The island of Sicily has been a crossroads of culture for millennia. Located off the southwestern coast of Italy, it was strategic for the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs. The island is firmly grounded in ancient traditions, and its capital, Palermo, is a microcosm of the island as a whole. Picture frescoes and mosaics, mosques and cathedrals, vibrant bazaars, amazingly fresh seafood, and more. Palermo is home to Italy’s largest opera house as well as its own unique cuisine.
Speaking of cuisine, if you were to visit Palermo and skip the food scene, you’d be missing the heart of the city. Palermo’s food is as central to its culture as its people and its history, and there are mouthwatering surprises at every turn.
Want to know where to get the very best local eats in Palermo? Read on to discover where to satisfy your cravings.
Mercato Del Capo
What would Italy be without its markets? In Palermo, Mercato del Capo is certainly one of the best, and it’s popular with locals and travelers alike. The market runs the entire length of the Via Sant’Agostino and is close to the beautiful Teatro Massimo. A burst of colors, scents, and sounds, this kaleidoscopic market is a snapshot of Sicily. You’ll discover fish, meat, spices, and Sicilian fruits and vegetables, and don’t be surprised if you catch an occasional whiff of decadent, fresh Sicilian cheese. It’s a local experience with a touch of street theater, as purveyors regularly hawk their wares, especially in the seafood section.
This is a great experience for travelers who are staying in an Airbnb and want to prepare a meal using the freshest Sicilian ingredients. The best time to visit the market is in the morning, before the crowds arrive.
‘Nni Franco U’ Vastiddaru
Like any city worth its salt, Palermo is known for its street food, most notably Sfincione (Sicilian-style pizza), pane (bread), panelle (chickpea fritters), and arancine (rice balls known as arancini on the mainland). Panelle is a Palermo classic. These local favorites are chunky, flaky, and especially addictive. Be sure to try them with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice.
‘Nni Franco U’ Vastiddaru just off of Piazza Marina celebrates the street food of Palermo. Don’t expect fancy food here, and definitely don’t expect figure-friendly food. What you’re coming for is a local experience: affordable, authentic snacks and outdoor seating. There are no frills, but there’s great food. The panelle and arancine are particularly delicious, as are the paninis. Try the panino Vastiddaru with roast pork, salami, Emmental cheese, and spicy mushrooms.
When it comes to arancine, one restaurant in Palermo is thinking outside of the ball. Ke Palle offers twists on the classic dish, experimenting with different flavors and using traditional Sicilian ingredients in new ways. The restaurant sells more than 40 different types of arancine, including vegan and vegetarian options and several experimental options you won’t find anywhere else. There are four locations throughout Palermo, and a stop at one is definitely something to add to your itinerary.
Start with a more traditional version, like the ham and mozzarella arancine or the meat, butter, spinach, and mozzarella arancine. If you’re feeling adventurous, branch out to the pasta-filled arancine with sardines and fennel, or maybe the swordfish, eggplant, and mint arancine. No matter which kind you choose, sampling arancine is a vital part of experiencing Palermo’s cuisine. You won’t regret it!
Located on the border of what was once the Jewish quarter of Palermo, this charming and historic restaurant sits in the former stables of the beautiful Palazzo Cattolica. Today Osteria Ballarò is a restaurant that offers three very different vibes: a romantic bistro, a wine bar, and an outdoor takeout area. Each menu has its own flair.
Osteria Ballarò was approved by the Slow Food movement and celebrates all that is locally produced in Sicily, from cheeses and charcuterie to sashimi and wine. For lunch, you can choose between a three-course tasting menu for 25 euros and a five-course tasting menu for 35 euros. The chef is prepared to cook for anyone with dietary restrictions.
A bonus? The decor in the wine bar is to die for. Picture walls of wine between 15th-century columns along with high-top tables and chairs.
Sicily is Italy’s most well-known island, and everyone who visits it must indulge in its decadent seafood. Nowhere in Palermo is better for sea treasures than Aja Mola, set in the historic center of the city. The specialty here is the catch of the day, accompanied, of course, by local wine. Relish fish, shrimp, oysters, and more, and be prepared to taste the Mediterranean in one of the most authentic ways possible. We recommend starting with the roasted octopus or the truffled shrimp carpaccio and then moving on to the tagliolini pasta with shrimp and pork jowl.
The nautical design is the icing on the cake at this seafood favorite in the capital city. Diners are treated to the show of an open kitchen, and the restaurant overlooks Via Cassari, which is the street that leads from the Vucciria market down to the beach.
Buatta Cucina Popolana
The best way to experience the heart of Sicilian cooking is by visiting Buatta Cucina Popolana, a lively Bib Gourmand restaurant inside a late-19th-century leather goods shop. Imagine hearty caponatas, savory pasta with sardines, Sicilian-style pizzas, cannoli, traditional street food, and much more. The chef, Fabio Cardillo, was awarded a Michelin star in 1996, and he continues to bring his masterful recipes to the plates of Palermo today. The restaurant is committed to seasonal cooking and using local produce.
A must-try is the bucatini alle sarde, or pasta with sardines. Wine connoisseurs absolutely adore the unique wine selection and the open kitchen, as well as the knowledgeable in-house sommelier, who can pick the perfect local wine for any dish. In addition to an à la carte menu, there is an eight-course menu for 35 euros, which is absolutely worth it.
Locanda Del Gusto
Why eat at the hotel restaurant when you’re in a culinary paradise like Palermo? Well, if the hotel restaurant is anything like Locanda del Gusto, you just might want to. Located inside the atrium of the Quintocanto Hotel & Spa, Locanda del Gusto is popular with visitors and locals alike for its beautifully prepared breakfasts (try the poached egg with fresh sweet peas and velvet cream sauce) and hearty Sicilian fare. The scene sets the tone, with the Palazzo dei Normanni in the background and the sea out front. The restaurant prides itself on using only local products available at the markets, with a focus on biodynamic foods.
Some of the most beloved menu items are the croccantino di baccala (lemon cod with cuttlefish ink, bottarga, and orange-onion jam) and the braised veal cheek with pomegranate.
No trip to Italy would be complete without pizza, and Sicilian pizza is a delicacy all its own. When in Palermo, pizza is a must, and if you want the dish served the local way, you must go to PerciaSacchi. With its menu of pizzas and other popular Sicilian dishes and its list of craft beers and wines, the restaurant is committed to keeping things local and top quality. The vibe here is decidedly warm and earthy, welcoming and relaxed. The lovely outdoor seating area is tucked amid olive trees and hanging plants, giving it a pastoral vibe in the heart of the city.
Pizzas come in the classic flavors, but there are also ones with a bit of an edge — with salted bottarga, for example. There are also pastas, meats, and salads.
I Segreti Del Chiostro
Inside the gorgeous Monastero Santa Caterina, which dates to the 14th century, is a special culinary secret. Known as I Segreti del Chiostro, or “The Cloister’s Secrets,” this woman-run business prepares and sells pastries, bringing to life a tradition that has continued within the walls for centuries. The confectionery sits right where the nuns used to bake and sell cakes, cookies, and sweets when the monastery was at its height. It’s one of the more sacred traditions of Palermo that lives on today. This is where you can find the best cannoli in town, as well as the most scrumptious views of Palermo from the rooftop of the monastery.
Planning a food tour of Italy? Be sure to try these 15 delicious types of pasta.