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Panama City, Panama

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#1 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 08:59 AM

Thinking about going somewhere for a long weekend (Columbus Day) and I found direct flights to Panama City for a little over $400 roundtrip (compared to $600 to Montreal or Las Vegas). The flight time is about 5 hours. I would depart Friday morning and return Monday late evening and stay in Panama City the entire time and take day trips on Sat & Sun. Has anyone been? Where would you eat? What would you see? Where would you stay? I picked up Fodor's yesterday and it's pretty informative but I'm hoping for opinions from people with more food oriented mindsets.

ETA: Oct. is rainy season, which is probably why everything is cheap.



#2 Tubesocks

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 10:21 AM

I'd recommend getting out of the city and out into the jungle - the food in PC proper isn't much to write home about.

After the Americans handed over control of the canal to the government the area along the causeway has been transformed from military housing to restaurants and cafes but unfortunately they are your typical pizza / ice cream / snack type places featuring a great view of the city. I'd run out there for lunch but avoid the place in the evening - think Sequoia. If it's any indication, a couple co-workers said that they try to choose their restaurants based on the level of service rather than the quality of food as service in the city is particularly bad.

I did have a few meals that were good - not great - while avoiding the Hooters / TGIF's and other American chains that have sprouted. Most of the places you'd want to go are in the Old City (Casco Viejo) and you'll feel like you're walking around Cuba. I would recommend a meal over there and then head to Havana Panama nightclub around 11 for some fantastic music. The area can get really dicey around the canal so keep your heads up and aware.

One thing to keep in mind is that the city itself is full of 60-80 story buildings that have all sprung up in the past 10 years or so without any infrastructure upgrades. So the traffic is horrible.

#3 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 01:14 PM

FWIW, Fodor's recommends to spend 1 day checking out the canal and casco Viejo and 1 day checking out a nearby rainforest for birds. Fodor also recommends staying in downtown P.C. (El Congrejo) and has a long list of restaurants that are good in the area (including Beirut, La Posta, Ten Bistro, Eurasia, Madame Chang but does not include La Mar - which may be too new). I'm thinking about staying at the Veneto Wyndham (they got me at Vegas styled casino).

#4 Tubesocks

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 02:31 PM

FWIW, Fodor's recommends to spend 1 day checking out the canal and casco Viejo and 1 day checking out a nearby rainforest for birds. Fodor also recommends staying in downtown P.C. (El Congrejo) and has a long list of restaurants that are good in the area (including Beirut, La Posta, Ten Bistro, Eurasia, Madame Chang but does not include La Mar - which may be too new). I'm thinking about staying at the Veneto Wyndham (they got me at Vegas styled casino).

I ate at Beirut - it's directly across the street from the Marriott. It's good but not great - I'd compare it to the original Lebanese Taverna. On the positive side there is a cigar store right next door with a ton of Cubans.

#5 sandhuy

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 05:14 PM

Thinking about going somewhere for a long weekend (Columbus Day) and I found direct flights to Panama City for a little over $400 roundtrip (compared to $600 to Montreal or Las Vegas). The flight time is about 5 hours. I would depart Friday morning and return Monday late evening and stay in Panama City the entire time and take day trips on Sat & Sun. Has anyone been? Where would you eat? What would you see? Where would you stay? I picked up Fodor's yesterday and it's pretty informative but I'm hoping for opinions from people with more food oriented mindsets.

I stayed in Casco Viejo the entire time I was in the city and loved it. Although a little removed from the downtown, the experience was very enjoyable (cobblestone streets, cafes in the squares, etc.) We chose a furnished apartment (Los Quatro Tulipanes) that was centrally located and had a great balcony with street and water views. For dinner, I highly recommend Manolo Caracol -- we had an amazing dinner that was very Komi-esque (multiple small plates, great product, beautiful presentation.)

#6 dlebby

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 07:14 PM

I absolutely agree about Manolo. It was the best dinner I had in multiple trips to Panama.

#7 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 21 September 2010 - 08:08 PM

Looked up Manolo on Fodor's and they actually recommend another restaurant:

After managing Manolo Caracol for years, René opened his own place, while following Manolo's popular formula of offering a set menu that changes daily and consists of about a dozen items served in five or six courses. The difference is a more intimate setting, more Caribbean influence in the cuisine, and the fact that René is almost always there, making sure his guests are happy. The small restaurant is in a historic building on the northwest corner of Plaza Catedral, with a high ceiling and white walls that are invariably decorated with the work of a local artist. There are also several tables on the sidewalk with cathedral views. The dining experience is a sort of culinary journey, in which fresh dishes appear every time you complete a course, and you happily chew your way forward, toward a light dessert. Simpler, inexpensive lunches are an alternative to René's seemingly endless dinners.

I would have to hit one or the other, maybe both. Thanks!

#8 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 09:21 AM

For dinner, I highly recommend Manolo Caracol -- we had an amazing dinner that was very Komi-esque (multiple small plates, great product, beautiful presentation.)

Questions. Are reservations required at Manolo and what time do they open? I know the Panamanians usually eat late so if I go when they open, I probably won't need a reservation but since I'm going on a weekend I better check. Also, any idea whether they're open on Sundays?

#9 dlebby

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 02:23 PM

A year ago, it was noon - 3:00 and 7:00 - 10:30 and back then I'd recommend a reservation. Closed on Sunday. Don't know about now.

