/A Brief Guide to Dining in Palermo

A Brief Guide to Dining in Palermo


After five days in the fatherland, I can officially say that I’m full. Palermo is a place where it is unthinkable not to indulge. There are fried things everywhere, the fish is amazingly fresh, and you just can’t duplicate those amazing ricotta-filled pastries off the island. It would be a shame to pass any of those things up, not to mention all that questionably hygienic fantastic streetfood.

To put the tiniest scratch in Palermo’s gastronomic surface, you’re going to need at least a week. Nevermind the fact that most people devote less than 24 hours. They are missing everything. And don’t go planning a million day trips (a half-day in Monreale is a must, however). Stay put, get into the groove, and live Palermo. Of course you can’t do or eat everything on a single trip, but here is my advice for a crash course in Palermo’s cuisine.

Cucuzze, a type of zucchini, in the Capo Market

Visit the Capo and Ballaro’ markets
While the Vucciria is home to the most famous market in Palermo, I don’t much care for it (read: super touristy), preferring the Capo and Ballaro’, two of my favorite places on earth. They are large, rambling affairs where vendors sell produce, meat, and fish. Butcher shops display the skinned heads of recently slaughtered animals in the manner of North African and Middle Eastern bazaars; fish are stiff with rigor; produce is ripe and (mainly) local. You’ll also find stalls selling Palermo’s street food there (see below).

When visiting Monreale with public transport, take the AST bus from Via Calatafimi (at the moment the 389 bus is suspended). Beforehand, take a detour to two nearby pastry shops, Cappello and Massaro. Their setteveli, seven-layer cakes, are insane.

Cassata at Massaro.

Ricotta things
I love ricotta in all its forms: as stuffing in ravioli, in its salted and grateable version, and especially as the sweetened filling of desserts. When I visit Palermo, I usually stay near Mazzara, which does delectable ricotta-filled cornetti (as well as every other imaginable pasty), but I have been known to travel across town to Oscar on Via Magliocco Migliaccio for my absolute favorite cassata. Costa is also quite awesome and I would’t turn down a cannolo from Alba.

Eat whatever’s in that basket
In Capo and Ballaro’, as well as on random street corners and in alleys, you will see men with wicker baskets. These baskets are draped with fabric to keep their contents warm-ish and relatively fly-free. Walk up to the basket man and order frittola, a sandwich made with the meat bits (cartlidge, fat and tendons, too) he plucks from his container and stuffs into a roll. If you are watching your carbs, you can get the chunks in a paper cone. There is just one rule: don’t look too closely at the frittolaru’s fingernails. Nothing good can come from that.

Skewered stigghiole on Via Colonna Rotta.

Stigghiole are lamb or calf intestines that are charcoal grilled on the street at night. Starting at around 5pm, the stigghiolaru will set up shop, dropping a slab of fat over the smoldering charcoal to make smoke, which will attract customers. He will then prepare the innards, placing them on wooden chopping blocks to skewer them before they go on the grill. He will then chop the cooked stigghiole on the same chopping block in what is just one of the many wonderful examples of cross-contamination Palermo’s streetfood scene has to offer. Stigghiola stalls are everywhere.

Pane ca’ Meusa
Sliced sesame seed rolls are filled with slices of spleen cooked in lard. Even if you are squeamish, please give this sandwich a chance. Pane ca’ meusa is served all over town but the place that does it best is aptly names Pani ca’ Meusa di Porta Carbone. It is located on Via Cala and you can grab a sandwich and a beer and sit at the tables on the sidewalk that look across the street to the port and beyond to Monte Pellegrino.

Pane con panelle in Piazza Marina.

Pane con panelle
This is another classic streetfood that you can find absolutely everywhere. I am partial to the stall in Piazza Ballaro’, where the vendors (a husband and wife team, I believe) drop panelle into a bubbling cauldron of oil to order. They stuff each sesame seeded roll with 5-6 of the piping hot chick pea fritters and can even add stuff a few crocche’ (potato croquettes) in there with them.

Street Fish
Not far from Teatro Politeama lies Borgo Vecchio, one of the liveliest parts of central Palermo. Here there is commerce day and night, and the zone is constantly abuzz activity–howling street vendors touting their goods, kids playing in the street (a bit unsettling), and whole families whipping by on scooters (minus the muffler). At Da Michele on Via Principe di Scordia, the main axis of Borgo Vecchio, food is grilled out on the street. The other night, I visited Da Michele. I bought fish at the nearby stall, watched it be gutted and cleaned, then carried it across the street to a large stainless steel table. There, the fish were dropped in a bloody pool (from the meat Da Michele also offers), salted, and thrown on the grill. All I can say is I’m glad they cook the hell out of their fish or I most certainly would have an illness right now. Maybe I don’t really recommend this place. But do go have a look. If you want to have charcoal grilled fish out on the street, hit up Da Salvo in Piazza Kalsa.

Spaghetti con i ricci at Piccolo Napoli.

