The city is famous for inventing pizza, but don’t let that narrow your taste buds.
Naples is still a deeply traditional place in terms of eating, drinking and making merry. But don't let that put you off, traditional is not code for boring; in Naples it means excellent quality, authentic local and regional produce and flavors, and, usually, a convivial ambiance. In the past decade, several young chefs and restaurateurs have opened sleeker, more modern venues serving an updated version of the already excellent regional cuisine to great effect.
An evening out in Naples starts with an aperitivo in the upmarket Chiaia neighborhood, and more specifically in one of the bars located between Via Alabardieri and Via Cavallerizza a Chiaia, such as the Enoteca Belledonne (Vico Belledonne a Chiaia 18, tel. +39-081-403162), a genial and attractive wine bar that serves some of the best wines of Campania by the glass, or Gran Caffe Cimmino (Via G. Filangieri 12-13 Piazza dei Martiri, tel. +39-081-418303), voted one of the top 20 bars in Italy by Gambero Rosso (the Italian version of the Michelin guides), and an obligatory stopover during Neapolitan aperitivo hour.
For a more sedate cocktail hour, or coffee break at any time of the day, you can do little better than Scaturchio (Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19, tel. +39-081-5516944), home to pastry-aficionados for generations (try its flaky sfogliatelle, filled with sweet ricotta and candied fruit, ministeriale chocolates filled with rum and chocolate cream).
Il Vero Bar del Professore (Piazza Trieste e Trento 46, tel. +39-081-403041), has a tiny and permanently jam-packed café serving 63 varieties of coffee (try their best-selling caffè nocciolato made with hazelnut).
Dining out is key to a night out in Napoli and all Neapolitans, regardless of age or income, take it extremely seriously. The odds of eating well in this city are very high, whether you opt for a simple pizza at city institutions or a three-course meal at a traditional trattoria. Lombardi (Via Benedetto Croce 59, tel. +39-081-5520780); Brandi (Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo 1-2, tel. +39-081-416928, www.brandi.it); Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale 3, tel. +39-081-5539204); Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali 32, tel. +39-081-446643) and Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba (Via Port’Alba 18, tel. +39-081-4421061) are just some of Naples’ most renowned pizzerie and a very reliable bet for a good meal.
For traditional Neapolitan cuisine of a high standard, opt for the rustic and classical charms of the Taverna dell’Arte (Rampe S. Giovanni Maggiore 1/a, tel. +39-081-5527558), whose delectable menu is based on 17th-century Campanian regional recipes that have been updated for modern palates; the family-run Mattozzi l’Europeo (Via Campodisole Marchese 4, tel. +39-081-5521323, www.europeomattozzi.it), which combines efficient and friendly service, a warm and entertaining atmosphere, decent prices and consistently high-quality cuisine; the Antica Cantina di Sica (Via G. Bernini 17, tel. +39-081-5567520) in the well-heeled Vomero neighborhood, which has a beautiful plant-filled terrace; or the elegantly old-fashioned Mimì alla Ferrovia (Via Alfonso d’Aragona 19/21, tel. +39-081-5538525, www.mimiallaferrovia.it) near Piazza Garibaldi, a favorite with Naples’ theater and film crowds.
In the past few years a new breed of contemporary Neapolitan eateries has come on to the scene giving it a welcome breath of fresh oxygen and creativity. Radici (Riviera di Chiaia 268, tel. +39-081-2481100, www.ristoranteradici.it) is arguably the best of this new wave; the word radici means “roots” and refers to the foundations a renewed local gastronomy, explains enthusiastic restaurant manager and co-owner Agostino Cacace. Head chef Carlo Spina changes the menu at least four times a year, but on my last visit I ate ravioli filled with a ricotta and lemon stuffing and drizzled with a delicately piccante clam sauce, swordfish cooked in a citrus fruit crust and served with eggplant purée, and finished off with steaming hot chocolate and pear torte.
Owner and chef Diego Nuzzo’s Coco Loco (Piazza G. Rodinò 31, tel. +39-081-415482) is located just steps from the elegant Piazza dei Martiri. Upholstered gray and white seats, white walls, tablecloths and hanging lamps, and light hardwood flooring create a luminous setting for a restaurant that prides itself on imaginative southern cuisine. Highlights include seabass, prawn and aubergine flan, or in autumn, zuppa di castagne e porcini (chestnut and porcini mushroom soup). Terrazza Calabritto (Piazza Vittoria 1a/b, tel. +39-081-2405188, www.terrazzacalabritto.it) has a bar downstairs and a glamorous restaurant upstairs offering amazing views of the Gulf of Naples and memorable fish and seafood dishes such as scampi and radicchio risotto or fried almond shrimp.
And should you get tired of pizza, pasta or fish cooked in the Mediterranean style, Naples boasts two of the best Japanese restaurants in Italy. Kukai (Via Carlo de Cesare 52, tel. +39-081-411905, www.kukai.it) is a tantalizing mix of glimmering steel, glass and 16th-century wood beams with a perfectly executed menu (prepared by five chefs, two of whom are Japanese), and Zero Sushi Bar (Via Cristoforo Colombo 45, tel. +39-081-0175001), features an all-Japanese sushi team whose signature dishes—the Sushi ZeRomeo and Sashimi ZeRomeo platters—combine squeaky fresh amberjack, tuna, scallops, shrimps, sea bass and salmon with unexpected toppings such as black truffle, jalapeño peppers, foie gras and salmon eggs to unique and memorable effect. Enjoy everything around a 26-foot marble sushi bar.
After dinner, students and young Neapolitans fill the area between Piazza San Domenico Maggiore and Piazza Santa Maria la Nova talking and drinking into the early hours.
An older and more artsy intellectual crowd fills the locales in leafy Piazza Bellini. The most appealing after-dinner spot here is the Intra Moenia (Piazza Bellini 70, tel. +39-081-290988, www.intramoenia.it), which has plenty of outdoor seating in a leafy and elegant square that overlooks excavations of the city’s ancient Greek walls. The space is filled with travel and art books, and hosts concerts and poetry evenings.
The chicest Neapolitans head for the Chiaia and Vomero districts. With its atmospheric décor, divans and lighting, fusion menu and endless list of cocktails, whiskies and rums, La Garçonne (Vico S. Maria A Cappella Vecchia 10, tel. +39-081-7643826, www.lagarconne.it) has become a runaway hit with some of the trendiest locals.