What’s Cooking In Casco? Hear From The Foodies

February 17, 2010 by:
What’s Cooking In Casco?  Hear From The Foodies

Casco Viejo has become Panama’s place to eat. There are a bevy of food options for every budget. Yet, where should you go and what should order? In addition, as Casco Viejo continues to be restored, what dining option is missing from eop-evan-headshot1the neighborhood? To assist EyeOnPanama.com reader get the insiders perspective, I enlisted help from several foodie-type living and/or working in Casco Viejo. I posed them this question:

1. What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

2. Describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

Read what they had to say.

Dan – Owner of OfertaSimple.com

Dan’s Food Philosophy: Good question… I don’t have one.”

What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

Aroma Cafe’s wings are that good because you can tell that they use the right kind of sauce.  Frank’s Hot Sauce mixed with butter.  And they are always so fresh.  But you got to make sure they put enough of the sauce on the wings.  They aren’t cheap, but they are delicious.

The chicken soup from Casablanca is just good, hearty, chicken soup.  American Style with a Panamanian touch.  It is especially good if you sit inside in the AC.

Describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

A quality coffee shop.  It would be AMAZING if New York Bagel Cafe came into the Casco.  I would go every day.  We need a super comfortable place, with good food, good music, wireless internet, etc.

Drew — Founder of CascoViejo.org

Drew’s Food Philosophy: “If it smells like a fish…eat it.”

What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

My favorite dishes served in Casco are the empanadas freshly made by my Colombian friend who I’ve nicknamed “Empanada Fabio”.  You’ll recognize Fabio as a short Colombian guy in his mid to late 50’s walking around every day with his hand truck and Tupperware full of freshly made empanadas.

These are not just your average empanadas.  These are Colombian style, made with corn meal or corn flour, filled to the brim with mashed up vegetables and potatoes.  But what really makes them special is the home made sauce they he sparingly pours into your empanada after you’ve taken your first bite.  I generally buy 5 – 10 at a time and even freeze them for late night snacks.

Fabio also on occasion makes Breakfast empanadas with eggs and onions and peppers that you wouldn’t believe.  These are $2.00, but his normal price is $1.50.

Can you try to describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

That is easy.  Casco is missing two things:   Sushi  & Thai Food.   Unfortunately, I have yet too find good Thai food anywhere in Panama City and the Sushi is not much to speak of either.  Whoever brought Cream Cheese filled Sushi to Panama should be strung up in a public plaza and stoned  (yes, you can publish that).

As for extraneous comments:   I steered away from mentioning the fish market because I figure others will write about this as well.   But if not mentioned, than this should be the top of the list.  Both for the fresh Ceviche and for the restaurant upstairs which serves up the best fish soup I’ve had.

Keenan – Owner of Los Cuatro Tulipanes Casco Viejo Apartment Rentals

Keenan’s Food Philosophy: “Your utensils are shovels so shovel that food in as fast as possible!”

What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

Ego’s Portobelo Bruschetta and Chicharrones. My pallet is most readily compared to a trash can, but I find these two dishes to be the best dishes in all Casco Viejo.  The balance between sour and sweet with the Portobelo Bruschettta and the crunchy and spicy of the Chicharrones is heavenly (that was my Anthony Bourdain analysis).  A more appropriate Keenan Analysis is that “I will order this plate every time I go there”

Caffe Per Due’s Manuela Pizza: Best thin crust pizza in town served up by my favorite Italians in the area and the nicest wait staff in Casco.

Describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

MALAYSIAN. I say Malaysian because I want more ethnic food in the area.  Obviously, this might not work in such an area already over-saturated with restaurants.  But a little wishful thinking never hurt anyone.

Mary Roush – Retiree living in Casco.

Mary’s Food Philosophy: “Fresh, fresh food, lovingly prepared, exquisitely presented, with a bit of spice or complexity of flavor.”

What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

Spicy tacos at the Tequila Bar–one of the only truly spicy foods you can get in Panama IF you request the “spice”.

