Mi Ranchito

Just a short ride along the Amador causeway, and immediately beside the Smithsonian museum, you’ll stumble upon a large thatch-roof structure surrounded by Astrocaryum palms. Mi Ranchito is by far one of Panama city’s most popular restaurants. Tourists and locals flock to this eatery every single day. Situated on the causeway, this open-air diner renders stunning views of the city’s skyline. The service is pretty good. Despite almost always being filled to capacity the wait staff remains attentive and the service is quite timely. The most popular dishes here are the pantacones (fried green plantains), one of the many types ceviches, and entrees paired with coconut rice. Enjoy a well prepared meal and revel in the constant cool breeze as local artists serenade you at Mi Ranchito.

Recommended Course

Appetizer: Mixed or Corvina ceviche

Entrée: Mixto de Mariscos (a blend of steamed clams, shrimp, and squid in a savory garlic sauce)

To Drink: Sour-sop smoothie

Costa Azul

Costa Azul is one of the few restaurants in the city that offers a truly Panamanian meal. The wait staff is warm and friendly and serves up authentic meals with the genuine down-home hospitality. The meals are very affordable (average $15 for two courses) and the portions are incredibly generous. Entrees are well seasoned and fairly tasty. The blended fruit punch can be a litte disappointing and some meats can appear salty. I appreciated the frank tastes of the natural fruits but something in it wasn’t quite palatable. The creole chicken was very well prepared but by the time I made it through the salad and bread I could barely make room for it. Costa Azul is most certainly worth a visit if you’re in the city. In a metropolis surrounded by so many non-Panamanian eateries, it’s a reprieve for those seeking a taste of Panama.

Recommended Course

Appetizer: Sancocho (Local chicken soup and Panama’s National dish)

Entrée: Mixto de Mariscos (a blend of steamed clams, shrimp, and squid in a savory garlic sauce)

To Drink: A Pitcher of Sangria

Brio Brasserie

Brio Brasserie is one of the Waldorf Astoria’s in-house restaurants. The food here is well prepared with distinct tastes and impeccable plating. While I did enjoy the breakfast, pool-side eats and in-room dining, I am not sure I would make reservations at the restaurant, if I were staying elsewhere. The restaurant is tastefully decorated with panoramic views of the bay and exceptional service. The wait-staff all but offers to cut your meat for you. In addition, I must say that the vanilla cheesecake is by far the best cheesecake I have had thus far. It was so delicious I ordered it on three separate occasions. Each time it was plated differently and every time it was equally tasty. I returned from my trip yearning for another slice.

Recommended Course

Dessert: Vanilla Cheesecake with Mango Sorbet

To Drink: Raspberry Lemonade (virgin)

El Mercado de Mariscos (The Fish Market)

Just at the end of Avenida Balbo is the local fish market. At the recommendation of a cab driver we made our way to Mercado de Mariscos for an afternoon meal. For just $11 dollars I enjoyed a generous portion of mixed ceviche ($3), a huge fillet of corvina, and patacones ($8). Just below the markets bay-side parking lot is a string of tented stalls serving made to order dishes. If you’re looking to mingle with the locals and enjoy street dining this is a great place to be. The seafood truly doesn’t get fresher than this.

Le Petit Paris

The trouble with Panamanian dining is that it’s hard to find authentic local eateries in the city. That’s not to say that there aren’t many restaurants that provide delicious meals with a Panamanian flare but culturally there’s much to be desired. One morning we strolled along calle de Uruguay and Avenida Balboa in search of a cafeteria. A resident pointed us in the direction of a quaint Parisian spot called Le Petit Paris. While it wasn’t quite what we set out to have that morning, the food was great. Most servers don’t speak English but the menu is printed in both languages and gives you a chance to practice your spanish. Despite the language barrier, the wait staff was accommodating and attentive. Meals are nothing to write home about, and while not expensive (avg $11 for breakfast entrée) can appear steep in the realms of what $5 can get you in Panama.

 All images © 2013-2014 Donnatilda Tabana.