#10 Beto

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 11:35 AM

For breakfast, I can recommend any one of the Nikko's Cafeterias. Decent food at decent prices. Make sure and get the chicheme drink. It's similar to Mexican horchata, only made with rice.

#11 leleboo

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Posted 24 September 2010 - 11:58 AM

For breakfast, I can recommend any one of the Nikko's Cafeterias. Decent food at decent prices. Make sure and get the chicheme drink. It's similar to Mexican horchata, only made with rice.

(FWIW, "Mexican" horchata is also made with rice. It's made from other things (nuts, seeds, etc) in other countries. Panamanian chicheme, at least according to Wiktionary -- and some recipes written in Spanish that turn up -- is made from corn.)

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#12 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 09:41 PM

La Mar Cebecheria

Need help finding out the hours of operation for La Mar in Panama City. Specifically, are they open on Sundays, if so, what time do they do lunch and dinner?

#13 DanielK

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 10:37 PM

La Mar Cebecheria

Need help finding out the hours of operation for La Mar in Panama City. Specifically, are they open on Sundays, if so, what time do they do lunch and dinner?

Sundays noon to 5, no dinner.

#14 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 06:57 PM

Day 1. I was wondering around looking for a restaurant when it started to pour. Since I was standing next to Beirut, I decided to have lunch there. The place looks like a faux Roman villa reminiscent of the Rainforest Cafe. Anyhow, $14 bought a ton of mezzes - falafel, fried kibbee, spinach pide, fried onions over rice & beans, babaganoush, hummus, some rolled meat pastry, and stuffed grape leaves. Unfortunately they didn't taste great, certainly not as good as Lebanese Taverna.
Beirut (1).JPG

For dinner I went to Madame Chang, the best Chinese restaurant according to Fodor's. I ordered fish fillet with mustard leaves and chicken chow fun. The fish was perfectly fine but the noodles with pretty dry and flavorless. Again, not as good as our local Cantonese joints such as Miu Kee in Falls Church.
Madame Chang dinner.JPG

Both restaurants were in El Cangrejo.

Day 2. Lunch was at Mi Ranchito on the Amador Causeway. Apps were clams ajillo and a bunch of Panamanian fried fritters. My entree was the corvina ajillo. The clams were uneven in size but all were generally small but fairly tasty. The fried plate was crap but the corvina (bass) was good.
Mi Ranchito on Causeway (2).JPG Mi Ranchito on Causeway (1).JPG

#15 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 07:10 PM

Day 2 dinner was at the highly recommended Manolo Caracol in Casco Viejo. The current pricing is $30 for 10+ courses. That's right, you heard me. This isn't Komi quality food but it's not Komi prices either. This place is very English friendly and certainly deserve a visit. The courses were (i) ceviche with pineapple and guava, (ii) wahoo carpaccio with olive oil and salt, (iii) fried goat cheese with honey sauce, (iv) seafood soup (overcooked seafood), (v) salad with grapefruit, (vi) grilled octopus (very tender and probably the best grilled octopus I've ever had) and grilled shrimp, (vii), shredded chicken filled fried wonton, (viii) burger and spanish tortilla with zucchini and eggplant?, (ix) fish and bok choy with fried rice, (x) grilled pork with squash, and finally dessert. They asked if I wanted seconds of any of those dishes!

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#16 Ericandblueboy

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 07:35 PM

Manolo Caracol (2).JPG Manolo Caracol (3).JPG Manolo Caracol (5).JPG

Day 3 - I had an early dinner at La Mar - a Gaston Acurio restaurant in El Cangrejo - after watching football and guzzling beer at a sportsbook. I ordered a pasta called Caseras, green noodles with sea bass milanese and chili, basically pasta with pesto sauce topped with a piece of friend fish (not particularly exciting). I also had some tiradito classico and a seafood stew with beer and cilantro called Aguadito. La Mar is best known for ceviche and tiradito and the raw fish was definitely the best dish.

Actual Sunday hours posted at the restaurant is noon to 9.

Day 4 - I went to La Mar for lunch because I'm a sucker for Gaston Acurio. This time I ordered pasta with clam sauce and Limena tacu tacus. The pasta was very heavy with butter and I just don't like tacu tacu (originally, tacu-tacu was prepared with leftover seasoned beans and rice, today it's usually prepared on-the-moment, and served in many different ways), in this case made with lots of shellfish that I rather just not eat (shrimp, octopus, squid). I finished with a tasting of sorbets.
La Mar pasta with clams.JPG La Mar Tacu Tacu Limena.JPG La Mar Sorbets.JPG

Food's cheap, hotels are relatively cheap, taxis are cheap, casinos are cheap ($3 BJ tables and they let you surrender, double down after you've already drawn a card (e.g., you're dealt 3 and 4, and you hit a 4, you're allowed to double down at that point)), has sportsbooks, national park within city limit where you can spot tamarins and agoutis (I didn't see any toucans). Too bad the food's not great, it's generally hot and humid, you could get malaria or dengue fever outside of the city and canal zone and the traffic's terrible in the city. Oh, they're still building a sewer system.

#17 MBK

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Posted 05 November 2012 - 09:58 PM

Anyone been to Panama more recently? Any recommendations? I'm currently considering Panama City, the canal, El Valle, Santa Fe, Boquete ... and maybe a beach or a national park. Thanks!
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