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Mar 6, 2007 06:28 AM

Going to Panama- Where to eat?

I am traveling to Panama next week and will be in Panama City and Bocas del Toro. Anyone have suggestions of places to eat, special markets, or food related attractions?


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  1. The BEST restaurant in town is in the Hotel De Ville around Calle 50 crossed from Beatrice called Ten Bistro (more than just a bistro, I assure you). Just around the corner from that, in front of the entrance to the Marriott casino is a restaurant called Beirut. It is hands-down the best Middle Eastern food I have ever eaten; period. I am in Panama about every two months and during my last five-day visit, I ate at Beirut no less than three times. I also stay at the Hotel de Ville so I easily end up eating two to three meals at Ten Bistro.

    Also, recently opened behind the hotel in Punta Pacifica is a fabulous sushi restaurant called Sake. There are a handful of great restaurants up in Casco Viejo -- very upscale. Los Bovedos is showy but just slightly misses the marks (but it IS stunning to look at -- I recommend just going there for a cocktail). We usually always have lunch at Casablanca which is on the square in Casco Vieja but I have read a recent report of another Mediterranean restaurant up there that I have to look into.

    Whatever you do, stay away from the restaurants down the Flamenco causeway -- these are built for and priced for tourists. The food is okay but the crowds and prices are overwhelming and nothing is very exceptional.

    Lastly, market-wise, the interesting place to shop is Caledonia. It IS nothing but markets -- both farmers markets and otherwise. Very, very crowded streets teaming with folks selling homemade tamales next to bootleg DVDs. Fascinating. Most of those shops are closed on Sundays, remember.

    Have a great time and report back any new finds!

    11 Replies
    1. re: Carrie 218

      Thanks so much for the info and sorry the reply is coming so late. Unfortunately I was away before I had a chance to see these suggestions. However we had an incredible experience. We spent the majority of our trip in Bocas del Toro- the town of Bocas and had a fantastic dining experience.

      For breakfast I highly recommend Lilly's Cafe-- great atmosphere a bar looking out to the water. Great eggs, fresh fruit, smoothies and coffee served with a smile. Only one chef with limited space but the counter is in front of the kitchen and the interaction with the chef is awesome.

      Dinner- Casbah- Great seasonal ingredients- excellent fish and pork. Nice ambiance and friendly staff--owner/chef is a gringo and very happy to talk you through the menu.

      Lemongrass- Island/Asian influenced restaurant on the water. A bit on the expensive side, although nothing is really expensive there. Great seafood with an asian accent.

      Ultimo Regugio--Owned and operated by a woman from Washington DC. Central/South American fair served on the water. Menu changes each night depending on availability of ingredients. It is situated at the end of the main strip and def worth the walk.

      Late night Chicken Truck--Can't miss the chicken truck. Run by a no nonsense Argentinean man--think Seinfeld and soup, but the best chicken sandwiches I have ever had. Never have I seen a man take so much pride in each individual sandwich. Every sandwich was as perfectly made as the next. Excellent marinated chicken, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and Mayo perfectly grilled on toasted baguette makes for a late night snack that can not be beat. We ate a sandwich every night around 2 in the morning and sometimes waited for 45 minutes and worth it.

      Bocas del Toro and Panama in general is a magnificent country and I can't wait to go back. Next time I will take your suggestion for PC dining. Thanks again.

      1. re: amorgs

        Next time in PC, wander through the small Chinatown and have a meal at one of the small restaraunts.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Where is the Chinatown in PC? Heading there next week...

      2. re: Carrie 218

        Thank you so much for this list of recommendations. We just arrived in Colon. We will be here for about two weeks before transiting the Canal on our sailboat. After a quick trip around Colon yesterday to do a bunch of paperwork, I'm thinking that we'll be doing a bunch of day trips over to Panama City while we wait our turn to transit. Any recommendations for this side of the Canal?

        1. re: debtslave

          Unfortunately, Colon has little recommend for itself. It is the "wrong side of the tracks" of Panama and you are much better off with your Panama City day trips.

          Consider heading up to Casca Viejo - it is beautiful to wander around and the Casablanca Cafe (right on the square) has great food and my favorite ceviche. There is a waiter, Rick (ironically) with the most stunning smile and great memory. Considering he only sees me once every two or three months, he always remembers me!

          My BF is leaving on Tuesday for a week there and this time I'm staying home. I'll be curious if he goes anywhere knew or sticks to our old, happy haunts.

          1. re: Carrie 218

            After a few trips into Colon, I know what you mean. We're going to be in Casca Viejo tomorrow - we need to go to the French embassy to get our visa for French Polynesia. We'll check out Casablanca. I'm always looking for different ways to make ceviche with the fish we catch. Have you guys ever line handled on a canal transit? There are always yachties looking for line handlers at the Balboa Yacht Club and the Colon Yacht Club.

            1. re: debtslave

              Debtslave - my BF has line-handled through the canal half-a-dozen times. Every time I've gone down, we have had too much business to take care of.

              How was your time in Casca Viejo? My BF just got home yesterday and went back to our usual favorites; Beirut, Sake, Ten Bistro, and Casablanca!

