Panama: our best and worst dining


During our ten-day visit to Panama – including Panama City, Boquete, and Bocas del Toro – here’s our best/worst list:

Best Restaurant: La Posta in Panama City – the food was as good as we’d heard. And the best service by far we had in Panama. And lovely elegant Havana-style dining room with cream-colored walls, purring ceiling fans, big palms, old photos. The smoked pork chop was huge and perfectly seasoned; the seafood risotto was creamy but the rice still al dente – with big bits of calamari, shrimp, scallops; very thinly sliced beef carpaccio with shaved parmesan, artichokes and a light vinaigrette; a cube of tuna carpaccio that put all other ceviche we had to shame.

Runner-up Best Restaurant: Il Pianista in Boquete – okay, my old adage that when in Rome eat like the Romans just didn’t hold up in Panama. After a few Panamanian restaurants, I wanted to eat in Panama like the Romans. This little almost-hidden Italian restaurant was a welcome respite from rice-and-beans, plantains, and slabs of meat with sauce. On the edge of the road, this tiny place has rough-hewn stone walls, and a handful of tables looking out on what was a raging waterfall when we visited. The outdoor deck was closed due to rain. I had the most delicious Pasta Pomodoro – very simple.  Spaghetti with a very fresh sauce made of local tomatoes, garlic and basil. D had pizza.

Best Entertainment at a Restaurant: Tinajas in Panama City – where we took in the floor show of traditional Panamanian dancers and musicians. The food was fine – I had the ceviche and shrimp with coconut sauce – but didn’t knock me over and I fear may have contributed to my stomach upset the next day.

Biggest disappointment: Boquete Bistro in Boquete – we’d heard good things about this American-owned restaurant offering American dishes and the place was packed on Valentine’s Day with both Latin and Anglo tourists. But the service was very slow – the staff seemed overwhelmed by all the diners – and the food was a pale imitation of the real thing. My Mediterranean pasta – spaghetti with feta cheese, oil, tomatoes, Kalamata olives – had an odd sweet taste to it that totally put me off. D’s tacos were passable – but odd meat. Maybe it’s harder to duplicate American than Italian dishes in a faraway place?

Best restaurant atop an old bus: Bocas Blended – a clever place inside an old bus parked on a corner of a busy intersection in Bocas del Toro. Cheerful young ex-pats – one from New Jersey – whipped up wraps (veggies with a feta-based pesto was my fav) and blended fruit drinks  akin to smoothies known as a batido – inside the bus and served them at counters tacked onto the sides of the bus and atop the bus at a small table with four chairs (the food was lifted up by a rickety pulley) that had a good view of the town and the ocean beyond. Also good homemade lemonade made with bits of mint.

Best Breakfast and view: at Cocomo B&B on Bocas del Toro (fresh pineapple, a wide selection of homemade entrees from omelettes and soft-boiled eggs to french toast and pancakes) on the open air deck overlooking the Caribbean.

Other good breakfast with a view: A spread laid out for the Iowa farmers we initially traveled with at the Vistors Center overlooking the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. Very good french toast. (And a nice break from some very mediocre breakfasts we had at two pricey resorts that should have known better.)

Worst service/best fish: The Reef in Bocas del Toro. We waited over an hour at this busy restaurant where again the staff seemed both overwhelmed and at times inept. Fortunately the view – from an open air deck on the water – was lovely and the fish and lobster (although very small portion) was well-prepared when it finally arrived.

Others:

– Tammy’s in Boquete – an Israeli-run place with good hummus, okay rotisserie chicken and patacones (disks of fried plantain that were too dry and seasonless for me. I’ll stick with french fries.)

– Central Park in Boquete – overlooking the main square. Good fry bread, s0-so scrambled eggs

– Shalom Bakery in Boquete – sorry, the bagel was a pale imitation of the real thing but the cinnamon roll got a thumb’s up from D

–  Mr. Douglas’ Golden Grill in Bocas Town – good ice cream that hit the spot after a hot day on the beach

– Cafe at Red Frog Beach on Isla Bastimentos (Bocas) –  the chips were good. The salsa turned out to be not the tomato-based dip we expected but a tangy mayonaise-based one.

– The restaurant terrace at La Coralina hotel, a lovely hotel on Isla Colon (a short bike ride along the beach from Bocas town near Bluff Beach)  – great views and the best craft shop we saw anywhere!

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