With its prime location sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Panama is full of delicious seafood to be had. I saw whole fish, filleted fish, crustaceans of many varieties and, most commonly, ceviches. Just about every place we ate had a ceviche of some sort available. Shrimp, scallops and sea bass (or some other light whitefish) were the most common options, though octopus and some more exotic choices showed up from time to time. As ridiculously simple as ceviche is – some chopped peppers and onion, lime juice and the fish – it is also ridiculously delicious. I had several servings, and they were all quite good. Another nice thing about the ceviche in Panama is that it is generally pretty cheap. Most places it is $2-3 for a serving; even at the luxury resort in the jungle where we stopped for a beer and appetizers it was only $7, and most everything else on the menu was in the $12-18 range.
There are also many other seafood options to be found if you like your food actually cooked with heat rather than citric acid.
And the meat options are pretty good, too. We had breakfast at the Azul Cafe near the Marriott and I had a couple different things, including steak and fried corn meal, as well as an empanada. All very good food and, again, rather cheap (we walked out for $10 following a decently filling breakfast).
Dinner one night was at the Lebanese restaurant Beirut, across the street from the Marriott hotel. They served the best middle-eastern food I’ve had outside of that region. The baba ganouj was delicious, with a slight smoky flavor to it and the pita was cooked fresh and served still hot out of the oven. The meats were well seasoned and actually had good flavors to them, unlike what I have typically had in the USA. They have both indoor and outdoor seating, and for those interested in an after-dinner smoke, hookahs are available tableside for those sitting outside.
The best meal we had was at a restaurant that doesn’t serve up traditional Panamanian cuisine. It was at Bistro Ten, a French/fusion restaurant. The original branch is located off of Calle 50 near the Marriott, but we had trouble finding that one. We were pleasantly surprised to find an outpost in the Pacific Place shopping mall, adjacent to the Courtyard hotel where we were staying. The mall actually has a bunch of dining options, including a whole dining terrace, high above the shopping mayhem and filled with a few high-end dining options such as Bistro Ten, a cevicheria, a Veuve Cliquot bar, an espresso bar and a couple others. It was packed on Saturday night with folks enjoying the evening. It was less crowded on Sunday night, and that was when we settled in to eat there.
The concept of Bistro Ten is pretty interesting – high-end cuisine for $10/plate. Of course, this is somewhat misleading as there are a number of options on the menu that are much more expensive (NY Strip steak for $25 and a rack of lamb for $29), but there are plenty of options in the $10-12 range that were quite good. The shrimp spring rolls with a citrus dipping sauce were quite well done, as was the calamari stuffed with pork and potatoes. The black sesame encrusted scallops were dry – the fault of the sesame, I believe – but the sauce they came with was quite good. For the main courses we had the pasta with veggies and a light alfredo sauce and a steak “indochine.” Both were delicious. The steak was cooked just right and the sauce/glaze was a perfect combination of flavor and spice.
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