Brent and I spent the last two weeks traveling around Italy. The roads are smooth, and civic infrastructure blessedly developed. But impressive city planning aside, we missed the wild and relatively un-traveled parts of Sicily, even Palermo.

I say even Palermo because it took us a few visits to warm up to the city.

Palermo is a town of historical juxtaposition – each invading civilization contributed to the architectural and culinary landscape of the town. It’s a harbor town that backs up in the hills, a place where sheep and sardines meet. It’s also a market town, with fresh fish, meat, and produce every day of the week.

And yet, navigating the Palermitani food scene is hard. Despite streets teaming with trattorias, the multiple food markets, and lots of street food traditions, finding flavorful Sicilian home-cooking feels almost impossible. Chef turnover is high and the strongest fast-casual brands involve sliced white bread toast (no really, there are multiple sandwich chains that are just toasted white bread).

For us, learning to love Palermo started with finding places we loved to eat.

 Palermo is famous for street food — there are vendors with spleen sandwiches, grilled intestine kebabs, and more. If that is your scene, there are some amazing guides online and in person. Our one tip for street food is to find places where food is prepared but not yet fried, where they will fry it to order, from chickpea pancakes to arancini.

‘Frutta fresca’ from the market in Palermo.

If you’re in the mood for something less fried, here are our top tips:

– Seafood: Osteria Mercede — This is an unpretentious seafood place with fresh fish and home-style pasta near the Teatro Massimo (an Opera House with impressive architecture and fabulous people watching). The daily menu is written on chalkboards throughout the restaurant and the décor is cheerful beach house chic. Call ahead for weekend lunch and dinner reservations or get to the restaurant when it opens for a chance to be seated.

– Mixed Dinner: Mercado Excelsior — This indoor market is just around the corner from the Teatro as well (behind an excellent Italian bookstore). The market is a genius way to combine the Sicilian tradition of specialized producers (pasta makers, fishmongers, butchers, and more) and still give consumers options. Family-style seating in the middle lets people mix and match menus cafeteria-style. We particularly liked the pasta and the fried food shops (try the pasta al forno or the fried eggplant).

– Pizza: Arte e Tradizione — This is a bustling pizzeria near the waterfront that uses a lot of D.O.P. and fresh ingredients. Quick, affordable, and delicious; a delightful trifecta.

– Gelato: Brioscia — Sicilians have a strong breakfast game: ice cream in a bun. The bun is fluffy and sweet, the gelato smooth and flavorful. It’s a melty pile of deliciousness. There are tons of gelaterias in Palermo but Brioscia is a solid choice. 

Buono Appetito and arriverderci, Palermo!

‘Brioche con gelato’ – aka breakfast in Palermo.