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Despite the difficulties of the Covid-19 lockdowns, the pandemic now feels far away (even if it sometimes tries to raise its head). After months of empty streets, Naples is so full of tourists these days that some areas are nearly impossible to walk through. Hotels and B&Bs are full and restaurants and bars are doing booming business, with visitors and locals alike. But off the beaten track, we still managed to find little corners of peace and gastronomic pleasure this past year. Reuniting with old friends this summer at Spiedo d’Oro, a hole-in-the-wall eatery steps away from busy Pignasecca market, reminded us of just how glad we were to see the streets and little spots like this busy again. Owner Enzo was back at the front of the restaurant, greeting customers with his warm smile and directing them towards the day’s best dishes. Chef Lello was back in the kitchen, tossing gnocchi in a large pan and keeping a watchful eye on a dozen bubbling pots. The spaghetti alle vongole and the plate of tiny fried fish that came to our table were as sublime as always. In other words, everything was as it once was and as it should be, which is how we felt about all our Naples Best Bites of 2022.

Cave of Wonders

Il Grottino means “the small cave,” a fitting name for what feels like a hidden treasure trove of good wine and good food in the upper Decumani area of the city, away from the crush of tourists. Born as a wine shop, the space became a small tavern in 2000. Il Grottino serves simple dishes: classics like pasta and beans, pasta and potatoes, meatballs, and parmigiana. The dish that I recommend is the so-called “Neapolitan taste,” a sampler plate in which Antonio and Marco (the father and son team who runs the shop) mix a selection of traditional hot and cold bites. On the sidewalk in front of Il Grottino, tables are set right under the church of San Giuseppe dei Ruffi, the church of the Sacramentine. Additionally, the family has renovated the interior which now is a wonderful dining room decorated with old furniture, including a barrel vault that sits underneath the monumental complex of the Convent of the Girolamini. People come here for a good glass of Aglianico wine, for a traditional Neapolitan dishes, and perhaps for an excellent grappa hand selected by Antonio.

Alimentari da Maria

Alimentari da Maria is a small delicatessen in Naples’s Quartieri Spagnoli. Here, simplicity reigns: the ingredients are simple, there are only four tables (two in the winter), and even the name alimentari simply means “food.” It became Alimentary da Maria when Maria, the original owner, lost her husband in 1964 and took over the running of the shop at only 20 years old.

Today, her son Gino is in charge, serving up the same traditional Neapolitan dishes with the same passion as Mamma Maria, alongside a selection of high quality meats and cheeses from the south of Italy. Try the maccheroni allo scarpariello, a dish born here in the Spanish Quarter, made with cherry tomatoes and lots of pecorino cheese. Among the first course options is also the legendary pasta and potatoes with provola cheese; the simple combination of pasta with potatoes generates one of the tastiest dishes in Neapolitan cuisine. There is also the pasta and beans that Gino prepares with the addition of pork leg, a Genovese (slow-cooked onion and meat sauce) that cannot be missed, as well as the gnocchi alla sorrentina (gnocchi with mozzarella and tomatoes). On the menu are also the side dishes that Mamma Maria prepares: aubergines, peppers, and fried friarielli, the slightly bitter Neapolitan broccoli – at 80 years old, she lives in an apartment across from the delicatessen and still cooks every day.

In Vomero: La Buatta

The star at Buatta is the onion Genovese. It’s a dish that we can find in dozens and dozens of Neapolitan trattorias, “But here it is very special, because in addition to meat and onions I put all my passion into it,” says chef-owner Angela Gargiulo. She calls her restaurant, which is tucked in a peaceful corner of Vomero, the Neapolitan shopping district, a trattoria di conversazione – a “conversation eatery.” Here, she invites guests to stay and talk, sipping wine and enjoying her delicious Neapolitan dishes.

Here I tried two other staples of the restaurant: pasta and potatoes with friarielli (broccoli rabe), an extraordinary invention of Angela’s, followed by the spaghetti with lemon, anchovies and pecorino cheese. The menu is full of dishes like these – traditional home-style Neapolitan classics, with Angela’s personal touch. Take, for example, the baccalá parmigiana, brilliantly made up of cod slices instead of aubergine.

Wood-fired Coffee

If you want to enjoy a freshly roasted coffee, rigorously wood-fired, in the company of splendid people (and perhaps followed by a homemade sweet or two), then it is worth traveling a few kilometers from Naples to reach Bacoli and Caffè Delizia. It’s not only a coffee shop but a true “coloniali” – an old-school stop for all kinds of sweets, chocolates, spices and nuts from all over Italy. Caffè Delizia is run by Nicola and Chiara, and is a warm and welcoming place with a couple of tables inside and even a shelf full of books should you want to stay awhile and read with your coffee.

Nicola roasts the coffee on-site, carrying on his family’s tradition of roasting coffee with a wood-burning machine. True coffee lovers often choose Delizia’s 100 percent Arabica blend. It is prepared with two different toasting levels: a strong blonde and a darker roast. For those in search of a lower-price coffee, Delizia prepares six other classic blends. The most famous are the Delizia Top Blend (70 percent Robusta and 30 percent Arabica) and the Famiglia blend we tried.

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Gianni Cipriano and Sara Smarrazzo

Published on December 30, 2022

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