First opened in 1870, the Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, Italy is renowned both locally and around the world for offering what many say is the definitive wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza. Patrons wait in long lines outside for a chance to grab a table inside the bustling dining area and tuck into one of Da Michele’s classic pies.
The restaurant has had enthusiastic fans outside Italy for decades, but came into the spotlight most recently when Elizabeth Gilbert described her love affair with the pizza there in her bestselling memoir, Eat Pray Love. There’s also a scene in the film adaptation of the book that shows Julia Roberts (playing Gilbert) inside the iconic restaurant, blissfully scarfing down a slice.
Owned and managed by the Condurro family, whose ancestor Salvatore opened the restaurant in the late nineteenth century, Da Michele proudly claims to make the best pizza in Naples. But does it live up to all the hype?
Arriving at the Restaurant
When you arrive at the Antica Pizzeria, tucked on a side street just off the Corso Umberto in one of Naples’ busiest central districts, you can expect to wait at least a few minutes to get a table. Waits are longer, obviously, around lunch and dinnertime.
The process for getting inside can be a bit confusing, initially. You’ll need to approach a staff member standing at the door to get a ticket and wait for your number to be called—in Italian—so make sure you can recognize your number. If in doubt, ask someone in line to tell you how to pronounce it in Italian.
Once inside the bustling dining hall, with its open kitchen emanating odors of yeasty, wood-fired crusts, fresh basil, and tomatoes, you’ll need to scramble to find a table on your own; if need be, snag an un-bussed one and wait for the server to come to clean up and take your order.
The simple menu is scrawled out on boards around the restaurant. Choose between the classic Margherita—topped with tomatoes, fior di latte cheese (a regional cow’s milk variety similar to buffalo mozzarella), fresh basil, and a drizzling of soybean oil—or the Marinara, featuring only tomatoes, garlic, and oregano (a good choice for vegans).
The drinks menu is equally barebones and includes Peroni (an Italian lager), sparkling water, and house wines. It can be very warm inside the dining area, especially near the kitchen, so a cold drink may be a welcome prospect.
Worth the Wait
If the service at Da Michele is admittedly a bit chaotic, the pizza is worth the mild confusion. Theirs is a pie of remarkable complexity, with an unctuous, melting quality that nevertheless has a pleasing bite to it. The crust is simultaneously doughy and charred, with the delicious flavor typical of breads baked in wood-fired ovens. The warm tomatoes and fior di latte cheese merge with drizzled oil to melt seamlessly in your mouth. The whole effect is slightly watery and malleable—which means that fans of crispy pizza with lots of toppings won’t likely prefer this version.
Interestingly, the pies at Da Michele don’t adhere to some of the standards set by the local association that certifies pizzas as “authentically” Neapolitan. The chefs here use fiore di latte cheese in lieu of buffalo mozzarella, and soybean oil to drizzle over the top instead of cold-pressed olive oil.
Their flouting of the rules has clearly paid off: The distinctive flavors and textures of the pizza leave you craving more almost immediately. The verdict? Da Michele is well worth the wait and the rather barebones service.
The pizzeria is located in central Naples, only a 10 or 15-minute walk from the bustling Piazza Garibaldi train station. Alternatively, get off at the Porta Nolano Metro stop (lines 3 and 4). The restaurant is a 5 to 10-minute walk from there.
Address: Via Cesare Sersale, 1, 80139 Napoli, Italy
For those of you who can’t get to Naples but are planning on visiting London, the owners of the celebrated pizza joint have recently opened a new branch in the English capital, located at 125 Church Street, Stoke Newington (London Overground station: Stoke Newington).
Be aware, though that many visitors on TripAdvisor report that the pizza here isn’t quite on par with the pies being served at the original location in Napoli.