Where to Eat and Drink in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s Most Exciting NeighborhoodBy Karen Catchpole
The food and drink scene in Panama City has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, and the popular Casco Viejo neighborhood is now home to many of the best restaurants, coffee shops, and bars in Panama’s capital city.
Here’s where to eat and drink during your visit.
Sixteen-seat Donde José, from chef José Olmedo Carles, is a tasting menu-only restaurant inspired by Panama’s biodiversity. Native ingredients are handled with traditional techniques to produce daring and surprising dishes that deserve the buzz they’re getting. Plates might include a soup made of local fish and mushrooms or a salad made of watermelon, ricotta, and cilantro.
The chef also owns the casual Fonda Lo Que Hay, which serves breakfast and lunch using what’s on hand (hence the name).
At Tomillo Panamá, Panamanian chef Felipe Milanés harnesses his years of experience in top kitchens in New York and Washington, D.C. to produce a menu of international favorites like “The Big Apple,” a New York strip steak, and “Ceviche de Tuna”, a tuna ceviche) and meant to be shared in a relaxed but buttoned up setting.
The Strangers Club
The setting for The Strangers Club, which opened in a renovated 100-year-old building in 2017, may be old, but the cocktails are thoroughly modern. This makes sense when you realize The Strangers Club is owned and operated by a talented cabal of six bartenders from around the world. Try a cocktail like the Derby Tropical No.2, a bourbon-based drink with fresh cucumber, lime juice, and pineapple, garnished with a wild hibiscus flower.
Capital Bistro Panamá
Capital Bistro Panamá was created by Venezuelan chef Elias Murciano in a former fire station on the water’s edge. CBP, as locals call it, has a sexy bar and a wide-ranging menu that draws on the chef’s experience in kitchens in France and Spain. One popular dish is an octopus stew with an olive purée.
Head to Bao Dai for dim sum, and Asian favorites like jasmine tea short ribs and Peking duck fried rice, served in a vibrant dining room. The rooftop bar is also beloved by locals.
Tacos La Neta
Mario Castrellón made a name for himself with Maito, the only restaurant in Panama to make the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. but you can get a taste of this chef’s culinary vision in the much more casual setting at Tacos La Neta in Casco Viejo. Here, cooks serve up “tropical tacos” with distinctly Panamanian ingredients like local corn tortillas and salsas made with native chiles. Taco classics like al pastor, carnitas, and cochinita pibil are on offer, along with gourmet tacos, flautas, tortilla soup, cocktails, beer, and more.
Mahalo, opened by Canadian sisters, fills a void in Casco Viejo with vegetarian and vegan dishes and a popular Sunday brunch.
Cervecería La Rana Dorada
Cervecería La Rana Dorada helped usher in the craft brew revolution in Panama, and now has six pubs around Panama City. The most historic and atmospheric of them all is in a renovated colonial building in Casco Viejo. All pubs offer six La Rana Dorada beers in bottles and on tap, along with a bar menu. If the plantain pizza is available, order it.
Granclement has been serving homemade, all-natural, French-style ice cream and sorbet in Casco Viejo since 2003. All of your favorite flavors are available, along with more offbeat offerings (like basil). Vegan options are now on offer, too.
Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar
Immerse yourself in tropical bar bliss at Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar in Casco Viejo, where everything, from the upholstery to the glassware to the music, is designed to invoke swaying palms and caressing breezes. The rum cocktails, made with award-winning Pedro Mandinga rums produced in Panama, do the rest.
Make a coffee stop at Café Unido, where coffee from around Panama is roasted and served with care, including Panama’s famous geisha coffee. A percentage of sales is put toward environmental and community projects in coffee growing regions of Panama.
Spanish Michelin-starred chef Andrés Madrigal is most famous for his Laboratorio Madrigal restaurant in Panama City. In Casco Viejo, his OchoyMedio offers a more casual brasserie atmosphere and menu with dishes like eggplant roasted on a Japanese robato grill, Caribbean-style octopus, pork ribs in tamarind sauce, and much more.