Earlier this week, I wrote my guide to “Dining Out on a Budget.” There are plenty of places you can eat in Panama where the cost of your meal will be only a few dollars. However, even those of us who are watching our budgets like to dine out at nice restaurants every now and again, and Panama offers plenty of great restaurants to eat at. There are many great restaurants in the city, and my wife and I have only gotten an opportunity to eat at a small percentage of them. But of the restaurants we have been to, here is my list of 10 great restaurants in Panama City..
The restaurants are not ranked in any particular order. With each restaurant I have included their estimated price, as reported by the popular Panamanian restaurant website DeGusta. This price is what they estimate an appetizer, entree, and drink will cost you. I find that most times this price is on the higher end, and you will usually enjoy a meal for cheaper than they say. But these prices will help give you a general idea of the cost of the restaurant.
Degusta Price: $23
Location: El Cangrejo
Chez Titi is a European style tea house that offers breakfast, salads, crepes, sandwiches, and of course, tea. The prices are reasonable (most sandwiches and crepes run about $7-12), the food is really good (the crepes come with this side salad that’s truly amazing, and this comes from a guy who doesn’t normally like salads), but the service and ambiance is really what makes Chez Titi stand out. It’s no secret that Panama is known for its notoriously bad service, even at expensive restaurants. However, the service every time I’ve been to Chez Titi has rivaled the best places I’ve been in the US. It’s also one of the few restaurants you’ll find where the servers speak pretty good English, at least enough to take your order and answer menu questions. The ambiance is very chic, and you can tell they spent a lot of time designing the restaurant to have a great tea house decor. As for the tea and coffee, I don’t drink either, so I can’t personally say, but I’ve heard that they are excellent. I definitely recommend trying the crepes when you go.
Chez Titi is open from 9am to 7:30pm Monday to Saturday, and closed Sundays. UPDATE: Chez Titi management has informed me that as of October 1st, 2014, they will be open on Sundays, and until 9pm daily.
Degusta Price: $26
Location: Casco Viejo
Casa Blanca is our favorite restaurant to dine at if you want to get a feel for Casco Viejo. While they have a small indoor seating, they have a huge outdoor seating area in Plaza Bolivar, and that’s where you definitely want to eat. The ambiance at night is great, as you really get to take in Casco while enjoying your meal. You will get hassled during your meal by street vendors trying to sell you things, but just politely say “no gracias” and they’ll move on. The service is not great, but the ambiance and food make up for it. The price of entrees range widely, from $9 for a seafood paella to the high 20’s for imported steak. I would recommend sticking with the seafood options when you eat here (this is a good rule for most restaurants in Panama that aren’t steakhouses). The only time people we’ve known haven’t really enjoyed the food is when they’ve gotten meat, but everyone always has a great experience with the seafood. My favorite dish is a mixed seafood that they cook and serve inside of a pineapple. And even though it’s only 9 dollars, my wife really enjoyed the paella, and had enough leftovers for lunch the next day. They also do great pitchers of sangria.
Casa Blanca is a great place to bring guests from out of town who want to visit Casco and get a feel for it’s flavor. We took my dad months ago, and he’s still talking about it. Casa Blanca is open from 10am to midnight daily.
Degusta Price: $24
Location: El Cangrejo
Tsugoi is our favorite sushi restaurant in Panama City. They have a great selection of sushi rolls, and the ingredients taste fresh, which you don’t get too often with Panamanian sushi. Each roll has the option to be ordered either as a six piece or 10 piece roll. The 10 piece rolls are huge and my wife and I are usually stuffed after eating 2 each (we’re big sushi eaters). Our favorite roll is the dragon roll. The 10 piece rolls range between $7-14 in price each, and you usually will need more than one if you are a hungry person. They also have a big menu of cooked Japanese food, which I have heard good things about. Service has always been pretty good.
Tsugoi is open Monday-Thursday form 12pm-10pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm to 11pm, and Sunday 1pm to 9pm. You usually don’t need a reservation, but if you make one using DeGusta and bring your reservation code with you, you get 10 percent off your bill.
Los Años Locos
Degusta Price: $36
Location: San Francisco
It’s hard to get a good steak in Panama, but Los Años Locos is one place that you will. This steakhouse offers a wide variety of different steaks, as well as a good assortment of seafood. The local fillets are priced in the low to mid $20’s, while imported steaks will cost you as much as the high $50’s. Needless to say, I enjoyed a local steak when we went here, and found it to be a perfectly good steak. The restaurant was crowded, but service was good and server spoke some English. There are better restaurants for seafood in the city, but if you are looking for a higher end steak house, Los Años Locos is a great pick.
Los Años Locos is open from 12pm-11pm Monday-Thursday, 12pm-12am Friday and Saturday, and 12pm-10pm on Sunday.
Degusta Price: $19
Location: San Francisco
This Peruvian restaurant makes the list strictly for their food. The ambiance is nothing special, and the service is pretty awful, even by Panamanian standards. The mistake we made with this restaurant was going to it before we had to be at another event. This made the 2+ hour long dinner, especially the 20 minutes waiting for our hand written check, more irritable than if we had gone on a night where we could relax and didn’t have anywhere else to be. But the food was really great, and very reasonably priced. I went with my wife and two other friends, and we all tried each others dishes, and enjoyed each of them.
All of the plates are big enough to share, but if you order any of the noodles or rice dishes, expect to get a massive amount of food. The waitress warned us, but we didn’t really have any idea quite how much food we would get. Those dishes could easily feed 2-3 hungry people. I consider myself a huge eater, and finished less than half of my noodles, even with everyone else digging in and having a few bites. With the noodle and rice dishes priced at $10-$15, and family sized, this restaurant really belongs on the cheap eats list, but the food is good enough to lend it on this list. Just make sure you go with a patient attitude and don’t get frustrated by the service.
