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Our Favorite Not-so-Panamanian Restaurants in Panama City

September 1st, 2013 | Posted by Brianna in Food | Panama | The Places We've Been

Food is a fantastic way to explore a new culture. We don’t claim to be foodies in any sense of the word and seldom seek out the most exquisite or famous flavors of a city (unless you count pizza and beer), but we do enjoy experiencing authentic food and especially love a good típico breakfast. In Mexico, we devoured chilaquiles and papas, in Guatemala we chose desayunos (breakfast) no matter what meal it was, and in Honduras we ate baleadas almost daily. Here in Panama though, we were struggling to find anything that even remotely resembled local food. The most homegrown-looking establishments usually advertised Colombian food or otherwise fairly non-unique dishes, and we’ve yet to see any of the limited items we read about online as “Panamanian cuisine”. For example, the Wyndham Grand Veneto’s website describes various “popular Panamanian delicacies”, but inside their casino and hotel, they offer an Italian restaurant, a New York Steakhouse, and a Sushi Lounge – no traditional, local dishes to be found. Maybe the talk of cuisine just makes their customers feel like they’re going somewhere more exotic, or maybe I’m missing something. After asking around, we came to the general conclusion that like many other aspects of Panamanian culture, the food here is a combination of that from the many other countries that have influenced life on the isthmus over the last 150 years. That said, we’ve become quite fond of a couple of not-so-Panamanian restaurants in Panama City and find ourselves returning to them over and over.

New York Bagel Cafe

New York Bagel CafeTwo blocks from our apartment along our typical route for walks is the Einstein Plaza, a broad intersection in El Cangrejo with the giant head of Albert Einstein carved in stone and dropped into the middle of the crossroads with some landscaping and a couple of benches. The plaza is the address of the New York Bagel Cafe, a very American restaurant that – you guessed it – serves bagels and coffee (among other things). House coffee is bottomless; after purchasing, customers can pick their mug and keep it full on their own from a station featuring no fewer than 6 different varieties of hot brew. The cashier counter sits in front of a backdrop of assorted bagels and below a large menu board entirely in English offering breakfasts, omelets, burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and a counter in the back displays baked goods like breads and sweet treats. The generously cream cheesed bagels have been our primary undoing, but the Western Omelet puts up a pretty good fight too. Inside the large, bright cafe, wifi is free and strong despite the numerous users on it at any given time (at least half of whom are speaking English), and outside, a second story balcony allows customers to enjoy their relaxed meal overlooking the plaza. From the states, this might not seem all that unique or interesting, but it’s an environment we don’t often find these days. Sure there are coffee shops with internet and an occasional hipster-looking joint with a plethora of outlets, but whether or not its appropriate for us to post up for hours at a time is not always clear and decent bagels have been almost non-existent. And there are little things too that while we may not have even missed, certainly add to the feeling of being in a familiar place. For example, in nearly all countries we’ve traveled through since the U.S., the coffee we are used to must be ordered as “café Americano”, which indicates that we would like a full-sized cup of drip coffee rather than an espresso or similar. At the New York Bagel Cafe, the house coffee is basic black with cream and sugar available as desired.  The prices too are a bit more American, but maybe that’s just life in the city.

Einstein Plaza, Panama City, Panama
New York Bagel Cafe, Panama City, Panama
Busy Sunday at NYBC, El Cangrejo, Panama City, Panama
Handsome Man at the NYBC
President Obama in the NYBC Kitchen
Delicious NYBC Hot Cocoa

