There are a few things to know about traveling to Sicily. One, you should really budget a good two weeks if you really expect to take in everything the island has to offer. Two, a tour of Sicily is primarily a tour of its coastal areas; although there are some terrific inland locales to visit. The ultimate Sicilian vacation would take you all the way around its circumference.
The starting point would be the exotic, chaotic capital city of Palermo, after which you could head west to Trapani and Marsala, or, more likely, east to Cefalu, Messina, Taormina, and Siracusa. If you have the time, try to budget a day or two on the Aeolian island of Salina (where Il Postino was filmed), where the caper berries grow as big as grapes and the seafood is among the best you’ll ever eat.
Palermo feels like an exotic capital city, as it is a major port town with gorgeous food markets, especially La Vucciria market, down toward La Cala harbor. A Moorish influence is evident in both the architecture and the food of Palermo, so the restaurants have a very different feel here than even the rest of Sicilia.
If you choose to go west, up around the horn to the northwestern coast, lies Trapani, mostly known for its sea salt and access to the ferry boats that will take you to the paradise islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria. The food is simple in both Trapani and the islands, but the language becomes an issue in all three places. I myself have had serious difficulty understanding both the accent and the dialect in these areas, so be prepared.
I love the mysterious garden feel of ai Mandarini, where produce is treated as regally as the stunning seafood.
At just 30 seats, Osteria dei Vespri, is as tiny as it is delicious. They work with pure tradition, and it feels that the Corleone family could walk in any moment.
Do not miss Santandrea, just steps from the Vucciria market. The wine list is among the best in Sicily, and this would be the place to have your first taste of pasta con le sarde and understand the hullabaloo about something so perfect, so poetic, so right.
Let the chef rip on a tasting menu (degustazione), as it will be worth the entire trip. And a return…
Dig on magnificent traditional seafood in a 35-seat restaurant where everyone knows each other (and each others’ business).
I know, I know, the “apostrophe-s” is killing me too… but Maffaei’s is a paragon of traditional Sicilian fare, and will not disappoint.
Ignore the ubiquity of Spanish-inspired foam sauce and focus your attention on a large wine list and a very serious kitchen, one that merits attention on a long trip, but is probably less essential if you’re only here for a few days.
I have always loved Jonico for its spectacular waterside location. The food is simple and very much a part of the southern Italian tradition of large, high-end seafood restaurants.
A high-end seafood restaurant in a more traveled and hip part of town.
On my last visit, I ate a couscous with shellfish that was incredibly light and more intelligent than any risotto in recent or ancient memory.