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Panama


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It looks like I will be in Panama for several weeks in March-April. Time will be split between Panama City and Bocas del Toro. I'd love any insight into the very best these locales have to offer. Alas, I don't speak Spanish, so links to articles in La Prensa and such won't be too helpful.

Ana Alfaro, are you out there?

Thanks!

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I lived in Bocas for a year...built a house there for a fella. bocas isn't the best for food but there are some ok places. My favorites - The Reef for beers and Aranitas del Mar - fried baby squid - tentacles only - big basket for $4; Don Chico's for real deal Panamanian stuff and probably my favorite - great tamales, also get a caraminola - meat stuffed yucca fritter thing at breakfast, and the smoked chicken is very good even by my tennessee gringo standards. Don Chico's is good for lunch and really cheap $4 at most including a drink (orange Fanta). Yasi Nori's at Drago - far end of Island has good snapper or corvina (sometimes) - fried, served with beans and rice, plantain, and a side salad - simple but good and $7-8 - better for lunch maybe as the sand flys get bad at night and without a month to get used to them they will drive you insane. The Pirate is good for snapper (pargo) and also ceviches (pulpo, mixta, o pescado) and they have a cheap and good lunch special for about $5. There is a restaraunt in town called Chichra (sp?) that has a good sancocho de gallina - the national dish - a chicken soup with yucca and name, at lunchtime if you're early - 11'ish - she runs out - another favorite spot probably as it is cheap and good - she also has good fried chicken (about $4). There is an indian place (india Indian) called Om that is pretty good - indian spiced french toast was good. Most places are pretty good really - except no one does a good cheeseburger - except maybe Carlos at Blue Nasty Mermaid - a good place and a friend of mine (tell him Mac says hi) - most things there are very good but more expensive, he does sushi sometimes. There is a really good pizza and pasta place that may or may not be open, called Alberto's even Brooklyn Jay liked - good by any standards - run by an Italian guy. Another cheap loacal place is Olga's - I always had a seafood soup and garlic bread or maybe fried rice - nothing great but cheap. Balena is a really good italian place with so much wine you wonder if they isn't another story happening there...

for groceries i went to a store called Hibisa (sp?) that is on the road on the way out of town - it is much cheaper than the main street grocery which i avoided as it is crowded and expensive. Also went another grocery on the street just behind the main street called Victoria (I think) - it is next to the wholesale beer place. The other beer place is on the dock with the Reef restaraunt - this is the place to buy cases of Balboa - the better of the local beer. The best place for fish is Mr. Fish inside Surtidora Gigante - which is a large warehouse next to the fire station - this is also the place to buy gas or diesel and real charcoal (carbon in spanish). they have good snapper (pargo), mackerel (mackarela), shrimp, and other stuff. wonderful fresh fresh mackarel - very mild compared with other mackarel i've had. You can also buy cheap frozen chicken and other staples at little store front called Wonsa on the main street - say hello to Edgar for me - he'll be the shirtless fat guy with the little towel wrapped around him. For produce and fruit any of the little stalls are fine, i usually went to the one on the main road closest to the park and below El Pecado (another restaraunt that everyone said was great but i was always a little disappointed but try it some people think it is the best in Bocas). There is also a specialty food place ---I can't think of the name --the gringo gourmet, next to the ferry landing --- fresh and good bread, cheese, lunch meat, fancy stuff.

In all i like Chico's and Chitre best for lunch and breakfast and maybe somewhere nicer for dinner - it's nice to get drinks and apps at the reef and then head somewhere else for dinner. An ideal Bocas day would be to wake up hungover but in time for lunch - sancocho at Chitre. Then get a cooler and beer and take the bus to Drago ($2 for gringos). Beers on the beach and a bit of food later at Yasi Nori's and then back to town for the evening.

Do you have a place to stay in Bocas - house - kitchen? Also do you have arrangements in Panama City - if not I know a good car service guy - Jose at Bocas Frog - he can pick you up it Tocoumen and make all your reservation stuff - very good very reliable- I really recommend using him as he can take care of lost luggage and really anything else that goes wrong - and it really costs nothing extra. Tell him i sent you.

