Palermo certainly offers no shortage of eateries for every price range and taste -- ingredients are fresh and plentiful from land and sea. Start your morning off with one of the piping-hot croissants fresh out of the oven or the ubiquitous gelato with a brioche. Choices at lunchtime run the gamut, from the street food found at just about every corner served up piping hot to sit-down banquets. Dinner is a ritual, where friends and family gather around a table for a pizza or a multicourse meal that will put you on the treadmill first thing in the morning. Sweets alone are often a meal, and don't be surprised to see ice-cream parlors packed at lunchtime. Given Palermo's multiethnic heritage, there's no shortage of other cuisines around town and sushi bars are popping up like mushrooms. I only list restaurants that serve traditional cuisine, because that's what you're in Sicily for.
Juice Bars, Gelaterie, & Street Food
Juice bars were once the place where palermitani would quench their thirst after a long stroll on a hot summer day. Today most are long gone, but a few are still found here and there: In Piazza Kalsa, in Piazza Beati Paoli, and at the Cala near Piazza Marina, where during the summer locals throng the place to eat fresh fruit, or have a sciopettino, a small bottle of water, spiked with zammú (anise). Gelaterie are ubiquitous around town, but if you can try only one, head straight to the Cremolada in Piazza Alberico Gentili, at the cross-section between Via Libertà and Via Notarbartolo. What Cremolada offers is neither ice nor ice cream; it's a smooth concoction, which the owner is trying to patent, offered in all flavors imaginable. For serious street food, head to Francu u' Vastiddraru, the dingy, rickety place at the end of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, near Piazza Marina. It has lines going around the corner at lunchtime.
Cheap Eats -- With all the wandering around that you'll be doing trying to take it all in, you'll probably work up an appetite, and Palermo certainly has no shortage of eateries. Do as the locals do -- grab a slice of sfincione or a panino with panelle from any street vendor who sells them. Or if you're really brave, try the de rigueur Palermo street food -- pane 'ca meusa -- spleen sandwich -- plain or topped with cheese, usually ricotta or caciocavallo. If the thought of the gory, greasy sandwich isn't your thing, grab a quick, sit-down meal in any of the charming little eateries in and around the Champagneria, the area enclosed between the Massimo Theater and the Archaeological Museum. The streets and alleyways are crammed with tiny trattorie serving up local favorites at reasonable prices.
From Tree Decorations to Sicily's Favorite Sweet
In the Middle Ages, every convent in Sicily specialized in creating a different kind of confectionery. Many of those old recipes are gone forever, but one of the most enduring is still sold at pasticcerie all over the city: frutta martorana, named after the old Benedictine convent of La Martorana. Incredibly, this marzipan was molded into various fruit and vegetable shapes to decorate the barren trees in the winter months. Today, these almond-paste goodies resemble anything from frogs to cars. The frutta martorana are most abundant in the bakeries and pastry shops before the feast day of All Saints, in early November, when the marzipan is freshest.
Seven Layers of Heaven -- I might not ever find out the original ingredients -- it's a secret kept under lock and key -- but the Sette Veli cake, the seven heavenly layers of chocolate, has been delighting palates and threatening waistbands since time immemorial. Layers of fudge, praline, devil's food, and mousse are mysteriously commingled to form this attack on the waistline. There's been a heated debate throughout the nation as to who can really lay claim to ownership, but food historians seem to concur that the inventor of this sinfully rich cake came out of the workshop of Pasticceria Cappello, Via Colonna Rotta 68 (near the Norman Palace). tel. 091-489601; www.pasticceriacappello.it.
The opulent Antico Caffè Spinnato (Via Principe di Belmonte 115; tel. 091/583231), established in 1860, is the place to linger over a pastry and coffee. In the Kalsa quarter, Ciccolateria Lorenzo (Via Quattro Aprile 7; tel. 091/840846; closed Mon.) has a wonderful selection of cakes and the best hot chocolate in Palermo. For a huge selection of elaborate pastries, head to the corner of Via Lincoln and Via Nicolo Cervello, across from the Villa Giulia botanical gardens, where neighboring Bar Touring, 38 Via Lincoln, tel. 091/616-7242, and Bar Rosanero, Piazzetta Porta Reale 6, tel. 091/616 4229, outdo each other with their displays of homemade sweets. The Riso di Paradise, a concoction of chocolate, rice, and whipped cream at Antica Gelateria Patricola (on the waterfront at Foro Umberto 1; tel. 091/851223; closed in winter) will bring you back daily.
Fast Food Palermo Style
Palermitani can put Americans to shame when it comes to a fondness for fast food, though the cucina povera (literally "poor man’s cuisine") that street vendors and simple eateries sell here is a delicacy in itself. One favorite is arancine (“little oranges”), saffron-flavored rice balls, usually filled with meat ragu or ham and mozzarella, rolled in bread crumbs, and fried. Other fried favorites are cazzilli (potato croquettes) and panelle (chickpea fritters). Commanding a side of Piazza Kalsa, Panineria Friggitoria Chiluzzo, Piazza della Kalsa 10, is Palermo’s go-to spot for street food. Even in the heat of summer, a big vat of oil boils away to turn out panelle and pane e panelle, in which the fritter is tucked between heavenly pieces of sesame bread. You’ll enjoy your meal, served daily from 8am to 5pm, at shared tables overlooking the palm-studded square and the wonderfully Arabesque 16th-century Greek Gate. Nini Franco U’ Vastiddaru, Via Vittorio Emaneule 21 (tel. 091/325-987) masters the art of deep frying and also serves panino con la milza (bread roll stuffed with slices of boiled spleen and melted cheese) from a takeout window or in a bare-bones room and a terrace overlooking Piazza Marina; the buzzing spot is open long hours, daily from 9am to midnight. Another popular spleen-stop is Pani ca Meusa Porta Carbone, facing the marina at Via Cala 62 (tel. 091/323-433) and open Monday through Saturday, 7:30am to 10pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.