Naples is a great city to play hunger games. The trick is narrowing down hundreds of options for the win. Centuries of invaders from Spain and France collide with Moorish and Arabic influences to offer visitors a dizzying array of culinary wonders.
From family-run trattorie to Michelin-starred restaurants, your best bet is to sample a little of each and organize a plan of attack. Eating your way through the city will lead you to a deeper understanding of Naples multi-layered culture and cuisine.
Via Gennaro Serra
This tiny 8-table local gem is everything you want for an introduction to Naples cuisine. Daily fresh fish caught from the bay, 4-5 daily pasta dishes like spaghetti alle vongole, octopus in spicy red sauce or pasta with potato sauce and provolone cheese. With its cozy family-style atmosphere you’ll immediately feel and be treated like a regular Napolitano.
Relatively few tourists and a largely Italian clientele means that your waiter will recite the daily specials in Italian. No written menu in English exists so communicating your order results in a zany, fun exercise in gestures, smiles and cross-cultural understanding. Reasonable prices coupled with a hidden backstreet location (in Centro behind Palazzo Plebiscito) combine to keep this piccirill’ restaurant an insider’s secret. Reservations recommended on weekends and holidays. Come early as it fills up quickly!
Piazza F. Fuga, 9
Cutting-edge cuisine is not what usually comes to mind when visiting this city, however, Wapo local chef Giovanni Gentile specializes in gluten-free dishes to promote wellness. Combining Campania traditions and local raw ingredients with East Asian inspired cuisine, their focus is on natural, chemical-free courses with ancient cooking methods. The menu contains many vegetarian and low carb options.
Each menu item is named using Neapolitan dialect or traditional sayings so brush up now on your idiomatic expressions. A few standouts include a trilogy of violet artichokes with three firings starter; buckwheat lasagna with rabbit ragu’; steamed squid with black ink; potato brunoise and Calabrian ‘nduja. The Bittersweet chocolate with buffalo ricotta cream is a perfect expression of Campania’s rich culinary history. Dynamic and innovative, located in the Vomero district, you will revel in a light-hearted and experimental meal!
Via Posillipo 16 b/c
The first restaurant in Naples to receive a Michelin star in 2008, both the food and the outstanding location along the beach in Posillipo merit a splurge. Though a bit pricey, their five to seven course tasting menus, starting at 90 Euros, delve into classic but novel-crafted bites like Buffalo mozzarella and shrimp with zucchini flower sauce; veal cheek and chop reduction; fish soup or fish of the day with eggplant caponata, green olives in aqua pazza sauce. If you remember the Naples’ beach scenes from Elena Ferrante’s blockbuster novel My Brilliant Friend (now adapted for tv by HBO), the restaurant shares the identical panoramic views and sits on the shoreline.
With Mt. Vesuvius looming in the southeast and the crumbling Spanish Palazzo Donn’Anna on your right, the building’s modern and minimalist design combines with the coastline to create a haunting reminder of Naples’ storied past. The extensive wine list will impress even your pickiest sommelier friends. Reservations recommended.
Tandem – Via Giovanni Paladino 51; Tandem – Via Sedile di Porto, 51; Tandem Piazza del Gesu’- Calata Trinita’ Maggiore 12; Tandem Vomero – Via Bernini 74; Tandem To Go (D’Asporto) – Via Mezzocannon, 75
No visit to Naples is complete without indulging in a huge, steaming plate of Ragu’ Napolitano. Compared to Ragu’ Bolognese, the Neapolitan version is red-wine based, contains more meat (often an entire braciole simmered in the sauce eight hours for flavor and then served separately as a secondo), plenty of herbs, fresh tomatoes and a thickly chopped soffritto base.
Tandem specializes in Naples’ two extraordinary sauces in the slow food tradition – ragu’ napolitano and pasta alla Genovese. Though its origins likely trace back to Genoa, Naples is the epicentre of this slow-simmering onion-based sauce served over fresh pasta, gnocchi or even with octopus. Imagine the flavor of hearty French onion soup with coarsely chopped beef and onion that reduce down until falling apart into a rich brown gravy.