Piccolo Napoli
And if you want an amazing fish meal in a clean, enclosed environment, head to Piccolo Napoli. This family run establishment serves outstanding fish dishes in Borgo Vecchio. It is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and Thursday to Saturday for dinner. Booking is essential on the weekends, as palermitani flock for polpo bollito (boiled octopus), spaghetti con i ricci (with sea urchin roe), and involtini di spatola (filets of scabbard fish rolled around breadcrumbs, pine nuts and currants). Save room for a few buccellati (the original fig newton!) and cassata brought in from Pasticceria Oscar.

Zia Pina
Of course one must visit the Vucciria during the day (come back at night for stigghiole!), though I would discourage eating on the main square. Instead, head to Zia Pina on Via Argenteria, midway between the market and La Cala. Claim a plastic table and chair outside, load up your plate with antipasti, and order one of the daily pasta dishes and some grilled fish. This is as close to home cooking you are going to get without an invite to a casa palermitana, though do try to score one of those while you’re at it.

Cremolosa tasting at Le Cremolose.

For crudi (raw fish), take Foro Umberto, the long road that follows the coast southeast, past the Orto Botanico where fishermen sell ricci di mare (sea urchins) and cozze (mussels) straight out of the sea. Magic.

Le Cremolose
After all this you’ll need a palate cleanser. Head to Le Cremolose, a kiosk in the park beside the Giardino Inglese for some…cremolose, a sort of sorbet meets granita. Three flavors cost €4 with table services and you can even get the slushy treat stuffed into a sweet brioche for a little extra. Their almond and pistacchio are two valid reasons to drop everything and move to Palermo.

San Francesco Sucks
Not the Saint. The Antica Focacceria di San Francesco. This place is as boring and awful as it is famous. I won’t bore you with all the reasons AFSF sucks, but let’s suffice it to say that you can eat better out of a gutter everywhere else. I’ve dedicated a brief post to my disdain.

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  1. […] | A Brief Guide to Dining in PalermoParla Food […]

  2. Conor - Hidden Palette April 7, 2011 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Incredible post Katie, everything sounds and looks great. I went to Zia Pina on your recommendation a few months ago and had one of the best fish meals I’ve ever had in Italy, the markets were both great too. I never got round to the Pane ca’ Meusa, but will definitely check it out next time.

  3. SoSha April 7, 2011 at 11:43 am - Reply

    I can’t stop staring at the photo of the cassata. It looks so simply complete, so beautiful; the colours are perfect and the stickiness of the fruit topping, the sides melting slightly. I’m eating it with my eyes.

  4. CharmingItaly April 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm - Reply


  5. Angie April 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    This is SO awesome! I’ve been toying with the idea of a trip to Sicily and this post pretty much just made up my mind. If I make it to Palermo I’m printing this and keeping it in my pocket.

  6. janie April 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Wow-I’ve been thinking about Sicily for a long time-maybe on the next trip.

  7. Jonathan April 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    The Pane ca’ Meusa sounds awesome. I’m now desperate for a spleen sandwich.

  8. matt April 7, 2011 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    I prefer the pane ca meusa at Nino u Ballerino on Corso Finocchiaro Aprile, have you tried it there? I think it tastes a bit less ‘muddy’ than it does at the place on Via Cala and the portions are bigger too. The last time I was there I somehow ate two in a row, God help me. And I agree about the panelle stall in Ballaro! Plus if you go to the area next to the stadium on a match day there are a billion panelle, milza, panini and stigghiole stalls and a good atmosphere if Palermo win. Not that they have much lately…

  9. Frank April 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    This all looks so fantastic…. You know, one of my biggest regrets in life was that we never got down to Sicily during our years in Rome. Everyone who goes there raves about the food. Maybe one day…!

  10. Katie April 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    @Conor glad Zia Pina was a hit. youve gotta get back to try the spleen!!

    @SoSha i assure you the cassata was as good as it looks;)

    @Angie yes! go! let me know when you make plans. it’s a wonderful place!

    @janie do it! the summer is sweltering but go in october or november and you will fall in love

    @charming italy indeed!

    @Jonathan “I’m now desperate for a spleen sandwich.” = music to my ears!

    @Matt i love nino u’ ballerino how could i have forgotten him. i passed by the other day while on my way from the Zisa to lunch at Piccolo Napoli and there he was doing his thing. thanks for the comment. great spot!

    @Frank yes! i hope you make it there soon!!

  11. Michele Connors May 13, 2011 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Ciao Katie,

    Thanks so much for this post, I printed it and used it a lot in our Palermo trip last week. We did major cassata comparisons and had two or three little ones per day. Must tell you Oscar is not on Via Magliocco (but Mazzara is), but rather Via MAGLIACCIO. This led to great disappointment one day since you said it was your fave. We consoled ourselves with Sette Veli at Mazzara. Then the last day we found out the 102 bus goes by Via Magliaccio and we finally made our pilgrimage to Oscar. However we must say that after all, Massaro on Via Ernesto Basile near the university was our favorite and most marzipan-y.

    Lunch at Zia Pina was also a major highlight, we loved it. Another good budget option is Stravizi on Via Filangeri, we ate well there for a very reasonable price and tried a cool wine called Centopassi, a grillo/cataratto blend harvested on land sequestered from the mafia in the Terra Libera project. Le Cremolose was also a great suggestion, especially the actual cremolose.