In Panama City the only place I've ever stayed is The Marbella and I usually eat at Manolo's just down the street - get a bowl of clams (almejas) and a ceviche. Otherwise I don't know Panama City too well. At lunch you should at least once go to one of the big diner cafeteria places that are everywhere - Niko's comes to mind - these places are good and cheap. If you want to see the city and eat I'd get Jose to hook you up with a driver named Mario - speaks english and real nice guy - funny. And get him to take you to his favorite places. We ate at place on the Amador Causeway which was very good but even better location and view.

You should really try to go to Boquete for a couple days - fly from bocas for $30 to David and get a taxi to the mountains for $15-30 depending on your negotiations and stay at Villa Marita ($50 with a breakfast) - check out the coffee farms and the gardens.

And when you get back to the states i'll need a bottle of Abuelo (rum).

If you have any questions just ask.

Regards,

Macon

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  • 4 months later...

Over in the "nations with bad cuisine" thread, someone mentioned Panama.

Thought I'd add to this thread with some of my favorites.

Lived in Panama some years back. Things I remember very fondly:

Favorite restaurant in those days was Las Americas. I absolutely loved their corvina almondine. And they sold ceviche to go. We bought it in gallon-size glass jars, which we'd go through in a matter of a day or two.

Also loved a restaurant called El Pesco del Oro - the Golden Fish. Pretty sure it's no longer there, but they served excellent seafood, including several versions of a Panamian fish stew. Even though that restaurant is probably long gone, I'm certain that there are others that have taken its place, and also serve various versions of delicious fish soups and stews.

Batidas. Not sure if I'm spelling that right, but all over Panama City are small shops that sell batidas -- frothy whipped fruit drinks. You point to whatever fresh fruit you wish -- mangos, pineapple, strawberries, guava, passionfruit, whatever -- and it goes into the blender along with crushed ice, evaporated milk and sugar. Sounds simple, but I can tell you I tried for years to reproduce the exact flavor of those delicious things, but never could quite get it right.

Fresh produce at the Chinese vegetable stands. The Chinese were very important in the building of the canal. In return, they were given plots of land on which they grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables. You can buy the absolute most delicious produce at these places. Even now, all these years later, I can smell the heady aroma of those stalls.

Chinese restaurants in Panama City. Because of the influence of the large numbers of Chinese, there are many excellent Chinese restaurants.

Panama City is now, and has always been, one of the single most important crossroads of the world. It is a center of international commerce, banking, shipping. As a result, there are many fine international restaurants there. One of the best Japanese meals I ever had was at a restaurant right by the Japanese embassy.

I'll keep thinking....

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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  • 4 weeks later...

A quick check-in from Panama. Staying in the Caledonia neighborhood, I had my first "official" Panamanian meal at Dos Mares, dining on a whole fried Corvino served with a side of fried patagonias (plantains). Four rum-a-cokes, a pork sandwich (akin to a Cuban sandwich) and the fish came to a whopping $15.00. Breakfast has been street food empanadas for .35 cents.

We have been having various business meetings at some of the swankier restaurants; Hotel El Panama and Pencas none of which really impressed me (okay, the ceviche at Pencas was okay). A pizza from Manollas near the business district was the first to deliberately charge a 10% propena and one can see why - the service is horrible, although the pizza was reasonbly decent.

I'm enjoying the potential of street food more than anything else, including something I had seen in Mexico but forgot about; a giant machine that grinds up sugar cane. It is somewhat filtered over ice and served in a styrofoam cup for .25 cents. A tad grassy like alfalfa, it is cold and refreshing. A bit on the sweet side, it was better brought back to the hotel room and mixed with mango juice and rum.

More as the adventure continues...

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Carolyn, thanks so much for getting back to us! I was just wondering about you and if you were there.

I'll be watching for you to check in again.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Ate something bad yesterday and was up most of the night suffering for it. Kevin thought it would happen to him and I don't know if it was the salad from Jimmy's, the water from one of the local billar spots, or the late-night fried chicken or fried rice that we took back to the hotel (sorry, never knew the name of that place). I'm sure I'll be fine for dinner tonight...

Note to Jaymes: Sitting here now at the Balboa Yacht Club -- it is not what it used to be (the two-story building that burned down) but a cluster of free-standing overhangs and a cart or two for food and beverages. But the atmosphere is jubillant as two-dozen folks are sitting watching the Argentine/Germany World Cup game, sipping cervezas.