                1. re: jacopopoli

                  It's too bad that people give Colon such a bad reputation. There's not much to see within the city, but there's plenty of good places to eat. The city is somewhat dangerous but if you're food-adventurous, I suggest you get a cab.

                  First stop: Fonda Hudson's. They have the town's best sopa de marisco (seafood soup), and they serve local Panamanian specialties. It's a hole-in-the-wall type of place but the soup is to die for.

                  Another local establishment to visit is Restaurante Eugenio in Calle 9 (most cabbies know this place because that's where they hang out). They used to serve breakfast and lunch, but now is limited to quick breakfast items. Get their frituras, such as the harina, and try the tripe stew (mondongo).

                  And if you prefer the more upscale sit-down restaurant, visit Grand Cafe (by the Escuela Guardia Vega). Enjoy a te frio (sweetened ice tea) and order the kibi frito. This Mediterranean restaurant is crowded over the weekends, and obviously, their specialty is Mediterranean food. They do have a sprinkling of Panamanian staples such as patacones fritos and ceviche, and not bad for the price.

                  Having lived there for more than 10 years, I believe there are still hidden treasures in that city. Hope your next visit to Colon is much longer!

                  <3 munchdown

        2. re: Carrie 218

          Going to Panama next week and wanted to see if I could get any updated advice on restaurants around Panama City or Boquete where we will be spending most of our time (and money!).

          Any unique restaurants? Good local food? We are open to eating anything (except at the risk of typhoid).


          1. re:

            We were in Panama in February.

            We had an excellent meal at S'Cena - service was excellent and food was fabulous. I loved their ceviche and also the Spanish tortilla appetizer (which was 3 different tortillas). We shared paella and the dessert (recommended by the really friendly waiter) was amazing. We also enjoyed Manolo Caracol - it's 12 or 13 different dishes, all interesting and most very good. Both are in Casco Viejo.

            We didn't get to Astrid y Gaston, a place I wanted to visit - we just didn't have time.

            In Boquete, we had 2 nicer dinners - one was the Valentine's Day dinner at Panamonte - very nice. They have a dining room, but they also serve food in the lounge. We just had a drink there, but it's very pretty. We also had dinner at OuLaLa, a French restaurant. The setting isn't nearly as nice as the Panamonte, but the food was wonderful - the salmon and tuna tartare (a starter) was amazing and we both really enjoyed our fish dishes. For lunch, we enjoyed the Art Cafe (I think that was the name) - they serve crepes.

            One day we visited Paradise Gardens, an animal rescue place in Boquete. It was great - holding the baby sloth was probably one of the high points for me! But about a block or 2 from there (a little closer to town) is a place called Fresa Mary's - great strawberry shakes, smoothies, etc. We got there just in time - shortly after we got our order, 3 big SUVs pulled up filled with what seemed to be a huge family, all ordering strawberry desserts.

            The coffee in Boquete is wonderful. We were staying in a cottage on a small coffee plantation, but the owners also give the tours of the much bigger Kotowa coffee plantation. (Kotowa has the coffee shops in the domestic airport.) I'd recommend the tour - it's really interesting and the coffee cupping at the end was great.

            You don't mention Bocas del Toro, but if you do get over there, I'd recommend Nine Degrees - wonderful food (again, the ceviche was amazing).

            We loved Panama - it was a really great trip.


        3. Madame Chang's off Uruguay street has the best chinese food in Latin America. Don't miss it. I've eaten there three times in four days.. the menu is incredible. They will guide you to good combinations, or you can start (your first night there) with set combination of dishes on the first page of the menu.. incredible.. but lots of food!! The pekin duck is insanely good. The platter of appetizers has no losers on it, each dumpling or slice of barbequed pork one of the best I've ever tasted! As the Michelin guides in Europe say: WORTH A JOURNEY!

          3 Replies
          1. re: virginia.barrie

            I need to second this recommendation. I went there in April when I spent a week in Panama, and the food was exquisite... probably the best Chinese food I'd ever eaten, and I couldn't believe the reasonable price! I dream of their Peking duck at least a few times a week...

            1. re: vorpal

              I guess I missed out on Madame Chang's... Probably not veggie. Panama sure does have alot of Chinese food!! There's this open-aired Panamanian/chinese food restaurant in David that has good fried rice, they give you enough for 3 hungry people for $3. Johnny Cakes in Bocas are awesome too :D

            2. re: virginia.barrie

              Definetly...........try Madame Changs...........great food

            3. I know this is old: but.. I was just in Panama this summer... Bocas del Toro && Panama City. To eat I'd suggest Hotel La Coralina down on Bluff Beach Road out of Bocas Town-very good food, great place to stay. There are also other restaurants in Bocas that are lovely... Om Cafe serves Indian... In Panama City there is a really yummy Italian restaurant that's been there for years and they have now opened up chains...there's one in Albrook mall, but I can't seem to find the name. .. near via Espana.. I think. They have woodfire pizzas.. really cheap too.. $3.00 for a medium pizza with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes..yumm.