    Our best food moment may have been, however, 2am at the Vucciria on Saturday night, piazzas filled with uninhabited falling down buildings and hundreds of students, where we found a man selling incredibly fresh whole calamari boiled and chopped up with lemon. 1 euro! What an experience. We loved Palermo overall and would recommend it to anyone, especially foodies. Thanks again for your help.

  12. Katie May 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Hey! I am SO SORRY about the misspelling in the text (the map was correct!). I am a terrible editor. Im glad you were able to drown your sorrows in Mazzara’s settevelli. I love Massaro and Im glad you did too! Thanks for the great trip report. Late night calamari in the Vucciria sounds awesome.

  13. vivi June 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I am going to Sicily in 1 weeks time and after reading your blog am even more excited!!!


  14. justafoodie July 2, 2011 at 8:09 am - Reply

    I wish I had seen your blog before my recent trip to Palermo. Our hotel was beside the Giardino Inglese and I would have loved to try the cremolose! Palermo is worth seeing again and you can bet I won’t miss it next time. Happy foodspotting!

  15. Ok January 3, 2012 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    I love your blog and my chef wife and I reference it often. You’ve listed some terrific spots. Thanks so much. Next time you’re in Palermo slide yourself outside of the traveled hoods and check out the insanely good Barrahiui Hasna, near the corner of Corsa dei Mille and Lincoln. The North African influenced piadina with fennel, zucchini, carrots and peppers and a homemade green chili chutney was ridiculously delicious. It looks like a corner market but was packed, and for very good reason. They have small tables in the front which border a grungy mechanic’s workshop so we opted for take away and strolled through the rubble of the city on a rainy afternoon. Don’t miss it next time and keep up great work. Thanks to you we are heading to Giardino Inglese for dessert!

  16. Mark Chais April 19, 2012 at 8:04 am - Reply

    I just discovered your blog while researching for my trip to Sicily, and it is fabulous. I have one question, if you care to answer. I will be one day in Palermo, but unfortunately, it is a sunday. Is there any street food, or other culinary delights available on this worst of all days for touring?

  17. Simona October 11, 2012 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    I’m from Palermo and I absolutely agree with you for the San Francesco place.It’s a tourist trap!Thousands of other places worth a visit,but not this one.
    I really enjoyed your article..grazie!

  18. Alfredo November 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    Great Blog!
    I am a guide and concerning the street food there are many other good and best places in Palermo to experience the true and well-made Sicilian street food.

  19. Sarah May 29, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Hey Katie
    smashing blog.

    I am Italian but have not visited Palermo; well, we are heading there for a week in June. Both my boyfriend and I are vegetarians so I wanted to ask- apart from “la solita pizza”, can you recommend cheap or good veggie-friendly gastro-spots? Thank you!!!


  20. soloSicily November 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    This is a great post, so detailed and rich of sicilian tastes!
    We are happy to share with you this infographic about Palermo’s Street Food! I hope you like it


  21. Check Out thelovelyresidence.blogspot.de

    A Brief Guide to Dining in Palermo | Parla Food

  22. Alfredo January 1, 2015 at 10:28 am - Reply

    This is a great tour! http://www.siciliandays.com/street-food-in-palermo.html
    Happy New Year 2015!! (from Palermo)

  23. VonyJay February 8, 2015 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    This blog was extremely helpful. I was able to try almost all of the recommended foods on the list!! Thanks

  24. […] and sfincione (deep-dish pizza) are for softies. Try the local delicacies like la Milza or Stigghiola if you want something REALLY different! (tip: don’t look at it, just pop it in the bun, […]

  25. […] words she knows her stuff, so I was downcast when I read her advice for dining in Palermo in her Brief Dining Guide to the city: it was nearly all from stalls. Palermo is, of course, famous for its street food and […]

  26. […] desserts. For a taste of Sicily’s savory offerings, Katie Parla of Parla Food offers a list of her top recommendations in Palermo, ranging from pane con panelle to street […]

  27. Kevin Born January 31, 2017 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Hello, My wife and I be working remotely for a month in Italy and were thinking about making Palermo our home base. Sounds like a long time but we’ll be working 40-50 hours / week so will be limited to a few weekends and a few weekday evenings out. Do you think Palermo has enough to offer? We went to northern Italy (Bologna, Venice, Mantua, Como) for 2 weeks for our honeymoon and were looking to explore southern Italy a bit.


    • Katie Parla February 14, 2017 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      i love palermo and it’s great for lunch and home cooking, but most restaurants are pretty lame and touristy so you might be a little disappointed on that front unless you love cooking. for beauty, culture and entertainment, palermo is great. from a purely food perspective Modena would be more fun…though it’s obviously in the opposite direction! or even Catania!

  28. Ted C. November 27, 2017 at 4:34 am - Reply

    Hello Katie,
    What portion of your recommendations would you say are still good? What other blogs or recommendations should I look at? I expect to be in Palermo for a few days in mid February.

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