Ask any palermitano/a what his or her favorite place to eat is and the answer is always the same: a casa. No exceptions. Since not everyone can go home for lunch, small, rustic trattorie are stationed strategically in and around the Capo, Ballaro’, and Vucciria markets, providing cucina casareccia (home cooking) in casual, familial settings. My favorite place like this is Zia Pina located on Via Argenteria half-way between the Vucciria market and La Cala. The place is a hole-in-the-wall (more accurately two, with side-by-side storefronts) open only at lunchtime. There is paper on the tables, the menu is anything laid out on the display near the grill, the starters are seasonal, and the fish mostly fresh.
Today it was 75 degrees, abnormally warm for mid-November, so my friends and I took full advantage of the heat wave and sat at the plastic tables on the sidewalk in front of Zia Pina. As we were among the first patrons of the day (we arrived at 1:30, on the early side for lunch in Palermo), we had a massive, untouched antipasto spread to choose from including breaded vegetables, fried vegetable balls, caponata, grilled pumpkin, stuffed sardines, and a Sicilian broccoli frittata. All of these were excellent, particularly the fried vegetable balls, which were a mixture of bread crumbs, eggs, pecorino, grated carrots, zucchini, and mint. Next, Conchita ordered spaghetti with clams that she enjoyed in spite of the fact they came with the hot pepper she specifically requested be omitted. Diana and I had a frittura mista, a platter of fried red mullet, moscardini (tiny octopi), and squid. Two large waters, three antipasti, one primo and two secondi came to just 13 euros a person. Not dirt cheap, but still a decent price for delicious seasonal starters and fish. And certainly cheaper than a trip home for lunch.