The history of pizza is predictably convoluted, but tradition holds that Naples is the town in which it was invented. Margherita – mixing tomatoes, mozzarella and basil – was supposedly created by a Neapolitan pizza maker to mirror the colors of the Italian national flag. Whatever the truth of such culinary folklore, Naples today is undoubtedly home to some fantastic pizzerias. Opinions on the best differ, but L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele – which featured in the film Eat, Pray, Love – is frequently mentioned, with its minimalist menu of very limited varieties. An alternative with an equally good reputation, but wider range of options, is Gino Sorbillo. And for a cheap, unpretentious, but fantastic pizzeria experience, try the underdog, Di Matteo.
Brandi has a sophisticated design scheme, with art adorning its walls and royal blue menus listing much higher-than-average prices. It does, though, have one major claim to fame that perhaps justifies this costliness: it is (supposedly) the birthplace of Margherita pizza. In 1889 Queen Margherita of Savoy asked Chef Esposito, working at Brandi, to design a special meal. Esposito hit upon hot bread topped with a combination of mozzarella, basil and tomato – the colors of the Italian flag. Brandi today continues to bake myriad Margherita pies in its beautiful wood fired oven, and a much cheaper approach is to eschew the fancy decor and take a Margherita to eat out.
Trianon is a three-story pizzeria bravely taken on the legendary Da Michele – the two have faced each other on opposite sides of the street for decades. Its walls are decorated with attractive murals depicting the Campania countryside, and two or three pizzaiolos can be watched flicking together pizzas in a corner beneath one of them. The result is beautiful puffy-crusted Neapolitan pizza with a generous splash of cheese and basil: the pizza di bufala, with slivers of cherry tomato, is a particular highlight.
Di Matteo’s is a cramped and convivial pizza joint, its pizza-makers on clear display as they roll out the dough and lift their finished creations from the wood oven on long wooden paddles. It is far less pretentious than Brandi, and sells some of the cheapest pizza on this list. But they are, despite the low price, utterly delectable, and famously drew Bill Clinton to the restaurant as he passed through Naples in 1994. As well as the traditional Neapolitan pizza, Di Matteo’s is famed for its pizza fritta: thin pastry deep fried and encasing ricotta, provola and slivers of pork.
Gino Sorbillo is one of the two most famous pizzerias in Naples, and is always packed to the rafters with tourists seeking that bite of transcendentally authentic pizza, squeezed in alongside a smattering of indifferent locals. The pizza’s chewy Neapolitan dough is thinly spread with a fresh tomato sauce, and there are then a wide selection of carefully selected topping combinations to choose between. There’s sufficient variety to justify frequent return trips, until you’re smirking along with the locals at the massed tourists excitedly ordering for the first time.
Da Michele, as this pizzeria has come to be fondly known, is the essence of simplicity. Hidden in a warren of cobbled Naples back streets, it’s another cramped eating experience in an indifferently decorated dining room. There are only two pizzas on offer, margherita and marinara. Both carry all the trademark Neapolitan characteristics – a wide puffy crust, the dough slightly charred adding a faint smokiness to the sweet tomato, fresh peppery basil and creamy mozzarella flavors – which are done so perfectly that this little backstreet restaurant has been labelled by many as the best pizzeria in the world.