Before planning my trip to Panama City, I was unaware of all the delicious food that awaited me. To my surprise, it’s a hot spot for hip, stylish restaurants and world-renowned chefs. Delighted by the thriving culinary scene I discovered, I’m sharing with you 10 must-try restaurants in Panama City to add to your itinerary. Foodies, believe me when I say you’re in for a unique gastronomic adventure!
In an homage to the Greek goddess of eloquence, one of the nine muses, Caliope Restaurant combines elegance, ambiance and taste to make for an unforgettable dining and culinary experience (with just the right amount of swank).
Owned by Tántalo Group, it offers one of the best gastronomical adventures in Panama City. Its menus are infused with creativity thanks to international chefs Martino Pace and Pierre de Janon, who bring fusion food made using local ingredients, artisanal cocktails with a big city twist, and diverse wine options to the table (literally).
This may be your best meal in Casco Viejo. Upon arrival, expect to be greeted outside by two doormen, who will confirm your reservation and lead you through the doors to the elevator. On your way up, the restaurant staff will be notified of your arrival. So as soon as the elevator doors open, you’ll be greeted by your smiling hostess and server and shown to your seats. The service at Caliope is top notch–everyone is super helpful, professional, and attentive and the servers are very knowledgeable about the menu.
Personally, I wasn’t expecting such a beautiful interior! The mix of low romantic lighting, chandeliers, simple furnishing, and beautiful art really brings the place to life. We ended up ordering the Carbón Ardiente (octopus, Peruvian pepper, and clams) and the 4 Estaciones Hamburguesa (the four seasons burger–Angus burger with manchego cheese, truffle mayo, pickles, arugula, caramelized onions, and roasted tomatoes). Not only is the food delicious, but beautifully plated with care and attention to detail. To drink, I got the Nunca Fue Mojito, which was yummy and strong! I only wish I had been able to try more of the dishes and drinks on the menu.
This place flew completely under my radar. The only reason we ended up going was because one of the lovely staff members at our hotel recommended it to us. He said that if we went anywhere for dinner in Casco, this had to be it. I’m here to pass that message on to you. If you’re visiting Panama City, do not miss this place!
Click here for more info on the restaurant’s menus and pricing (which I might add is quite fair for a place like this!) or to make a reservation. (Mon to Sat 7pm t0 10:30pm, reservations recommended, $$$)
Mahalo Cocina y Jardin is located on the first floor of Las Clementinas Boutique Hotel in the heart of Casco Viejo. With multiple seating areas, it is a perfect option for hotel guests, tourists, and locals looking for fresh ingredients, great-tasting food (prepared by Top Chef Panama contestant Carlos Lucas!), relaxed Aloha vibes, and yummy vegan/vegetarian options.
Chill and bright during the day and lively and upbeat in the evenings, a visit to Mahalo is a treat at any time of day. It even has a sister eatery, called Mahalo Snack Shack, just a short walk away. We (eagerly) ate here every day for breakfast and got to try a lot of the menu. See below for some of my favourites! (If I could recommend one, I would say go for the Vegan Waffle Florentine. According to staff, it’s one of the most popular items on the menu and for good reason…it’s so delicious!)
Click here for a full post on Mahalo Panama. For a better idea of menus and pricing, click here for Mahalo Cocina y Jardin and here for Mahalo Snack Shack. (Cocina y Jardin: Sun to Wed 7:30am to 10:30pm, Thu to Sat 7:30am to 11:30pm, $$; Snack Shack: Mon to Sun 10am to 10pm, $$)
Another Tántalo Group entity, Tántalo Hotel/Kitchen/Roofbar offers a casual and hip dining and lounging atmosphere at Tántalo Kitchen. It is led by Executive Chef Pierre de Janon, who manifests his international experience by using ingredients from around the world to create and honour unique Panamanian dishes.
