During our time in Panama, we had the opportunity to visit several restaurants that purported to have authentic Panamanian food. Much of it was seafood that is caught locally, but there were other choices as well. If you want something cold to wash down your food, there are several national beers to choose from that are very good. With all of the influences from various cultures, the cuisine of Panama City has become a melting pot of ethnic varieties. Although Spanish cooking dominates much of the food, French and American traditions can be found as well. We even ate fish prepared by a local indigenous family that was served to us in a banana leaf.
One of first meals that we ate was at restaurant called Diablicos in Casco Viejo, which was recommended to us by our hotel. We went there for lunch, but at night there is a traditional dance show which gives the restaurant its name. If you decide to go for the show, there is a 2 drink minimum, but we decided that it was a little more touristy than what we would like. The food, however, was excellent and we had traditional ceviche as well as sausage empanadas. In addition to ceviche, another popular dish throughout the region is Corvina, a tropical saltwater fish, prepared several ways. We ate it at a couple of restaurants, one of them with a form of salsa on top. Another item on pretty much every menu were plantains, both sweet and savory, all of which were some of the best that we had eaten. To beat the heat, be sure to get yourself a scoop of cocoanut ice-cream.
Octopus or calamari can be found on almost every menu as well, whether you want it fried, grilled, or cooked in its own sauce. We also at a fried ceviche, which as a little unique as well. If you have the budget, lobster and crab can be found on some menus as well and it is quite delicious. At a restaurant called Casablanca, we ate a wonderful paella as well as steamed clams that were simply delicious. On our last day, we went out to the Causeway Islands and ate at The Buccaneer where we had a crab linguini and sea bass topped with more seafood and a cream sauce (basically like an Oscar).
In addition to all of the wonderful restaurants, we also enjoyed craft beer at La Rana Dorada, which means the golden frog. We tried each of the beers that they offered and they were all delicious. We also tried most of the national beers including Balboa, Soberana, Panama Lager, and San Felipe. In addition to the beer, we also had local red and white wine that were quite good as well. We wanted to try some local rum, but we were so busy that we just never got around to ordering it.
For a true local experience, going to El Trapiche where you can get simple food cooked right. We had heard about the pork, beans, and rice dish that is a favorite of people who live in Panama City and we decided that we had to give it a try. It is actually made with pig tail, which is in the dish, but you don’t eat it as it is just there for flavoring. This restaurant was recommended to us by one of our guides and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Not only was the food very good, but the prices were about half of almost every other place that we went to during our stay.
If you travel to Panama City, you certainly won’t go hungry. Most of the restaurants in Casco Viejo, or the old town area, tend to be a little more trendy and cater to tourists, but the food is excellent. If you want to get away from the tourists, then take time to go to some places downtown where you can eat like a local. We even went to an Irish pub called the Blarney Stone as we are always interested in how the Irish pub traditions carry through to all cultures.