Caffé Pomodoro

It’s only fair to be completely honest about my near-obsession with pizza before I start in on a raving review of this quaint Italian restaurant between Via Argentina and Via España. I really really really love pizza. So even though that is but a small fraction of what Pomodoro’s menu has to offer, it is a large fraction of why I love them. Ian is a big fan of the quattro formaggi; I’m all about the margherita. The personal sized pies are all thin crust and flavorful, and if you aren’t quite as jazzed about pizza as I am, the menu offers a number of classic Italian dishes as well as a create your own pasta section which allows customers to build their meal from eight different types of pasta and more than a dozen sauce and meat or topping combinations. The alfredo is superb. The only thing we haven’t loved was the house white wine, which was redolent with motor oil and boasted hints of metal, but I guess that’s kind of what you get for ordering the cheapest wine on the menu. In addition to the food, the environment of the restaurant itself is a gem. Tables are available along the front sidewalk and inside the restaurant itself, but the best seats in the house are in the romantic, but jovial courtyard out back that is shared with a neighboring wine bar. On one of our evening visits, a man playing Spanish guitar serenaded the diners under the warm patio lighting, and it was nothing short of magical. The staff at Pomodoro is unbelievably friendly, and so many servers are willing to take care of you that you hardly know which is actually assigned to your table. If there’s no time for a sit down meal though, there is a street level window through which we can (and do) order carry out, a nice option for a restaurant that feels like such a special treat.

Caffé Pomodoro, Panama City, Panama

Courtyard at Caffé Pomodoro, Panama City, Panama

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4 Responses

  • From my 11 page text of informacion on Panamá:

    My favorite places to eat in Panama City:
    Balboa Yacht Club, Amador beside Country Inn & Suites & FGI Fridays on the Panama Canal (typical Panama food +), great for sunset drink, week end live live music with local groups.
    Calle Uruguay has many good restaurants, clubs and bars, it is like the “South Beach“ of the city. Located one block east of Frederico Boyd & south of Calle 50.
    Vegetarian Restaurants in Panama City.
    Costa Azul Restaurant (typical Panama food +), on side street from Via España between the Continental Hotel & the Marriott Hotel, Banking District
    Jimmy’s Parrillada Restaurant (typical Panama food +), two locations Banking District & San Francisco, see:
    Lung Fung (Chinese) Restaurant, Betania area, Vía Simón Bolívar (Transístmica) and Calle 62 C. Oeste
    Manolo’s Cafes, several in the city, Via Veneto (this one has the best prices), Via Argentina, etc.
    Martin Fierro (Argentine cruise), El Cangrejo, Calle Eusebio Morales, down the street from the Las Vegas Hotel
    Me gusta Comida Vegetariana is off via España on the side street between the Continental Hotel & Marriott Hotel (across the street from Restaurant Costa Azul on the “rounded“ corner).
    Mi Ranchito (typical Panama food +), on the first island on the Amador Causeway, see:
    Napoli Italian Restaurant, original off Avenida de Martes near the old Canal Zone & the new one south of Via España on a side street in Obarrio
    Niko’s Cafes (buffet-cafeteria style), all over Panama City & Balboa, see:
    Pomodoro Restaurant Italian cuisine in a bohemian cafe atmosphere, located on the left side of the entrance to the Las Vegas Hotel lobby on Via Veneto see:
    Rincon Aleman, Germany Restaurant, one block off Frederico Boyd & one block north of Calle 50 beside Tinajas Restaurant, see:
    Rincon Suizo, Swiss Restaurant, El Cangrejo, Calle Eusebio Morales, down the street from the Las Vegas Hotel, see:
    Rino’s Italian & International cuisine, Banking District, Ave Federico Boyd & Calle 49.
    Tinajas Restaurant, (typical Panama food with typical Panama dance shows most nights), one block off Frederico Boyd & one block north of Calle 50 beside Rincon Aleman Restaurant, see:
    Wine Bar, on the right side of the entrance to Las Vegas Hotel lobby offers pizzas, great wines and other Italian menu items along with live music of local groups. See:
    U.S. Chain restaurant:
    TGI Fridays, Bennigan’s, Hooters + many U.S. chain fast foods: KFC, McDonalds, Subway, etc.
    Outside of Panama City:

