Equal parts elegance and chaos, Naples is an intriguing mix of Baroque churches, vibrant street life, and legendary traffic. While the visuals seduce, it's the cuisine that exerts a magnetic force. Even in a gastronomic powerhouse like Italy, Naples stands tall. Residents live under the cloud of active Mount Vesuvius; each meal might be the last, so every morsel is savored.
Naples is now easier to reach thanks to United Airlines' new daily nonstop service from Newark, making this culinary paradise more accessible than ever. (It’s the only nonstop from the U.S.) Here's what to eat when in town.
Pizza: Invented at Pizzeria Brandi in 1889 to tempt the palate of Queen Margherita, the original Margherita pizza recipe stands intact. The simple yeast dough is topped with mozzarella cheese, San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and a few aromatic basil leaves. It takes only 90 seconds to cook in a blistering wood-burning oven, so you’ll have your first bite in no time.
La Sfogliatella: Neapolitan pastries are revered throughout Italy. La sfogliatella is a plump, shell-shaped, crispy treat filled with lightly sweetened ricotta cheese. Try one at Scaturchio, where all baked goods are made according to traditional family recipes.
Amazing Wine: The Falanghina grape is cultivated near the coast, and this saucy white is the signature wine of Naples, which combines notes of stone fruit with earthy minerality. Locals drink it as a palate-limbering aperitivo. Experience a dash of la dolce vita as you sip your vino at Enoteca Belledonne.
Perfect Produce: Produce markets are one of the most colorful threads in this city’s epicurean tapestry, as Naples’ nutrient-rich volcanic soil is a springboard for edible creations. A visit to Pignasecca Market is pure public theater; you’ll get an authentic view of Neapolitan commerce in action as shoppers haggle for bargains. Expect stalls to overflow with thorny artichokes in spring, San Marzano tomatoes in summer, and ripe figs in fall.
Coffee: Neapolitan espresso is short, strong, and creamy. More than just a drink, it’s a ritual that's deeply embedded in the culture. It is often chugged down on the fly (al volo) so while it’s savored, it's not lingered over. Founded in 1860, Gran Caffè Gambrinus is a characteristic spot to caffeinate.
Pasta: Pasta is eaten in much of Italy, but in Naples it is always served al dente, (tender with a firm bite). While fresh pasta can be found, dried pasta made with semolina flour is favored. La Bersagliera serves a terrific plate; try the spaghetti with clams, seasoned with just a touch of olive oil, garlic, white wine, and parsley.
Gelato: Gelato is ubiquitous in Italy, but the abundance of superb fruit in Naples makes sampling fruit-flavored gelato a must. Casa Infante scoops a variety of seasonal flavors, including apricot, watermelon, and cherry — all in jewel tones that look like they could top a tiara.
Mozzarella di Bufala: Made from the milk of the water buffalo, this light and delicate cheese has little in common with the stringy mozzarella found in most parts of the world. Purchase some of the best at Grangusto, a gourmet market with an outstanding selection.
Lemony Limoncello: Naples is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, which is known for its stunning swath of sea and oversized lemons. The zest of these lemons is the base for limoncello, a popular alcoholic beverage served chilled as a digestivo (which is typically served before or after a meal). Join the after-dinner crowd at Archeobar and sample this intensely flavored liqueur.
Fresh Seafood: Located on the Bay of Naples, fish, crustaceans, and mollusks (still briny from the sea) are specialties here. If you’re looking to splurge, book a table at Il Comandante, where the mussels, squid, and delicate spigola (sea bass) are so fresh you can taste the saltwater. The view of Mount Vesuvius from the restaurant’s 10th-floor perch is a solid bonus.