Having spent nearly a decade living in Manhattan, I often take pizza for granted. Within a few blocks of my apartment — whether it’s 5 p.m. or 5 a.m. — dozens of ovens are fired up and churning out what many people would consider New York’s most quintessential food. Pizzerias here are more plentiful than Starbucks and Subway, and they can be found on nearly every block — nestled between bars and apartment buildings, laudromats and corner delis, liquor stores and fast food joints.
Whenever I find myself outside of New York City and craving some pizza, it can be difficult to find a quality slice. I knew, however, that I would have no such issue during a recent two-week pizza adventure in Italy. Unlike an athlete, who might feel uneasy being 4,000 miles away from his home turf, I felt a sense of comfort as I worked my way from pizzeria to pizzeria in a region where people are even more passionate about pizza than in New York. Although Italy’s pizza scene is vastly different than the one here, the universality of the food breaks through all language barriers, cultural differences, and class divisions.
And it is never as evident as it was on a Saturday evening in two of Italy's most vibrant cities. As motorcycles weaved through the dimly lit alleyways of Naples, throngs of locals began to flood toward the city's historic district. And 150 miles north, tourists could be found navigating maps and posing for photos in Rome's sprawling piazzas as they made their way to dinner. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/TimDan2)
During the course of my trip, I had the opportunity to dine at a diverse group of pizza places in both cities — from a century-old shop in Naples that was featured in a 1954 Sofia Loren movie to a hip new slice joint in Rome’s Testaccio neighborhood. No two places were remotely the same. Here is a roundup of the ten best pizzerias I visited during my trip and why each place now holds a special place in my heart.
10) Dar Poeta (45 Vicolo Del Bologna, Rome, 39-06-6830-7769)
Located in the funky and hip Trastevere neighborhood just south of Vatican City, Dar Poeta churns out more than 30 different pies which feature a cracker-like crust and are adorned with toppings ranging from swordfish to courgette flowers. Checkered table cloths and exposed brick walls give this space a very homey Roman vibe. The real action, however, takes place in a more secluded lower level which is hopping during prime dining hours.
9) Forno Marco Roscioli (34, Via Dei Chiavari, 066-864-045)
This bread store is nestled in a narrow alleyway, just blocks from the Pantheon and many of Rome’s ancient ruins. Head over to the pizza counter, where a variety of options can be ordered by weight. Their rectangular slices are folded in half and served like a sandwich. Their pizza didn’t taste much different than what you might find at a typical New York slice joint, but it's difficult to go wrong when you're enjoying a bite while wandering through the ancient streets of Rome.
8) Di Matteo (94, Via dei Tribunali, Naples, 081-455262)
This no-frills, bi-level spot is known just as much for their pizza as for their fried goods such as pasta cresciuta (dough balls), arancini di riso (rice balls), and crochette di patate (potato croquettes). Bill Clinton famously paid a visit here when he was in Naples for the G7 Summit in 1994. Grab a seat upstairs (a pizza elevator transports pies between floors) and dig into one of their authentic Neapolitan pies.
7) Da Michele (1/3, Via Cesare Sersale, Naples, 081-5539204)
Perhaps the most well-known pizza place in Italy, Da Michele was recently featured in the Julia Robert’s film Eat, Pray, Love. Grab a number and get ready for a wait that often exceeds one hour, even at off-hours. Their menu is as simple as it gets; they serve only Marinara and Margherita pies. The latter is better with extra mozzarella and dinner for two will only run you only about €12.00 ($16.00) — beer included!
6) Pizzeria Brandi (1-2, Salita S. Anna di Palazzo, Naples, 081-416928)
Legend has it that the Margherita pizza was invented here in 1889 when Raffaele Esposito, a famous chef working at Brandi, presented a pie to Queen Margherita of Savoy which featured vegetables that resembled the Italian flag — green basil, white mozzarella, and red tomato. One of Naples most expensive and upscale pizza places, Pizzeria Brandi features a gentleman with an acoustic guitar who serenades diners. The signature pie, it’s worth noting, lives up to the story behind it.