When plans for our Italy trip started coming together, there was initially no intent to spend any extended time in Naples. We knew we had to pass through Naples on our way to the Amalfi Coast, but the plan was to just head straight to the ferry terminal from the Naples train station and directly on to Capri. But then (as tends to happen with me) I started getting a serious case of #fomo like you wouldn’t believe. It was palpable. The main concern being, how on earth could I possibly pass through Naples and not have pizza IN Naples? It simply wouldn’t suffice to have very similar Napoletana-style pizza in the areas near Naples. It had to come straight from the source — the birthplace of pizza. And so a plan was hatched to squire away a few hours for a self-directed, fast-paced Naples pizza tour, and it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. Here’s how it all went down…
We left Rome via high speed train at around 10am, which got us to Naples at just a little past 11am. We made sure to eat very little breakfast at the hotel before we left so we’d have grumbling tummies by the time we reached Naples…after all, we had a very aggressive pizza agenda ahead of us.
Once we arrived in Naples, our first order of business was to drop our bags at the temporary baggage storage at the train station. At other train stations I’ve seen huge lockers that you pay to keep your luggage in, but at the Naples station it’s actually a room where you drop your bag with an attendant, and they give you a claim slip. It was a pretty easy process with no line, cost 5 Euro per bag, and we collected everything completely intact later that day (the attendant even dropped a funny joke about my heavy bag…ok, I get it, I overpacked).
The plan from there was to venture out on foot to three well-known pizzerias, then return to the train station to retrieve our bags, and grab a cab to the port in time for the 4:30pm ferry to Capri. I did tons of online research to determine exactly which pizzerias we should try, and what was feasible within the limited time we had. (This article was a huge help in mapping out our plan). Altogether the schedule worked out to around an hour of walking time, which also left us ample time to eat at each destination. Luckily, these Napoletana pizzas cook pretty darn quick, and take-away is available everywhere so wait times were never an issue. We ordered just one pizza to split at each stop, which sounds like a ridiculous amount of pizza, but Napoletana pizzas are a bit smaller than what we’re used to here in the U.S. (That said, it was still a lot of pizza).
Venturing out into Naples from the train station was such an adventure. It definitely felt like one of the most foreign places I’ve been to. The streets were packed with people and tons of commotion, especially just outside of the train station. It was utter chaos on the sidewalks, and the streets were an even bigger mess. I’m not sure what the traffic law situation is in Naples, but seems like they could use a little help and maybe some traffic lights?
The further we walked from the train station, though, the more serene the streets got. We wandered through endless narrow alleys en route to our destinations, each strewn with requisite laundry lines that made us feel we’d been transported back in time. We didn’t hear any English spoken on the streets and didn’t meet a single American that day. We felt immersed!
Stop #1 — Pizzeria da Michele
The first stop on our pizza adventure was a visit to Pizzeria da Michele, the local favorite that catapulted to cult status when it was featured in the movie Eat, Pray, Love (Remember when Julia gorged on pizza? This was where it all went down). The locals, however, have not let a little hype get in the way and still clamor to get into this place, as evidenced by the mob below.
Most of these people were waiting for a table inside, but we ordered our pizza to go and posted up for a little curb picnic outside. Oh, and PS…it only cost 4 Euro.
Ok, let’s pause for a moment to note a few things here…blistery crust with slight charring…sparse cheese that has all but dissolved into the tomato sauce…a little bit of soupy liquid pooled in the middle (telltale sign of a true Napoletana pie). You guys, it was utter perfection. I think this is the pizza that may have ruined me for all pizzas forever. If ever for a moment I doubted the effort and time it took to partake in this pizza pilgrimage, all of that doubt disappeared with one bite.
Stop #2 — Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba
The next stop on our adventure took us to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, the proclaimed original birthplace of pizza in Naples…as in THEE first place that Napoletana pizza was ever made. I had heard kind of iffy reviews of this place in advance, but I just couldn’t help myself and had to give it a try. I liken it to how we tell tourists here in SF that Boudin’s is really not that great, but they all still go anyway. We were those people…
The red flag slowly started going up as we approached, and there was nary a local to be found anywhere in sight. Then, when we tried to order a pizza to go, they offered a pre-made pizza that had clearly been sitting in the case (shown above) for some time. Um…excuse me?
Nonetheless, we’d come all this way and we were determined to get a taste of it…so we took a seat at a table to order a fresh pizza from the waiter.
I wish I could say that it was amazing, but it was a complete disappointment. I’ve actually had way better Napoletana pizzas here in San Francisco at Pizzeria Delfina or Zero Zero. The Port’Alba version was a total bummer. The dough did not have the springy lightness we’d tasted at da Michele, and the cheese was hard and chewy. Oh, but guess what…we ate it all anyway (research, people).
This is right about when the pizza wall started rearing its ugly head,but, of course, we carried on!
Stop #3 — Pizzeria Di Matteo
Our final stop took us to Pizzeria Di Matteo, and we knew it was another great choice when we spotted the massive crowd out front. Similar to da Michele, a lot of these folks were waiting for a tables inside, but plenty of them were also waiting for fresh batches of to-go pizzas to come straight out of the oven.
It kind of reminded me of a stock exchange trade floor. They would throw about 10 fresh pizzas in the window, a ton of commotion would ensue, and before we knew they would be depleted again. We went through a couple rounds of this before we caught on. There was really no line situation. You speak up, make eye contact, and ask for that pizza with determination. That’s how you get your pizza here. It’s not for the meek (Kevin was a total trooper).
There was one choice, the margarita pizza, it came folded in 4ths, and…you guys…it cost 1 Euro.
We ranked Di Matteo as leagues above what we’d just tasted at Port’Alba, but it didn’t quite notch out da Michele as our number one choice. I’m pretty sure I’ll forever be in pursuit of pizza that can compare to the perfection we tasted from da Michele. It was that amazing.
And so that wrapped our pizza adventure in Naples. Our only regret was not getting a chance to taste Sorbillo, another place that I’d read about. When we walked by, an insane crowd (shown below) was gathered out front, and we thought about giving it a try for about 2 seconds. But then our bellies were like, “don’t you even freaking dare.” In retrospect, I wish we’d tried that instead of Port’Alba…but then, of course, I would have had regrets not trying Port’Alba.
We tried a couple more pizzas during the remainder of our trip at the Amalfi Coast, but they didn’t even come close to what we tasted in Naples. Kevin even described one Positano pizza as “DiGiorno like”…ouch.
Speaking of the Amalfi Coast, I’ve got loads more pics to share from our time there…which I’ll have to save till next week!
(PS…if you missed it earlier this week, our visit to Rome).