We were lucky to dine at Tántalo twice. Once for breakfast (on behalf of our partner, Las Clementinas Boutique Hotel) and once for dinner. For breakfast, we tried the Acai Bowl w/ Strawberries & Bananas and the Chopped Beef Tenderloin & Egg. For dinner, we got the Sushi Madre, Octopus, and Imported Rib Eye Steak. Everything was delicious and very well prepared. Both meals were great! Breakfast was low key, but dinner was lively and fun–we even got to enjoy some live art/performances and head upstairs to take in the rooftop view. I really liked the vibe at Tántalo–it’s both relaxed and stylish, with an aesthetic that is clearly art-focused.
Click here for more info on Tántalo Kitchen, including menus and pricing. (Mon to Sun 7am to 10:30pm, $$$)
Frequented by locals, Pio Pio Fried Chicken is a popular fast food chain in Panama serving traditional Panamanian food. After an exhausting day of shooting, we opted to skip the fancy dinner and grab a quick bite to eat from a Pio Pio not too far from our hotel. We ended up having a really good, comforting take-out meal at our hotel. My favourite item was the Sancocho chicken soup. I would definitely recommend giving Pio Pio a try if you’re looking for a place with good, cheap eats that’s open round the clock. Click here for menu and ordering options! (Open 24 hrs Mon to Sun, $)
Situated among the ancient ruins of Panama’s first railroad office is Tomillo Panama, an eatery featuring tapas-styled dishes. At Tomillo, the internationally famed Chef Felipe Milanes incorporates Caribbean and Central American flavours in exclusively shared dishes. Its open air terrazza enclosed within 19th-century walls and lit with hanging fairy lights gives guests a romantic and casual dining setting.
Visit the Tomillo website here. (Tue to Sat 7pm to 11pm, $$$)
See below for some other amazing eateries that I wanted to visit but just didn’t have the time to during my last trip. I’ve read great things about all of them and hope to revisit Panama City so I can check them off my list!
Fonda Lo Que Hay ($$): Affordable Panamanian comfort food that creatively combines local ingredients and diverse flavours. Prepared with love and served in a casual atmosphere (family-style seating) from an open air kitchen, the food here is a favourite among locals and tourists alike. (Popular menu items include octopus ceviche, tuna carpaccio, and concolón)
Donde José ($$$): Chef José Olmedo Carles, part owner of Fonda (above), takes local Panamanian cuisine to the next level at reservation-only Donde José. Far more formal than Fonda, this restaurant’s goal is to reinforce the Panamanian identity by elevating traditional Panamanian dishes to haute cuisine. (The menu changes frequently, but make a reservation for the 9-course meal and sit at the Chef’s table for an incredible and unique experience!)
El Trapiche ($$): The self-proclaimed “safe-keeper” of Panama’s culinary traditions, El Trapiche brings the flavours of Panama’s countryside to the city. With a menu based on family recipes, this eatery offers an authentic taste of Panama through traditional dishes and regional nuances. (Try their house sangria and order their sampler platter for a taste of multiple food items)
Maito ($$$): Ranked as one of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants, Maito prides itself on culinary innovation. Chef Mario Castrellón believes in combining the regional flavours that characterize Panamanian gastronomy to make new dishes, rather than only replicating and reinventing popular traditional staples. If you’re looking for innovative menu items with diverse Panamanian influences, Maito is the place for you! (Popular menu items include the tasting menu, the short rib dumplings, and the calamari risotto)
Esa Flaca Rica ($$): Chef Fulvio Miranda, also part owner of Fonda, gives everyday Panamanian meals a fast food twist at Esa Flaca Rica. This popular food truck serves burgers, sandwiches, and hot-dogs with traditional flair. For example, the corn tortilla sandwich is Miranda’s take on the typical Panamanian breakfast: corn tortilla, yellow cheese, and stewed meats cooked with coconut. (La flaca sexy burger is a hit!)
I would love to hear what you think! If you’ve been to Panama City and don’t see your favourite restaurants here, leave a comment and I’ll add yours to the list!