La Jarana is open Monday and Wednesday-Saturday 12m-9:30pm, and Sunday 12pm-8pm. Closed Tuesday.
Os Segredos Da Carne
Degusta Price: $36
Location: Bella Vista
Os Segredos Da Carne is a Brazilian rodizio style steakhouse that features all you can eat cuts of meat, along with a diverse salad bar and dessert offerings. The cost per person is $30 ($18 for lunch). I went here on my birthday, where you get your meal free if you bring ID and three other people in your party who are paying. The salad bar includes over 50 items, including langostinos, other seafood, and various soups.
For those who have never been to a Brazilian steakhouse before, you are given a card on your table that you display to the servers, with one side being green, for go, and the other side being red, for stop. If your card is green, they will wheel trays of different cuts of meat to your table and keep feeding you until you say no more. The best meats were the bacon wrapped filet and the brisket. They also came around with this grilled pineapple that was surprisingly delicious. Be aware at these restaurants they will try to fill you up by coming around more frequently with cheaper cuts of meats, so you eat less of the expensive cuts. Feel free to turn down all of the chicken and pork they throw at you and wait for cuts you like. If you haven’t seen it come your way in a while, flag down a server, and they will get someone to bring it to you.
If nothing else because of the sheer amount of calories you’ll eat, this is definitely a once in a while restaurant. But if you are a fan of meat, this is a great place to go, at a better price than you would find these types of places for in the US (where Brazilian steakhouses can cost up to $50 a person for the meal). Os Segredos Da Carne is open Monday to Saturday 12pm-4pm for lunch and 6pm-11pm for dinner, and Sunday from 11:30am-4pm.
Trump Ocean Deck
Degusta Price: $36
Location: Punta Pacifica
This restaurant makes the list mostly for it’s ambiance. The food and service are both pretty good, but are not the best you will find in Panama. The menu is varied, from expensive steaks and seafood to not as expensive pizzas and hamburgers, so even though menu items are “hotel priced,” you can eat at the restaurant for relatively inexpensive if you want. The location is really what makes this restaurant a must try at least once. It is located right on the water. Not near the water, or in view of the water, but right next to it. If you were to jump out of the open air style walls, you would land in the bay (but seriously, don’t do that). Sitting out on the water while having a meal is a truly enjoyable experience. It also helps the view to have the massive Trump Towers right on the other side of the restaurant, so you can have a view that’s the best of both worlds.
Trump Ocean Deck is open daily, 12pm to 12am.
La Casa Del Marisco
Degusta Price: $37
Location: Area Bancaria
As you should be able to tell by the name (marisco means seafood), this restaurant is the place to go for great seafood in Panama. Probably one of our favorites. Its on my must list to go to with guests when they are in town. Like Casa Blanca, the entree prices vary pretty widely here as well, from the low teens to the mid 30s, with most dished being somewhere in the mid $20s range. When we took my father here for fathers day, when we added appetizers and some good wine, our bill came to about $50 a person, so you can definitely run up a bill here.
The langostinos here are amazing, and are some of the biggest you’ll find at restaurants in Panama. For those who aren’t familiar yet with langostinos, you’ll find them a lot in Panama. They’re prawns, and most seafood restaurants will have them. However, they vary in size greatly depending on where you go, from being basically large shrimp, to being almost small lobsters. La Casa Del Marisco’s langostinos are definitely closer to lobster size. The ambiance of the restaurant is nice and the service is overall pretty good. If you are looking for great seafood, this is your place.
La Casa Del Mariscos is open 12pm to 11pm daily.
Degusta Price: $30
Location: Casco Viejo
Milano is an Italian/Panamanian fusion restaurant located in Plaza Bolivar, right across from Casa Blanca. We actually found this restaurant because we tried to go to Casa Blanca and they were having some problem in their kitchen and couldn’t make food for another hour (hey, it’s Panama, these things happen). Milano’s ended up being a good alternative. I wouldn’t call the food truly Italian, but it definitely has an Italian influence. The set up is pretty similar to Casa Blanca as you usually eat outside in the plaza, although we did find the overall ambiance to be better at Casa Blanca’s side of the plaza. The service at Milano was better though, and it’s another very good alternative if you want to dine out in Casco Viejo.
Milano is open daily from 9am to 1am.
Degusta Price: $68
Location: Casco Viejo
Okay, so I haven’t actually been to this one yet. But one of my good friends went and said it was one of the best meals she’s ever had anywhere in the world, so I figured that would make it worth listing as one of Panama’s great restaurants. Donde José has quickly gotten a reputation as one of the best restaurants in Panama, even though it only opened this year. The restaurant is small, with 10 tables at most, but the experience and food is supposed to be amazing. Chef José prepares 9 courses for you to eat, all made with local ingredients. The best experience is supposed to be sitting at the chefs table, where he will walk you through everything that is being made, what ingredients he uses, and what his inspiration for the dishes were.
Donde José is also the most expensive restaurant on our list. It will cost you $67 for the meal if you are at the chefs table, and $57 otherwise. There is a “cocktail pairing” to go along with the food that’s offered at $38. So if you want to do the food and drink, you are looking at over $100 a person. But from what I understand, the experience is worth it. One day, when my wife and I can fit it into our budget, this restaurant is on our must visit list.
Donde José is open Wednesday-Saturday, with seatings at 6:00PM and 8:30PM.
UPDATE 11/15: I finally got a chance to try Donde José, and it definitely lived up to all of the hype. Check out my article on my visit here.