Europe

8 Restaurants In Palermo For Traditional Italian Cuisine (2024 Edition)

By Vanessa Mulquiney

a hand holding a plate of pasta in an italian laneway

From the delectable cannoli to the questionable boiled spleen sandwich, if there’s one city that tickles every tastebud, it’s Palermo. At Urban List, we think Sicily’s exciting capital dances the line between traditional Italian cuisine and traditional Italian cuisine with a cheeky Sicilian twist, perfectly.

Kick start your culinary journey with our picks for the best restaurants in Palermo. 

Nni Franco U Vastiddaru 

Via Vittorio Emanuele, 102

plates of italian food

Palermo is known for its cibo di strada so much so, that in 2012 Forbes ranked it fifth in The World's Top 10 Cities for Street Food. Now the secret is out, head to this hole-in-the-wall near the port for friendly late-night counter service and their signature panini: pani câ meusa (boiled veal lung and spleen inside a soft sesame seed bun), and pani e panelle (a sesame seed bun stuffed with fried chickpea flour fritters). Expect queues and don’t order anything other than the street food: no to pasta, and yes to anything in a bun or fried – what these guys do best.  

Trattoria Piccolo Napoli 

Piazzetta Mulino a Vento, 4

Seventy-year-old Trattoria Piccolo Napoli may have Naples in its name but everything about this family-run restaurant is typically Palermitano – it even made the late Anthony Bourdain’s favourite Sicilian restaurant list. Expect hearty welcomes all round and lots of wood, but you're not here for the décor so get to ordering Bourdain’s picks: panelle, caponata (chopped fried aubergine in tomato sauce, celery, olives, and capers), spaghetti al nero di seppia (cuttlefish ink spaghetti), casarecce al pesce spada (pasta with swordfish, eggplant, and tomatoes). Piccolo Napoli is off-the-tourist-trail, but you’ll need to book ahead as it’s a favourite with locals (and savvy tourists). 

Bisso Bistrot 

Via Maqueda, 172A

Bisso Bistrot is a laidback restaurant-cum-art space housed in a former bookshop that wouldn’t be out of place in Paris, except for the view of Quattro Canti. Yes, Bisso is smack bang in tourist central but there’s nothing touristy about it: a Sicilian menu which is as thoughtful and considered as the art on the wall (involtini di pesce spada, swordfish rolls stuffed with raisins and anchovies) fair prices, attentive staff, and creative cocktails. Bisso don’t take reservations and some seating is communal but an afternoon at the best people-watching spot in the city with 1 litre Grillo for €7 as your friend you’ll soon shake off the cons (Bisso is also a Rick Steins favourite). 

Osteria Pane e Alivi 

Piazza Sant'Onofrio, 17 

a doorway to a restaurant

Located in Piazza Sant'Onofrio (where you’ll find more locals than tourists), Osteria Pane e Alivi has all the hallmarks of a traditional trattoria: a homely menu where every dish is a win, wine barrel décor, brown floor tiles, wooden tables, and chairs, but also some of the less idyllic traits: inconsistent service and long wait times. If good food trumps above all, add Osteria Pane e Alivi to your list and order the caponata, spaghetti with mussels and almost-too-pretty-to-eat cannolo. 

Osteria Mercede 

Via Sammartino, 1 

More wine barrel décor to be found at Osteria Mercede and if the nautical theme doesn’t give it away, this cosy osteria, a stone's throw from the Politeama theatre, specialises in all things seafood. Stand-out primi (starters) include the mixed fish carpaccio and hold out to have typical Sicilian seafood dishes like pasta al nero di seppia (spaghetti with squid ink), and pasta alla bottarga (spaghetti with Mediterranean caviar) here. Wash it down with a chilled local white or ask the wait staff for wine tastings or recommendations – they couldn’t be more helpful. You’ll want to return more than once, too, this gem does not put a foot wrong.

Ristorante Ferro

Piazza Sant'Onofrio, 42

Ristorante Ferro’s white linen tablecloths, dim lamp lighting, bougie plated dishes, complementary welcome drinks, and classical music will make you do a double-take – yes, you’re in Palermo and one look at the menu confirms this – think elevated Sicilian: grilled tuna with caponata, salmon tartare, ravioli stuffed with artichokes and shrimp cream, and pear and apple crumble with pistachio grains. Service and atmosphere are both on point and provide those who are a little Palermo-ed out, an evening of quiet respite. 

Osteria Ballarò

Via Calascibetta, 25

Housed in the former stables of 17th century medieval palace, Palazzo Cattolica, Osteria Ballarò oozes charm: a thatched roof, original columns, exposed brick – and yes, wine barrels, (and wine bottles) galore. The space is divided into a casual wine bar where you can head for an aperitivo and plated street food, and a more formal restaurant where the walls are filled with rotating artwork from local artists and a menu filled with local delicacies –  expect lots of fish plus plenty of vegetarian options (the servings are larger than you’d expect, so pace yourself). The pasta with sardines, saffron and wild fennel is a nod to Sicily’s Arab and Mediterranean roots. There is only a tasting menu available at lunch. NB: Don’t get confused with the name, especially if you ask for directions – Ballarò is one of the city’s famous markets, the other is Vucciria market which Osteria Ballarò, ironically, is closer to. 

Osteria Dei Vespri

Piazza Croce dei Vespri, 6

Given Osteria dei Vespri is a Michelin restaurant you’d be tempted to save the best for last but since there are many ‘bests’ in Palermo, dine here whenever you can nab a table (and if the reservation gods aren’t playing ball, Occhio Vivo, the adjacent bistro by the same owners, is an excellent alternative).

Osteria dei Vespri is housed in the lower floor of the 18th-century Baroque Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi and where the grand ballroom scenes from the 1963 blockbuster, II Gattopardo (The Leopard), a film about a Sicilian prince (currently being remade by Netflix Italia) were filmed. So, the setting is opulent, but the food? There is a summer and winter menu, plus an a la carte menu with Sicilian classics. Special request diners can opt for tasting menus (both lunch and dinner) – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, as well as sea or terra (land) tasting menus. If this is indeed your last Palermo supper, dine on the red tuna in a poppy seed, pink pepper crust, and pasta con ricci di mare (pasta with sea urchin), a true Palermitano classic.  

You'll obviously need somewhere to rest up after you put yourself into a glorious food coma, so read on for Sicily's best hotels.

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Image credit: Osteria Pane e Alivi, Nni Franco U Vastiddary, Osteria Pane e Alivi 

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