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Note to Jaymes: Sitting here now at the Balboa Yacht Club -- it is not what it used to be (the two-story building that burned down) but a cluster of free-standing overhangs and a cart or two for food and beverages. But the atmosphere is jubillant as two-dozen folks are sitting watching the Argentine/Germany World Cup game, sipping cervezas.

Ceiling fans? Are there ceiling fans?

Reprobates? Are there reprobates?

:cool:

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Finally a chance to breathe and catch up after getting back home... The last few days in Panama were spent in a few more upscale restaurants than had previously been visited. Kevin took me to Casca Viejo which is the charming, old-town area with great architecture and limited crowds. It appears to be the area where more hoity-toity restaurants exist as well. We spent a lovely afternoon watching World Cup at a bistro called Casablanca. They served an elegant ceviche in a martini glass that was the best I had on the trip. We also ordered their short-rib appetizer which was served with a great cole slaw and roasted potato. While wandering around Casca Viejo, we stumbled on a restaurant only open for dinner, Los Bovedas, which I insisted on returning to that evening.

Los Bovedas sits inside two arched brick bunkers which were built in 1688. By all accounts, this is apparently the fanciest restaurant in Panama. We started with escargot which was perfectly prepared in the classic French style. On the waiter's recommendation, we had another starter of a gratin of hearts of palm. This was an odd dish for me as I am used to hearts of palm coming from cans as an additive for pasta salads. This was obviously fresh and the melted cheese complemented the crisp, fresh vegetable. Dinner for Kevin was a mixed seafood plating of shrimp and crab with mushrooms and very rich sherried cheese sauce. I was given this monstrous crab with the body of the crab opened clean and all the meat placed inside with herbs and garlic. On an American scale, this restaurant would be within a 3-star class except for the presentation of simple side dishes of steamed vegetables and plain white rice. The thought given to the slicing and presentation of the vegetables are obviously there, but little thought is given to bringing them to the next level. Stunning locale and the rest of the food preparation was quite good.

We had moved from the Calidonia district for our few final nights and was staying at the El Panama near the business district. The cocktails and room service at this hotel is quite worthwhile (as are the expansive rooms), but their ceviche was the worst I had during my trip; laden with green cocktail olives and miniature bay shrimp with the corvino.

On our last night in Panama, Kevin took me to a Columbian restaurant a block or so away from the El Panama. This was quite an eye-opener as he specifically requested they serve me traditional Columbian cuisine not found on their menu. The waitress immediately brought over a bottle of Aguardiente and poured us three shots -- a clean, anise-flavored liquor, a half-bottle was easily consumed before we realized we had better not try and finish it... What first arrived were savory pork short-ribs glazed in a heady BBQ sauce that was darker and richer than I had tried before. These were served with sliced, fried patagonias which were light and the perfect compliment to the ribs. The next dish that arrived is something I never got the name to but enjoyed more than the previous evening's Los Bovedas extravaganza; a layering of fresh corn, dried, sliced beef tongue, fresh queso blanco, and deep-fried, shredded crunchy yucca. All this was topped with a criss-cross of a sauce similar to a 1,000 Island dressing, only darker in color and flavor. The preparation was such that one had to scoop from the bottom to get the fresh corn but that the fried crunchy bits were not so hot as to make the cheese melt -- it was basically all at room temperature and the combination of flavors and textures quite intriguing. Sadly, no dessert was available as the back room we had been inhabiting by ourselves was suddenly filled with Colombian "businessmen of questional repute" to whom we left our remainder Aguardiente for a speedy departure.

Of additional note for the trip -- several days worth of layovers provided some great eats in Nicaragua and El Salvador; a chili relleno in their airport of El Salvador was better than any Mexican version I've had in either California or Baja California, and a Cuban sandwich in Nicaragua was easily served on the best bread I ate in Central America.

As business continues to blossom in Panama, I'll continue to report back -- looks as though I'll be heading back in the next few months...

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Batidas?

Did you try any batidas?

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Batidas?

Did you try any batidas?

Kevin ordered a blended version for me from a street vendor that was made with bread fruit. Mostly, because of the amount of rum drinks we were consuming, I was having a bit of a sugar overload and really shied away consuming a lot of fruit. I really wanted to try a Tres Leches cake but my sweet tooth seemed to fail me.

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your chile relleno sounds wonderful.