    Coronado Area Restaurants:
    Cholo’s Mexican Restaurant – Cholo’s has a variety of delicious Mexican dishes with excellent friendly service. If you are coming from Coronado, turn right onto the highway and then take the next left (being mindful of the missing grate over a hole in the turn lane. The restaurant will be about a block in on the left hand side. The TripAdvisor website has more information.
    La Ruina – A very affordable restaurant offering excellent food and many fish and seafood selections. My personal favourite is the Corvina Entero (whole deep fried sea bass). The flesh is delicious and succulent without being at all greasy. Turn into Gorgona from the Panamerican highway and follow the signs to the Playa Serena or Bahia condominiums. Before reaching either of the complexes you will come to an intersection and La Ruina is on the right hand corner.
    Picasso Bar and Restaurant – Excellent pizza restaurant that is branching out into new types of food including Thai,. Go into Coronado, turning at Ave Roberto Eisenmann (where the Super 99 and El Rey grocery stores are) and go past the security booth going into Coronado. Picasso’s is on the left corner where the sign for the Coronado Golf club is. See the Picasso website for more information.
    Every Wednesday Picasso’s has a Happy Hour in the bar from 4 – 6 pm and it is a great place to meet people. Most people arrive around 5:30.
    Gourmet Pizza – Reputed to be the best pizza in Panama City and now located a few blocks from the Coronado Bay. Turn into Coronado from the Panamerican highway where the El Rey and Super 99 grocery stores are located and follow through into Coronado, going through the security gate. The restaurant is just after Picasso’s on the right hand side. It is easy walking distance from the Coronado Bay.
    La Luna Rosa – Reasonably priced, good pizza and pasta restaurant just two blocks away from the Coronado Bay. Turn into Coronado from the Panamerican highway where the El Rey and Super 99 grocery stores are located and follow through into Coronado, going through the security gate. The restaurant is just before the Coronado Bay on the right hand side.
    El Paraiso – While a little further away, El Paraiso has a good selection of foods and it also has a couple of theme nights. If you are looking to meet people, Friday nights feature Salsa Friday from 7 pm on. Drive past San Carlos about 4 km and turn right on the road leading to El Valle. El Paraiso is located 3 km past the turn off on the left hand side of the road. There is lots of parking available in their parking lot.
    Trattoria Italiana – Voted the best place for pizza in Coronado according to The restaurant also has other pasta options available. Trattoria Italiana is located on the right hand side of Avenida Roberto Eisenmann (the turn off the highway where the Super 99 and El Rey are located), behind Todo al Carbon on the way into Coronado, just before the San Fernando Clinic.
    El Rincon de Chef – A reasonably priced restaurant with varied menu including chicken, steaks, pasta, and seafood. Located in Coronado on the right hand side of Avenida Roberto Eiseinmann (the turn off the highway where the Super 99 and El Rey are located), about 4 or 5 blocks south of the Panamerican highway.

    Los Camisones, Pan American highway (typical Panama food +), 1.5 hour drive west of Panama City or about 15 kilometers past the entrance to El Valle, KM 104, north side of the Pan Am Hwy, look for a small sign, it’s easy to miss. The restaurant is on s short one lane road up a hill.

  • Jodi says:

    We ate at El Trapiche on Via Argentina last night and really enjoyed it. I had a Panamanian sampler plate and was not disappointed. My daughter (12yrs) was even happy with her grilled cheese is a pastry pocket.

  • Sojourner says:

    The original Cafe Pomodoro will be in the patio of the Hotel Las Vegas for another 2 months (until +/_June or July, 2016), and then will move completely into its new location. (The Las Vegas Hotel is being remodeled.) The Pomodoro has already opened in nearby location in a brand new center, just a block or so farther up the Via Veneto, on the other side of the street. It has the same friendly staff, the same cooks, just a new ambiance. It’s across the street from a hotel and the laundromat next door to that hotel. The new Pomodoro has large glass windows, and a spring-green and white color scheme that you can see from the outside.There is parking in front of it, and, I was told, a wheel chair ramp toward the corner of the L-shaped building. The other half of the building will be a Farmacia whenever it is ready to open. There was hardly anyone there when I was there at 5:30 p.m. (which is really far too early for dinner in Panama). Do give the ew location a try!

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