Naples is perhaps the one city where every local agrees on the best chef in town: their mamma. Unfortunately for visitors, unless you can score an invitation to their family dinner table, you’ll have to try to find the next best thing. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of options to rival even the most exquisite best home cooking.
Beyond the classic pizza, ragù and Genovese, this region’s unsung treasure is its abundance of fresh seafood and veg. With fish, clams and mussels from the Mediterranean on one side, and fresh produce plucked from hillsides on the other, these first-rate restaurants in Naples don’t compromise when it comes to quality of ingredients. Frankly, their food-literate customers would never let them.
From unchanging classics to the young chefs reinvigorating the scene, no food lover will leave disappointed – with or without a trip to mamma’s kitchen.
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Best restaurants in Naples
Run by the charming Alfonso Mattozzi, who greets all his customers like old friends at the door, Ristorante Mattozzi is a proper institution. The wood-panelled dining room, decorated with historic prints of the city, is a second home for cross-generational mix of professionals at lunchtime. By evening, it draws a sophisticated crowd of regulars who can count on Alfonso’s simple but high-quality home-style cooking for a low-key night out.
Trattoria da Nennella is Naples’s best-known trattoria, not so much for its food as for its loud and chaotic atmosphere where purposely rude waiters play up to their unruly reputation dancing on tables, throwing plastic plates of ragù across tables and – as you may have heard – serving fruit at the end of your meal in a big ceramic toilet seat. Afterwards, dip into equally rowdy Bar Cammerota for a €1 spritz to let off some steam.
At the top of several steep steps, a single lantern marks the vine-covered entrance to this tiny restaurant. Knock at the door and you’ll be welcomed with open arms by Marcellino Amato, a former insurance broker, who in his retirement made it his aim to found one of the city’s best Italian restaurants. Alongside young chef Marco di Martino, he’s succeeded.
Easily mistakable as one of the bassi – ground-floor apartments – that punctuate the narrow alleyways of the Old Town, the storied Cantina della Sapienza, formerly a wine cellar, appears unchanged since it opened more than a century ago. Fewer than 10 tables are crammed into the warmly lit dining area, where workers chat in thick Neapolitan dialect as they enjoy large bowls of pasta e patate and tumblers of cold red vino sfuso.
Neapolitans take meal times extremely seriously, meaning there’s a plethora of tiny trattorias that cater to workers unable to get home for a warm meal. Cibi Cotti is a historic lunch spot, tucked away in the Mergellina covered market. It serves freshly made staples such as gnocchi alla sorrentina, parmigiana and grilled vegetables to builders, shop-keepers and lawyers from nearby offices.
Mimì alla Ferrovia has been frequented by journalists, academics and stars such as Maradona and Fellini in its time. Despite the semblance of grandeur – a frescoed ceiling, white tablecloths and photos of their illustrious clientele on the walls – the atmosphere is unfussy and the food rooted in Neapolitan tradition. Presentation is taken up a notch to make it an experience to remember.
Add’u Fratemo is a true favourite among locals, who pass the time smoking out in the street or watching the football on a TV propped up in the corner. Just off the Pignasecca market in Montesanto, this cosy restaurant’s specialities include abundant sea food antipasti and linguine ai frutti di mare.
Several streets deep into the Spanish Quarter, the hugely popular La Pignata spills out on to the cobbles outside night after night. Young couples and groups of friends gather here for the never-ending antipasti and the freshly caught crab with linguine. Get down early to avoid the inevitable queue, or wait patiently outside with a beer and take in the Neapolitan street life.
‘Garum’, an anchovy concentrate used by the Romans, now gives its name to one of the best fish restaurants in the historic centre. Tucked inside the picturesque Piazza Monteoliveto, opposite the stunning Renaissance façade of Chiesa di Sant’Anna dei Lombardi, this well-located restaurant makes the ideal spot to watch the world go by. Enjoy a carefully curated selection of fresh fish dishes and drink local Greco di Tufo white wine.
Before the outbreak of cholera in 1972, Marina di Santa Lucia was home to generations of cockle-farming fishermen. Today the small harbour is filled with an array of elegant sailing boats, around which you’ll find some of the city’s smartest restaurants. While away an afternoon at La Scialuppa overlooking the water and indulge in fresh fish and pasta dishes served on traditional Vietri plates.
Behind the fruit and veg market in upmarket Vomero is Trattoria Malincolico, marked by a simple faded sign above the door reading ‘Vino e Olio’, nodding to its former life as a grocery store. The family who own the place serve Neapolitan classics with a refreshingly laid-back approach to service. The clientele comprises both visitors and local market sellers refuelling after a long morning’s bartering.
While the historic centre overflows with pizza joints, the Spanish Quarter is the place to find traditional Neapolitan cuisine in unspoilt family-run trattorias. Osteria della Mattonella, run by the La Marangio family, specialises in all the home-cooked classics, but the restaurant itself is the real draw, decorated as it is in blue and green majolica tiles that have graced the walls since the 1700s.