On the Cusp: Panama City’s Emerging Food Scene

Abby Tegnelia Vitelio ReyesHaving spent a year in Costa Rica that included many trips to Nicaragua, I was excited to spend some time in Panama, just one country south. Panama City was very different from the parts of Central America I know so well. For me, living in the tropics was about the simple life: rice and beans, beer, maybe a coconut. But being in a big city was different. I loved having three days to eat my way through Panama City’s emerging food scene, and the fun started almost the second I got there. Just an hour after arriving at the Trump Panama, I made it downstairs to its Tejas restaurant for a private cooking class with Chef Vitelio Reyes. His impressive pedigree told me right away that we were no longer in the land of rice and beans! I hadn’t thought about the fact that with the Canal, Panama City didn’t have the same importing difficulties that its neighbors to the north had. It was a whole new world!

Two of Chef’s dishes: beat salad and dessert of fried cheesecake and ice-cream topped with an edible flower.

I was the one taking class, but Chef Vitelio did most of the work!


Later that night, Chef Vitelio sent us toΒ Casco Viejo for dinner atΒ the charming Las Clementinas. We started with a cocktail made of basil and Panama’s national drink, Seco Herrerano, which is similar to rum.

Leora Hasas

My friend Leora takes a first sip of her basil and Seco Herrerano cocktail.


The next night, we had an early dinner at the gorgeous Las Bovedas, which required a long walk through Casco Viejo. We didn’t mind — it was fun to meander along the winding roads. Plus, we eyed the tapas bar where we wanted an after-dinner nightcap. Las Bovedas is built into the seawall and is cozy, thanks to being a former dungeon. The menu was so large that it took us awhile to order. We ended up sharing a veal carpaccio and seafood pasta, which was absolutely delicious.

Las Bovedas

The extensive menu at Las Bovedas.


After dinner, we wanted to cap the night at a livelier place. We headed to DiVino Enoteca, a dark, romantic Italian and Spanish tapas bar. I couldn’t believe their wine selection — or charcuterie menu. Even though we had just eaten dinner (and pasta at that!), we couldn’t resist a little snack with our wine. The Spanish meats and cheeses were delicious, and came with slices of tasty bread served in a mini brown paper bag. So cute!

DiVino Enoteca

Spanish tapas served with warm bread in a brown paper bag at DiVino Enoteca.

DiVino Enoteca










Panama City’s emerging food scene was a blast to explore!

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. Casco Viejo was my favorite party of Panama City. I don’t remember where I was, but I had some excellent mojitos there.

    How did I spend 3-4 weeks in Panama without knowing the national drink?

  2. What!? Fried cheesecake!?

  3. looks so amazing! What a great experience and I would love to go here someday.

  4. what a great city for food! i had no idea. πŸ™‚ it’s amazing what access to waterways can do for a place.

    ps – great meeting you [albeit briefly] at TBEX!

  5. Finally to read some of your blog posts …great , and good picture with Leora πŸ™‚

  6. I love that photo of Leora!

    Stephanie, they told me that Seco Herrerano WAS rum, just their version of Flor de Cana. But online that didn’t seem to be right. We’ll see if anyone writes it that I have it wrong!

  7. Well…now I really want to go to Panama.

  8. Mojitos beat any kind of rum hands down in my book. Casa Vieja sounds like just the sort of place I’d love to explore.

  9. I wish I had more time!

  10. Wow! I don’t know anything about Panama City – but after your descriptions of the food I’d LOVE to visit. πŸ™‚ Yum!!!

  11. Oh I don’t know. Rice and beans sounds good to me πŸ˜‰

  12. YUM. Is all I have to say, haha. I’m hungry now!

  13. Hey, I know her! Hi, Leora! =)

  14. I’m with Kent! FRIED cheesecake? Holy crap. I don’t even like cheesecake, but throw in the fried and I could be there!! Sounds like sensational culinary experiences. YUM!

  15. The best part: he had made cheescake ahead of time. So in class, all I had to do was fry — and eat!

  16. Hi Abby!

    I’m really happy for you and a little bit envious because, I’m one of your follower not only on Twitter but also in other “parts of the web” and I’ve appreciated a lot that you have an “audience” who partecipates when you publish something new!! My experience is not successfull like yours but when in my Blog some readers writes a comment I feel very glad!!

    Bye for now,

  17. This is very promising because one of my memories of Panama City was that the food was lackluster. Perhaps things are changing.

  18. Looks delicious, usually when menus are so wide I go back to try something else πŸ˜‰

  19. What an amazing experience! I hope to get down to Panama one day…especially for that fried cheesecake!

  20. The fried cheesecake was surprisingly delicious, as was the beat salad with this bright pink dressing he made. I wish I had the recipes!

  21. Food looks delicious! I love learning a little bit more about Panama. It’s not a place you read a lot about so interesting to read about it from a culinary perspective.

  22. OMG yum! We had such a weird experience in Panama – I think this would have made up for it.

  23. We sailed through the Panama Canal last year and I was very tempted to have a closer look at the country then and there, but unfortunately we didn’t have time. Definitely on my list now, Panama – food scene and all.

  24. I definitely did not associate Panama City with foodie paradise before this – now I want to go check it out for myself!

  25. For salsa fans, visit the Habana Panama on the edge of Casco Viejo. It is a recreation of the Salsa Clubs of 1950’s Havana with a salsa orchestra of more than a dozen musicians in tropical whites plus singers and dancers.
    The band starts to play around midnight and carries on until daylight, with 10$ cover.

  26. Totally random but totally awesome that Panama has such a great culinary scene! I’m surprised!

  27. I was, too! Never took a moment to think about the canal!

  28. not to sound like a total alkie but that drink sounds so amazing!!!

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