The Butler

aka

Unkle fritz

Unkle Fritz!!!! How cool that you are lurking here... Let's not see if we can't find a fabulous Chili Relleno for you when you visit later this month! I can't wait to see your knees.... :biggrin:

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Be sure to go to Ten Bistro at the Hotel de Ville. The chef is a Robuchon disciple and the food is terrific. The central conceit is that everything is $10, and I don't see how they aren't losing money by the truckload. I was mightily impressed by the food.

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I also very much liked the restaurant 1985. Although everything -- food and decor -- feels like it hasn't been updated since, well, 1985, it was quite delicious. Nothing Panamanian about it, but it is yummy.

Another hit was Palms restaurant (unaffiliated with the steakhouse chain or the Vegas hotel). Again, not particularly Panamanian, but quite good. I had an excellent filet mignon that would have served 4 easily and there were a few surprisingly good wine selections (we went with Clos Martinet or Clos Mogador, as I recall).

Madame Chang's for chinese was excellent as well. I had a Peking Duck that not only did not need to be ordered in advance but was as good as any I've ever had.

We had a fantastic week in Panama City and ate very well.

But out of all these, Ten Bistro was tops for me.

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  • 1 month later...

Vinobiondo, I appreciate the heads-up on Ten Bistro as I am heading back down to Panama next week and need to wine-and-dine a client. I didn't take nearly enough pictures last time and promise to next week, but two highlights I can share is the interior of Los Bovedas:

gallery_431_3456_158392.jpg

and the crab that I ate there:

gallery_431_3456_72915.jpg

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Oh my...

The 'interior' of that restaurant looks like one of the dungeons down in the 'boot' of the old part of Panama City...the holding cells where they kept prisoners before shipping them out, or hanging them, or letting them drown when the tide came up.

Is it?

And I asked you elsewhere (I think in the Belize thread), but before you went you made a comment that you had been told that the food in Panama was even worse than that in Belize.

Now you've been to both places, so...

Is it?

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Oh my...

The 'interior' of that restaurant looks like one of the dungeons down in the 'boot' of the old part of Panama City...the holding cells where they kept prisoners before shipping them out, or hanging them, or letting them drown when the tide came up.

Is it?

And I asked you elsewhere (I think in the Belize thread), but before you went you made a comment that you had been told that the food in Panama was even worse than that in Belize.

Now you've been to both places, so...

Is it?

I think you are right about Los Bovedas -- there was an info sheet they handed out about the history of the building, but it was in Spanish and I never had Kevin read it to me. Because it was right on the water, it probably was one of those holding cells...

The hard part about the food we ate in Belize is that the bulk of what we ate there was prepared by us on our boat. What food we did eat in restaurants were far from memorable except for the locale.

In Panama, now over six weeks later, what I remember most fondly was not our high-end meals in fancy restaurants but the Columbian meal we had on our last night. Nothing specifically Panamian knocked my socks off, but as it looks as though we will be travelling there every six or eight weeks, doing a lot more exploration will be quite fun. I am really looking forward to trying Ten Bistro and a few of the other high-end restaurants in Casco Viejo. I guess it is the fine line between the inexpensive tienda cuisine which makes up the bulk of what we ate last time and those formal sit-down, impress-the-tourists restaurants.

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Oh my...

The 'interior' of that restaurant looks like one of the dungeons down in the 'boot' of the old part of Panama City...the holding cells where they kept prisoners before shipping them out, or hanging them, or letting them drown when the tide came up.

Is it?

Right you are. Las Bovedas (the vaults) were for storing valuables awaiting shipment to Spain as well as confining prisoners.

Carolyn, did you get a chance to eat at Pizzeria Napoli? They have a wood-fired oven and it's some of the best pizza I've ever eaten.

I've never been here, but it sounds intriguing.

I need to get back to Panama for a visit.

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Oh my...

The 'interior' of that restaurant looks like one of the dungeons down in the 'boot' of the old part of Panama City...the holding cells where they kept prisoners before shipping them out, or hanging them, or letting them drown when the tide came up.

Is it?

Right you are. Las Bovedas (the vaults) were for storing valuables awaiting shipment to Spain as well as confining prisoners.

Carolyn, did you get a chance to eat at Pizzeria Napoli? They have a wood-fired oven and it's some of the best pizza I've ever eaten.

I've never been here, but it sounds intriguing.

I need to get back to Panama for a visit.

