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For the past three years, the best pizza in the world has come not from Naples, but from the town of Caserta, about 20 miles north, where Francesco Martucci’s I Masanielli – on an unattractive main road just outside ‘outside the city center – has hung high on the lists of the authoritative 50 Top Pizza guide, run by influential wine and food journalist Luciano Pignataro.
But if you’re in the birthplace of pizza, how do you choose from the thousands plying their trade in this city?
You can look for plaques on restaurants indicating that they belong to the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN) or the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN). But there are hundreds of them and, especially since the Neapolitan pizza was listed in Unesco in 2017, many pizzerias have, in my opinion, dropped the standards and become sightseeing.
The important thing is that the person whose name is inscribed on the front is the one who, in the kitchen, throws the dough. If they put their face, name and hands in it, every pizza is a masterpiece.
My checklist for a good pizza starts with how it looks. The crust should be round, regular and at least 2 cm high, with small golden bubbles all over, and the center should be soft and not crispy. Cut into slices, the dough should have a nice airy structure, showing that it has risen well. And the base should be speckled brown but not burnt, and without the yellow sheen you see when too much flour is used in the roll (which gives it a bitter taste). The top should be a harmonious blend of red tomato sauce, pure white mozzarella and bright green basil leaves in the case of the classic margherita.
Here are 10 Neapolitan pizzerias that, for me, deserve this name.
Lombardy 1892, old City
The Lombardi family has been making pizza here for four generations, since 1892, when Errico opened the restaurant. Today it is manned by his great-grandchildren, cousins Enrico and Carlo Alberto, who take turns at the counter – no one else is allowed near. The secrets of the family trade, passed down from father to son, can be tasted in the quality of their pizzas: carefully chosen ingredients and old-fashioned pasta, with a few innovations to make it lighter and tastier. The beautiful old building, with a wood-fired tiled oven built in 1947 and a beautiful marble facade adorned with four griffin sculptures, produces thousands of pizzas every day for the many loyal customers.
Via Foria 12-14, pizzerialombardi.it, open from Tue-Thu 12pm-3.30pm and 7pm-midnight, Fri-Sun 12pm-3pm.30 p.m. and 7 p.m.-1 a.m.
Gorizia 1916, Vomero
Near Piazza Vanvitelli, in the center of this chic neighborhood, this historic pizzeria has long been dear to the inhabitants of Vomero. It was founded by Salvatore Grasso in 1916 and is now run by his grandchildren, who watch the work of their staff with great attention. Here, the margherita is a textbook, all the rules are followed, and the exquisite aromas of cheese and basil seem to impart a flavor of yesteryear, much like the bowtie servers and early 20th century architecture.
Via Gian Lorenzo Bernini 29-31, gorizia1916.com. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.3 p.m. and 6.30h-1h
Don Antonio’s pizzeria is an institution in the narrow streets of the Materdei district. It started in 1901 as a wine cellar and kitchen, becoming a pizzeria and friggitoria (fried food supplier) in 1948. It featured in the 1954 film The Gold of Naples, starring Sophia Loren as a young pizza maker. Today, Antonio leads the proceedings, along with his children and his longtime employees. In his hands, frying becomes a work of art: one of his specialties that many have tried to copy is fried and then baked pizza. Starita has everything for a complete Neapolitan experience: historic premises, a working-class neighborhood, a master of tradition in the kitchen, and long lines of customers waiting for the curtain to rise on real pizza.
Via Materdei 27/28, pizzeriestarita.it, open Tue-Sun 12pm-3.30pm and 7pm-midnight
Pizzeria da Attilio, Montesanto
This pizzeria is in the middle of the Pignasecca market, where thousands of Neapolitans come every day to inspect the fruit, vegetable and fish stalls. Attilio’s parents founded the place in 1938 and his mother, Maria Francesca, was the mainstay of the restaurant for years, known for her delicious fresh pasta and desserts, which are always available. But the real surprises are Attilio’s own creation. Impeccable traditional pizzas – sailor, Cossack (with pecorino instead of mozzarella) and margherita – make him one of the masters of the art of good dough. His incredible creativity can be seen in an eight-prong pizza with stuffed crust, bacetti (dough rolls filled with cheese, herbs and nutmeg) and the many other specialties that have made this little place so successful.