With five restaurant locations including a To-Go outlet, your best bet is to head to the original location at Via Paladino and if they are full or closed for their after-lunch break, head to the second location off Piazza del Gesu’ just two blocks away and open all day. Reservations recommended but not required. Large portions, moderate prices and gluten-free pasta available. Vegetarian options are also available. Each location has it’s own menu variations based on traditional ragu’.
Vico Vetriera a Chiaia, 8b/9
Bursting with over 2,600 local and international wines from nearby Taurasi, Ischia, Amalfi Coast and Cilento, this intimate enoteca offers a cozy stop for a snack, a meal or anything in between. Essentially a wine bar that transforms into a restaurant at night, their extensive wine by the glass makes it a great option for solo travelers and oenophiles.
Luca the sommelier will guide you through their wide selection and suggest the perfect pairing. The handwritten chalkboard menu and daily specials will tempt you to linger all evening. The restaurant’s romantic atmosphere and setting in the Chiaia neighborhood pair well with specialties such as savory pie with anchovies from nearby Cetara, a smoked citrus tuna tartare over Venere rice or a delicious pistachio lava cake. Closed Sunday evenings and Mondays.
Via Carlo Poerio, 45
Crudo or pesce crudo is the Italian tradition of serving fish at the peak of freshness in all its simplicity. Like the best of Italian food, fish is simply dressed with olive oil, some acidity from vinegar or a citrus juice, salt or pepper and not much else. If you love sashimi, poke, or ceviche based on raw fish, shellfish, oysters and lobster then this restaurant is a must-try. The intriguing Chef’s Choice “Essence of Crudo” tasting menu includes seven courses simply described as Hands, Heart, Head, Passion, Will, Love and Sweetness.
We also recommend sharing the giant raw seafood platter aptly named Plateux Royale. The briny sweetness and protein-packed flavors are a welcome change from carb-laden pizza and pasta. The allure of textures, colors and simplicity pair perfectly with a delicate floral fiano or the more mineral Greco di Tufo from the extensive wine list some have described as a bible. Stop here in lovely Chiaia near the sea and you too can be the King of Raw.
Via Filippo Cifariello, 14
If you believe that the best restaurants in Naples, Italy should offer homestyle food and great conversation then female-run Buatta is serving a full course meal. Marketing itself as a trattoria di conversazione (or “conversation trattoria”), ceramicist and now chef Angela Gargiulo dreamed up a local meeting spot where phones disappear and eye to eye, profound discussions are the order of the day.
The specialties are exquisitely rendered Campania favorites with a vast regional wine list to match. Here you can order an encyclopedia of long-lost rotating specialties like spaghetto del poveriello, montanara, stuffed calzones, ziti with lard, pasta with lentils, potatoes and friarieli (rapini), hearty soups and all the fried appetizers you dreamed about from childhood.
The crocche’ di baccala’ stand out as do the fried zucchini flowers and artichokes. Open up a bottle of Taurasi or Fiano and delve deep into topics like Italian politics, Brexit or simply what to order for desert. You can’t go wrong with the fried zeppole sprinkled with sugar and a local digestivo. Located in Vomero, you have now found your new home away from home.
Via Alabardieri, 30
If your jet-lagged group is weary from a day in Pompeii and can’t decide where to eat in Naples, Umberto’s 100-year old restaurant in Chiaia offers something for everyone. With a seasonally changing menu recently recognized by the Slow Food movement, it features both a restaurant and a traditional pizzeria.
A full immersion into Neapolitan life is guaranteed. The warm family atmosphere and the staff’s conviviality will instantly put you at ease. Outstanding items include “Grandma’s meatballs” appetizer, seafood risotto and local specialties like Zucchini alla Scapece and handmade Scialatelli pasta options. Authentic deserts like Sfogliatelle or Percocata that use local ricotta and peaches explain why locals make up the majority of customers. Come discover what has kept this restaurant busy since 1916.