Thanks, Beto -- I did not get to Pizzeria Napoli but the general heat and humidity made pizza low on my interest list during my last visit. I'll be back in Panama on Tuesday for a week and will provide a more detailed eating itinerary. Your link looks interesting as well... we'll see how much I can get to again, but I've already been asked for a return visit to Los Bovedas just for the atmosphere!

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Quick check-in from Panama...

Great call on Ten Bistro, Beto! We started with lunch at Dos Mares where I had four huge langostino covered with chunks of garlic and fries on the side for $6.00. But you are right, Ten Bistro is an amazing restaurant.

The decor is odd with its austere, modern geometry, white everywhere, and orage lights and accents. A few minor mishaps such as ordering three different wines they were out of, and some tough meat. For starters, we ordered an onion soup served with a crouton of duck and foie gras and roasted scallops on a garlic puree. The entrees included a veal tortellini and osso buco with wild mushrooms.

In the case of the onion soup, the duck meat was slightly tough but the combination of flavors made up for it. The osso buco suffered a similar problem as it was obviously overcooked but the surrounding sauces and gremolata made for stunning flavors.

Being so impressed with the atmosphere and service, the following day we checked out of our hotel near Caledonia and checked into the Hotel de Ville. Sitting here now, from room service I ordered two appetizers for our lunch; a creamy, white lentil soup studded with three large shrimp and four slices of house-made French sausage and the chef's version of tuna tartare, the marinade seasoned with soy, miso, sesame, cracked coriander, and pepper.

We have already made reservations to return to the restaurant with a client on Thursday and staying through Sunday, I'm sure I'll have many additional reports!

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Quick check-in from Panama...

Great call on Ten Bistro, Beto!

Actually, that was Vinobiondo who recommended Ten Bistro. Glad you enjoyed it.

Hotel DeVille looks like a big step up from anything you could find in Caledonia. Calle 50 is a much nicer area.

Nikko's cafes are great for good, solid, inexpensive food. The owner used to have only one restaurant on Via España, but he was awarded the contract to feed the thousands of Cuban refugees who were housed in the camps on the western side of the canal during 1994. With those profits, he built 2 more restaurants.

My personal favorite is the one in Balboa.

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Quick check-in from Panama...

Great call on Ten Bistro, Beto!

Actually, that was Vinobiondo who recommended Ten Bistro. Glad you enjoyed it.

Hotel DeVille looks like a big step up from anything you could find in Caledonia. Calle 50 is a much nicer area.

Nikko's cafes are great for good, solid, inexpensive food. The owner used to have only one restaurant on Via España, but he was awarded the contract to feed the thousands of Cuban refugees who were housed in the camps on the western side of the canal during 1994. With those profits, he built 2 more restaurants.

My personal favorite is the one in Balboa.

You are right -- I'm not paying attention... The whole reason to stay in Calidonia is that the Monaco Hotel is $15 a night which is good for a few days' worth of business in the area. Even though it only costs a dollar or two to get across town in a taxi, I don't mind a few nights in a really cheap hotel to save expenses and then be able to splurge a bit later.

We did eat again at Ten Bistro last evening, three of us sharing the lentil soup, the garlic scallops, and a beef and foie gras spring roll for starters. Entrees included a sole with spinach, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes, beef Indochine with sauteed spinach and a spicy soy/miso glaze and large, fresh wild shiitakes, and pork tenderloin with balsamic glaze, capers, and green olives. As before, service was exquisite.

Writing this while chomping down a hotdog at the yacht club and arranging for a boat provision for a sale to Taboga tomorrow. Apparently there is a Meditteranean restaurant on Taboga run by two Russian women so that will prove to be an interesting report upon our return...

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Drove out to Flamenco island to check out development; surprisingly lots of construction with a disappointly huge amount of empty shops. Most of the restaurants out there are empty as well, save one; the Buckaneer which was teeming with tourists. Their Planters Punch punched quite a whollop and we ordered two appetizers; a sampler plate with fried miniature shrimp, mozzarella fingers, clams in some weird tomato-like sauce, fried plantains made like pizza slices with melted cheese and pepperoni, fried calamari, and a few additional items I could not determine. This, along with a mixed ceviche was the afternoon stomach ache... all this food was barely edible. The ceviche was served in nestled dish -- one would think they would nestle it in crushed ice but instead, there was this disgustingly artificial green liquid, reminiscent of creme de menthe. Beyond unappetizing and a waste of a visit.

Off to Las Bovedas for dinner...

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