue, rich with fine details, is a great choice to taste a cup of the excellent, strong Italian coffee. Other recommended venues for great coffee include the Caffè del Professore bars.
Fine Dining, Gourmet, Romantic, Business, Traditional
In Naples, chocolate is synonymous with Gay Odin. This historical patisserie was founded in the late 1800s by Isidoro Odin, a masterful confectioner who moved to Naples from the north of Italy, attracted by the vibrant cultural life that the city offered at the turn of the century. Later joined by his wife Onorina Gay, Odin took to preparing the most mouth-watering chocolate sweets, and it wasn’t long before they had attracted the attention of Naples’ citizens. Today, Gay Odin has nine outlets across the city, and a few extra in Rome and Milan. But everywhere, the many variants of chocolate pralines, bars and cakes are still handmade with the artisanal expertise so devotedly cherished by Odin’s successors. Among Gay Odin’s specialties are the Foreste, chunks of milk chocolate sculpted to look like wood logs, and the Vesuvio, chocolate sweets shaped after the nearby dormant volcano.
A family-run business first opened in 1916, Umberto has been passing on the secrets of local cuisine from generation to generation. Over the past decades, and still today, restaurant Umberto offers the classics of Naples gastronomy, which include a range of dishes, spaghetti with clams, eggplant parmigiana, salted codfish and, of course, pizzas, simple, but rich in flavor. The atmosphere is homely and cozy, and together with the traditional menu, makes Umberto one of the most authentic restaurants in town. The wine selection offers the best of Italian bottles, which are, notoriously, among the best in the world. Unique to Umberto are also the two-month-long exhibitions of contemporary Italian painters, whose works decorate the dining room’s walls.