Fragrant wood-oven-pizza, mouth-watering fish, succulent chicken on the grill and authentic Mexican fare are just a few of the delicious foods available to the tourist in Panama. I recently had the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine while there. After two weeks of indulging (yes maybe over-indulging too!) I have become an ambassador for Panama's excellent restaurants.
Panama is just beginning to become known as a tourist destination, and I highly recommend it because it is safe, economical, beautiful and English-speaking. I chose the area around
Coronado Beach due to the large number of retired Canadians living there.
The beachfront community of Coronado is located about an hour from Panama City and was the first
weekend destination to be developed back in the 1960's. It is therefore one of the major tourist areas in the country. It boasts two full scale shopping plazas with large grocery stores and two more that are in the works. It has one of the finest golf courses in Latin America. Within the area is the beautiful
Coronado Resort complete with professional tennis courts, a full spa, outdoor Jacuzzis, Olympic sized pool, four restaurants, four bars, conference rooms, beautiful gardens and an equestrian centre.
Visiting the Coronado area is attractive for several reasons including the natural beauty, friendly residents, warm climate, and above all the incredible tourist and ex-pat infrastructure which includes many amenities such as top notch restaurants... I felt it was my duty to try as many of the local eateries as possible in a two week period - all in the name of research...
First stop, just down the road was the Pizza Picasso featuring a Brick wood fired pizza oven and open from Thursday to Sunday each week. The main item is the pizza Neapolitan thin crust that is hand tossed by Miguel, while you watch. Fresh salads and tapas round out the fare with an emphasis on freshness and healthy eating.
Our next dinner was at Luna Rosa located past Coronado entrance gates and just past the Fire Station and church on the right hand side. Owner Bruno hails from Florence, Italy and produces the best Italian food in the region. Fresh, homemade Italian food reigns supreme on this menu. Delicious Gnocchi, Ravioli, Fettuccine and Lasagne pastas are made on the premise, as are the tomato sauce for pizzas/pasta and the pizza dough and bread for the table. For desert the Panacotta and Tiramisu are delectable, as is the cappuccino.
Todo A Carbon is a small restaurant not far from the main gate. Here we tried what was probably the best roast chicken in the country. It is small but very pleasant and quite reasonably priced. Chicken is roasted on an open pit in the middle of the restaurant. An entire roast chicken with side orders was only $5.00. We happened to arrive on American Thanksgiving and were further delighted by the Roast Turkey.
La Carretta Steakhouse is also nearby, located at the Equestrian Centre. It is open from Thursday till Saturday for dinners and all day Sunday. They serve imported beef from the US & Argentina as well as domestic beef, chicken, pork and seafood. Every Sunday, from 11 AM to 5 PM the Carreta Steakhouse offers an all-you-can-eat Barbecue for $12.50 + tax (does not include beverages).
Another fine establishment not to be missed is Don Chacos located on the road to Coronado, just before the gate. The English/Spanish menu features a good selection of beef, pork, poultry and seafood. The menu has some Panamanian favourites as well, including Sancocho - a Panamanian soup dish made with chicken. An excellent $7 value meal includes ½ chicken with a side of fries, patacones or yucca and soft drink.
The place to go for incredible Mexican Food is Chollos. Owned by an American with a Mexican wife, Chollo's has it all: ambiance, food, friendly service, and great prices. The complimentary tortilla chips were home made, warm, salty, and delicious with a home made salsa accompanying it. The entrees were fresh, very flavourful and reasonably priced. For a real treat, order a Margarita here. You'll be glad you did!
Located at on the main road into Coronado, Rincon del Chef restaurant is another popular dining location for Panama's Pacific Playa Communities. Run by Chef Fernando Paredes, the restaurant sits in a charming artisan square and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. For the local expat community, Rincon del Chef is a favourite hangout. Chef Fernando claims "my philosophy is to offer good food at reasonable prices." I would have to agree with him. Our meal here was delicious and very good value.
In addition to these Coronado restaurants, the area has a large number of establishments nearby in the communities of San Carlos and El Valle.
"Fondas" are receiving a new kind of clientele also... the tourists. Known for low cost dishes, daily changing menus and rustic atmospheres, most Fondas offer the local working Panamanian an affordable place to eat and a good meal for the price. With the increase of foreign residents in Panama, Fondas too are gaining popularity for their delicious food.
So wherever you choose to dine and whatever your choice in food, I highly recommend the restaurants of Panama. Happy dining to you!
When to go: Climate
The average year-round temperatures are a balmy 75°F to 85°F (24°C-29°C), varying only with altitude. Humidity is always high in Panama,
and rainfall varies noticeably between the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country, with some areas in the Caribbean receiving almost
twice the yearly rainfall of Panama City. The best time to visit Panama is during the summer dry season from mid-December to mid-April.
This is also high season, and some hotels and resorts charge higher prices.
Flights: to Panama leave from Canada and fly directly with Air Transat. Flights with stopovers are available through a large number of
Canadian and American carriers. Flights arrive at the
Tocumen International Airport located just 27 km northeast of Panama City.
Local colourful buses will take you anywhere within the country for very reasonable fares.
Car rental: is easy and reasonable with driving on the right hand side of the road. The Pan-American Highway, alternatively known as
the Inter American Highway in Panama, connects Panama City, with the rest of the country all the way to the border with Costa Rica.
Ship: The coastal town of
Balboa is a major port of call for passenger ships.
Cabs: Taxis are an excellent way to get around local distances and in Panama City. None of the taxis use a meter, so be sure to settle on
a fare before getting in.
Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a volunteer to Europe, China, Tanzania and South Africa. When not travelling, she reads, writes and plans her next travel experience.