Theresa sells socca, a giant crepe made with chick pea flour and  cooked on a wood-burning stove, at the city  market in Nice, France. The stand is an institution in the city and Theresa is happy to pose for photos.

Theresa sells socca, a giant crepe made with chick pea flour and cooked on a wood-burning stove, at the city market in Nice, France. The stand is an institution in the city and Theresa is happy to pose for photos. (Leah Larkin/Special to Stars and Stripes)

Food is one of the highlights of travel. I love to sample local specialties, discover new flavors and tastes. So before we headed to Nice, capital of the French Riviera, I did some research on its cuisine and restaurants where we could try traditional dishes.

• The city offers much more than salade Nicoise, although that was an entree at Chez Palmyre, a tiny restaurant in Vieux Nice. The food was good but basic. However, the price (14 euros for four courses) and the ambience merit a visit.

It’s a neighborhood kind of place where diners, a total of 24, greet one another with the obligatory air kiss on each cheek. Suzanne, the owner, takes orders, then shouts them to the cook back in the kitchen.

Chez Palmyre dates to 1926 and has become a Nice institution.

• So has La Merenda, another mini place with room for just 24 customers who sit on stools like you’d find in a kindergarten classroom. The challenge is to get a table, as La Merenda has no phone. Go early in the day and request a place for later.

Husband Bob ordered a signature Nice dish: stockfish. Dried fish is soaked for five or six days in running water, tripling its weight. Then it is simmered with onions, tomatoes, garlic, black and green olives, bell peppers, olive oil and a few potatoes. I tasted it — not for me. I was happy with boudin, blood sausage served with a mashed potato/onion combination and applesauce. We began the meal with stuffed sardines, truly excellent. Bob doesn’t consider a meal complete without dessert, so he ordered lemon tart, another winner. Our two dinners and a bottle of red wine came to 85 euros.

• At L’Escalinada in Vieux Nice, we began a wonderful meal with La Ribambelle, the restaurant’s combination entrée plate of squid, octopus, grilled red pepper and beignets, airy, melt-in-your mouth fritters of eggplant and zucchini. This was a meal in itself. A large bowl of chick-pea salad was also placed on the table. We learned that when Nice was still part of Savoy (Italy), during much of the first half of the 19th century, it could not trade with France, so it looked to North Africa for commerce. Much of Nice cuisine still reflects that influence.

The restaurant’s menu listed some local favorites, such as testicules de mouton (translation not required) and Merda de can (dog excrement, in the local dialect). Not to worry, it’s actually gnocchi with Swiss chard.

• We dined at yet another restaurant specializing in cuisine Nicoise, Lou Balico. L’omelette de poutrine is considered a local delicacy. I had to try it. We had seen poutrine at the fish market — minuscule, silvery fish caught only in February and March. The omelet was delicate and light, but on the fishy side. Bob opted for rabbit with a tapenade sauce.

“You know, I’m not really thrilled with this traditional food,” he said after this meal. So, for our last adventure in Nice dining, we went to La Zucca Magica (The Magic Pumpkin), a vegetarian restaurant run by Italians. It was our favorite.

The decor is pumpkins and gourds and squash hanging from the ceiling, on the tables and window sills, depicted in paintings and photos on the walls. It’s dimly lit with flickering candles, cozy and inviting. There is no menu. You take a seat, order some wine, and food starts arriving, five dishes, one after another.

We started with a pesto, cheese and artichoke creation that was heavenly. Then soup, a blend of spinach and ricotta with a hint of nutmeg, followed by a “pumpkin sandwich,” a cheese and pumpkin combination. The main course was a pasta dish combining black olives, mozarella and pumpkin. Topping it all off, we savored apple and pumpkin strudel with cinnamon ice cream. I’d easily convert to vegetarianism if every meal could be like this. Cost of the five courses was 29 euros each, and a bottle of house wine was 14 euros.

• Not to be mised on the Nice food scene is socca, a giant crepe made with chick-pea flour, cooked on a wood-burning stove on a sheet of tin-plated copper. There are numerous places in the alleys of Nice’s old town where customers wait in line for a paper plate of the pancake, which is chopped into bite-sized pieces. The legendary place for socca is Chez Theresa in the market where the lovely Theresa will happily pose for photos.

KNOW & GO• Chez Palmyre, 5 rue Droite, 04-93-85-72-32

• La Merenda, 4 rue de la Terrasse (No phone. Go early and reserve for later)

• L’Escalinada, 22 rue Pairolière, 04- 93-62-11-71

• Lou Balico, 20 avenue St. Jean-Baptiste, 04-93-85-93-71

• La Zucca Magica, 4 bis quai Papacino, 04-93-26-59-76

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