Panama's cosmopolitan history is reflected in its food. Panama City has a great range of restaurants serving both local and international fare. Among the latter, Greek, Chinese, Italian, and American eateries are the most common. Fast-food outlets abound—some are names you'll recognize, others are local chains.
Eateries offering traditional Panamanian fare for locals are cheap—you can get a full plate of beans or lentils and rice and fried chicken for as little as $4. Most restaurants, however, charge U.S.-level prices for meals.
Meals and Mealtimes
A typical Panamanian breakfast (desayuno) consists of eggs or beef served with deep fried tortillas or hojaldre (fried bread), washed down with coffee. Most hotels catering to foreigners also offer fruit, toast, and cereal, and you can expect breakfast buffets at the four- or five-star hotels.
Lunch (comida or almuerzo) is the main meal and is generally served around midday. Many restaurants do set-price meals of two or three courses at lunch. In Panamanian homes dinner is often merely a light snack eaten around 9 pm. If you're eating out, dinner is just as big a deal as in the United States, but is usually served until 10:30 pm.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed here are open daily for lunch and dinner.
In restaurants with waiter service you pay the check (la cuenta) at the end of the meal. You'll usually have to ask for the check, sometimes more than once. In fast-food restaurants and at food stands, you generally pay up-front. Credit cards are accepted in most restaurants, but it's always a good idea to check before you order, especially as some establishments only accept one kind of credit card.
Reservations and Dress
We only mention reservations when they are essential (there's no other way you'll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Alcohol is available in just about every restaurant in Panama, though cheaper places have limited selections.
For meals and light drinking, beer—usually lager—is the local favorite. Good brands made in Panama include Balboa, Atlas, Panamá, and Soberana, but North American and European brands are also widely available. For more serious drinking, Panamanians reach for a bottle of seco, a fierce white rum that gets you under the table in no time. Seco is often mixed with cranberry juice.
Wine still isn't a big thing in Panama, but most decent restaurants have imported bottles from the United States or Chile and Argentina. Imported liquor is also easy to find in supermarkets.