In the past 10 years, I’ve spent more than six full months exploring Italy—riding the gondolas of Venice, stuffing myself at the food festivals of Tuscany, walking the cliff-side paths of the Cinque Terre and seeking out the thing Italy is most known for it: it’s fresh, flavourful food.
This winter, in keeping with that foodie tradition, my partner and I settled in for two months in romantic, vibrant, ancient Rome where we sought out artisanal gelato, took food tours through lesser-known neighbourhoods, wandered the three-storey, edible wonderland of Eataly and went on a quest to find the world’s best pizza.
Pizza was invented in Naples—just about an hour by train from Rome—and many argue that the best pizza in the world is found there. After all, how can you top the people who invented it in the first place?
Of course, the Romans beg to differ.
Pizza, they say, is better in the Roman style, though locals disagree passionately about which pizzerias rise above the rest.
The original pizza, presented to and named after the queen (Margherita), was topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil—red, white and green—to represent the Italian flag. Today that’s still the classic pizza here in Italy—both in Rome and Naples and throughout the country. The main difference between the two styles is crust: thin and crispy in Rome, thin and soft in Naples.
So, which one really is better?
We set off on a quest to find out, zig-zagging our way across both Rome and Naples and even darting outside the cities to try well-loved pizzerias in Venice, Sicily and Umbria. We ate pizza served casually by the slice at the famed Bonci pizzeria and signature pies served in sit-down pizzerias.
And for us, at the end the day, nothing could beat the famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele of Naples.
Da Michele has been serving pizzas in a no-frills restaurant on a non-descript corner in Naples (at Via Cesare Sersale, 1) since the 1800s—and today you’ll find it’s just as popular as ever. Get there right as it opens and you’ll probably still have to queue for a table. But it’s well worth the wait.
Don’t expect a fancy interior or a big menu. Here there are just two options: Marinara and Margherita, either served with regular cheese or extra cheese. The pies are big enough for two people to share, but so good that you might want one all to yourself. And, indeed, you’ll notice pretty much everyone in the restaurant has opted not to share…a choice that makes sense not only because the pizza itself is so good—with its rich tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella and soft, melt-in-your-mouth crust—but also because the price is most definitely right:
A whole pizza here will cost you between €4 and €5—about $6 to $7—depending on that extra mozzarella of course…
As with all questions of the best foods in the world, beauty is in the taste buds of the beholder. Da Michele may have topped our ranking, but there are still plenty of Romans who staunchly insist that Rome’s pizzas are head and shoulders above those soft, sweet Neapolitan pies.
Of all the pizzas we at in Rome, there were two that rose above the rest (though still not quite as perfectly poised as the pies at Da Michele): Da Remo and Bonci Pizzarium.
Da Remo, tucked away just across the river in Testaccio at Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44, tempted us back more than once. The Diavola (spicy salami) outshined the Margherita for us, and at the end of the trip we both agreed that it was our favorite pizza in Rome.
Way across town in the Trionfale district at Via della Meloria, 43, Bonci Pizzarium also lived up to the hype, serving a focaccia-style crust with unusual topping combinations by the slice.
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