              I went to Manolo Caracol in Casco Viejo (Casco Viejo is lovely-don't miss!) not for vegetarians, but they give you alot of food for $15.. 7 course meal (it's in Lonely Planet guide), but they're really missing out on ambiance. They kind of just threw the food at us. The style of the place is like grunge-chic warehouse. There are a lot of places.. even found a Denny's/Perkins like restaurant..." but the menu was unappealing to me.

              1 Reply
              1. re: bijougem

                Bueno, if it's italian and chains, then it's Tamburelli's...If I remember, there's about a good 5 or 6 in Panama City alone..I'm almost sure they're in Albrook Mall...

                Manolo has always been a favorite of mine for their food..yeah, their service has always been spotty, but the food is great..

                If you want traditional fare, head over to Las Tinajas in Panama City..ask anyone on the street how to get there...


              2. I'm heading to Panama later this week, and I'll be spending a few days in Panama City in between trips to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and the San Blas Islands. These PC recommendations are great - do you think I'll need to get reservations at any of the places listed in this thread? There are two of us, and we'll be staying in Casco Viejo but will likely venture all over the city. Thanks in advance!

                3 Replies
                1. re: Katherine H

                  Ten Bistro *might* need reservations -- I always tend to eat early so it has never been an issue for me as I walk in when the restaurant opens. Many in Central America dine later and that is when the formal restaurants get more full.

                  1. re: Katherine H

                    Our favorite spot in Casco Viejo was Rene Bistro near Plaza Mayor. I enjoyed better than Manolo Carocol. Also had an excellent meal at Buzios.
                    By the way, Katherine H, I bet that you are the same person who my wife and I met on San Blas (Dolphin Lodge) a couple of weeks ago. You were with your sister Laura, right? We both rented apt from Los Cuatro Tulipanes in Casco over the two week period, right?
                    OK, all the best.

                    1. re: Big Fat Moe

                      Hey Big Fat Moe! Nice to hear from you - I hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip.

                      My sister and I enjoyed our meals at Manolo Caracol, Casablanca, and Ten Bistro. We made a reservation at Ten for 8pm on a Thursday night, and it was not necessary--when we got there, I think only one other table was filled.

                      We loved staying in Casco Viejo and had a great experience with Los Cuatro Tulipanes there. If anyone's looking for nightlife in Casco, we had a fun night at La Casona de las Brujas near Plaza Herrera. It's a combination bar/gallery with DJs most nights and an interesting mix of people.

                  2. Heading to Panama next week, so I wanted to bump this up and see if anyone has new recs. We'll be in Panama City for just a couple of days, then driving to Santa Catalina, up to Boquete for a few days, then out to San Blas. If anyone has new suggestions for the city or Boquete, feel free to share. Thanks in advance!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: ScarletB

                      Any updates at all? I'm going to Panama City on Friday. We'll be staying there and also are going to Bocas (but staying at an all-inclusive - I'm a vegetarian so I just wanted to cut out any food hunt).

                      1. re: LANewbie

                        So sorry for the late response, and hope it still helps. I don't know about vegetarian friendly but I'll tell you what we enjoyed. We ate at the restaurant at the Hotel Bristol, called Barandas, and had the most fabulous meal. Not cheap, but not expensive by fancy American standards. Also really enjoyed a nice meal at Ten, inside another hotel, the Deville. For very local flavors in a diner type atmosphere, try El Trapiche. We also ate at Las Tinajas where there is an evening performance of typical Panamanian dancing/dress/ performing. Surprisingly good food for more of a tourist location, and it was fun.

                        That's about it for Panama City - otherwise we were in Boquete, David, Santa Catalina and at a resort.

                        We had a wonderful time - the people we met were incredibly friendly and helpful and the food was delicious everywhere. Have fun!

                        1. re: ScarletB

                          Thanks! We had a great time. Notable dinners were at Cafe Beirut (the herba buena in the fatoosh adds a totally different flavor), Madame Changs (Buddhist vegetarian hot pots!), Market (on Calle Uruguay - it would have a been a popular restaurant in LA, put in Panama City you're not sitting on top of your neighbor). We did breakfast at Costa Azul (near the Marriott) which was a normal diner type place. And the buffet at the Mariott for breakfast was nice because it was a quick option (dining in Panama isn't a quick affair) and because the options were great. I was pretty much wooed by the fact that they had passion fruit, kumquats, papaya, ripe pineapple, and watermelon as the fruit selection. In Casco Viejo there is a place that makes amazing ice cream - basil, lavender, mango, etc. - you'll find it like we did when you're wandering around.

                        2. re: LANewbie

                          I've reviewed what's here, and it sounds good.
                          Outside of the cities are there any reccomendations on the pacific coast ?
                          We'll be staying in El Farallon de Chiru near Santa Clara west of PC.
                          I'd love to hear of beach shacks or similar casual eats on those beaches.
                          Sam, where is Chinatown in PC ? Is it worth a visit for an Angelino who fell in love with the Muslim street food in Xi'an? Panama's cities are not my primary destination.
                          Thanks to all.