Via Pignasecca, 17, pizzeriadaattilio.com, open Monday to Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to midnight
Pizzeria Tutino, Porta Nolana
Very close to the main train station, on a road leading to Porta Nolana and its old street market, Tutino has epitomized Neapolitan generosity since 1960. It’s hard to find another place that sticks so faithfully to traditional pizza. a briefcase. Literally “wallet pizza”, it’s a small version, served folded in paper to take away. Founder Nonno Giuseppe passed the art on to his children and grandchildren. Today, Lino, Michèle and Sandro, helped by various young parents, make their tasty pizzas with no frills but without skimping on the ingredients. With pizza still sizzling in your hands, it’s a good idea to stroll through the city gate and ‘give thanks’ to the 13th-century church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
Via Cesare Carmignano 79, on Facebook, open from Monday to Friday 8am-10pm, 8am-midnight Saturday
antiquitya Pizzeria Port’Alba 1738
Related: A local guide to Naples: pizza, palaces and dancing under the stars
The claim to have been founded in 1738 makes it the oldest pizzeria in the city. Truth and legend are intertwined in its long history, and many famous people are said to have eaten here. And all of this is quite easy to believe, given its position under one of the most impressive gates of the old city, Port’Alba. The restaurant has been run by the Luciano family since 1940, with Gennaro currently at the helm. He is a true master of the pizza bench, with a real respect for tradition. His “flavors of Amalfi” pizza, with anchovies, yellow tomatoes, lemon and basil, is not to be missed. And, like Tutino, it’s famous for its “wallet pizza.” Generations of Neapolitans remember eating his little margherita, folded in four and wrapped in brown paper.
Via Port’Alba 18, anticapizzeriaportalba.com, open Wednesday to Monday from noon to midnight
Pizzeria Fratelli Cafasso
A stone’s throw from the Diego Armando Maradona stadium, in the heart of the Fuorigrotta district in the west of Naples, Cafasso is the ideal place for post-match celebrations. It was founded in 1953 by Don Peppino and his wife Elena, and now the fourth generation, brothers Antonio and Ugo, run the pizza bench and the front of the house respectively. It is a simple and atmospheric place, where particular attention is paid to the mixing of flours which create a light and tasty dough. The secret of its success is that the original recipe of the “Cafassi brothers” has never been modified.
Via Giulio Cesare 156, on Facebook, open Monday to Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Pizzeria De’Figliole, old town
There’s a pizza that’s even older than the wood-oven variety, and that’s fried pizza. It is two discs of dough with a rich filling of pieces of pork and ricotta. It is then fried for a few seconds. This is the specialty – in fact, the only offer – of the pizzeria De’Figliole. The venerable Immacolata and her family carry on a tradition that began in 1860. Women have always been in charge here, and fried pizza was traditionally the food that poor Neapolitan housewives used to fill the bellies of their children.
Via Giudecca Vecchia 39, on Facebook, open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight
Pizzeria La Notizia, Posillipo/Vomero
A good pizza can make a street famous, especially if there are two nice pizzerias on it. On the side of the Posillipo hill, via Caravaggio winds its way from the Lauro district, and the great Baroque artist – who frequented a few taverns himself – would no doubt be proud to see the two La Notizia pizzerias in the street that bears his name. . This founder and master pizza maker Enzo Coccia makes his margheritas with seven types of tomatoes, and his pizza stuffed with leftover pork cooked in extra virgin olive oil, shows the passion he brings to his work. The original restaurant, no 53strives to remain faithful to tradition, while the second, opened in 2010 in Nope 94, has a more experimental take. Whichever one you try, if you go on the weekend there will be a long queue, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio 53, and Via Michelangelo da Caravaggio 94, pizzarialanotizia.com, open Tuesday to Sunday from 7 p.m. to midnight
Dominique Mazzella is an art historian and curator born in Naples, and the author of Le Vie della Pizza (Jupiter Edizioni, €10)