Burgers at Mojitos (sin mojitos) and at the new sports bar Cedros.  Eric’s (Owner of Mojitos) burgers off the grill are THE best as they are cooked to order, hot, juicy, and fresh at a great price.  The sports’ bar burgers are huge and an honorable “runner up.” LOVE the historic photos in that place; nice restoration.

Osso Buco at Mostaza — Cooked until it falls off the bone (and the pooches LOVE the bones) and served in a bowl so you can sop up the gravy with the delicious hot bread that they serve. Have never had the budget to order lobster here, but I think it’s the best place in Casco to get it. I see the Deli Fish truck deliver them live daily…and some of them are HUGE. (Makes my mouth totally water!!  If you give me a stipend, I’ll gladly write a review for you of my lobster dinner. OH, I LUST to have a lobster. Miss them so.)

Can you try to describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

1. A wine and cheese STORE. One that holds tastings, and has other “nibbles” to go/eat in such as great breads, toasts, pate. I would LOVE it if Luc at Cheese! Cheese! would open an outlet here…maybe in partnership with Petit Paris, so we had a place to get fruit tarts, pastries, etc.

2. A Chinese Takeout restaurant. I SO miss the “20″ Chinese restaurants in our old neighborhood. I swear all the menus were printed by the same printer; they all looked alike, only the quality of ingredients, cleanliness and preparation differentiated them. I miss ordering a bunch of food (leftovers are great) and being told “10 minutes”…then coming home with a bunch of cartons and waxed paper wrappers with hot spring rolls and egg rolls.

Patrizia – Arco Properties.

Patiriza’s Food Philosophy: Has to be good, can’t kill you

What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

I have a lot of favorites. This is hard. Ceviche mixto at Ego with the citrus picante chaser shot is at the top of the list but it is only appetizer. The Spanakopitas at Indigo is my other favorite appetizer. For an entre there is a Gnocci with Gogonzola sauce and nuts that I can’t resist (I’m half Italian and 100 percent cheese addict). For dessert anything Manuela does at Caffe Per Due is great.

Describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

What we are missing most is just well done Panamanian inspired food like what Cuquita does at the Bristol. I also hate the fact that I have to leave the Casco for authentic Indian food and sushi.

Finally me. Evan from EyeOnPanama.com

My Food Philosophy “An empty belly is the best cook. ~Estonian Proverb”

What is your favorite dish served in Casco, where is it served, and what makes it so special?

First, Mama Chefa’s $2.50 ropa vieja. LLLLLLooove it! Ropa vieja is a traditional Panamanian dish consisting of seasoned shredded beef spread over white rice and beans. At Mama Chefa’s house, you actually eat inside her living room while you watch tele-novelas side-by-side with Panamanian government officials on their lunch breaks. Hands down, it’s most authentic Panamanian dining experience in Panama City. Mama Chefa knows I am obsessed and personally calls me on ropa vieja days.

Secondly, Callejon del Gato’s Hongos Portobello. Normally, I can barely tolerate mushrooms in salads, pizzas, etc.  But, there is something about Callejon’s sauce makes this dish one of favorites.

Describe the food/dining options that are missing in Casco?

A mid-night munches joint. There is no place to go in Casco to satisfy your late night munchies.  A taco/burrito stand on wheels would be clutch (Currently, I am actively recruiting the best food stands on Calle Uruguay).

Fruit smoothies. Cartagena, Colombia is what Casco Viejo one day strives to be.  Its historic district has a vendor on practically every street corner serving up fresh fruit smoothies.  Yet, Casco Viejo has nobody.  Panama has an abundance of cheap tropical fruit.  In addition, Casco has packs of parched pedestrians rooming its cobbled stoned street.  A smoothie stand seems like a sensible idea.

Authentic Panamanian upscale dinning.  Imagine Mama Chefa meets Manolo Caracol.  Take the authenticity and intimacy of Mama Chefa and merge with Manolo Caracol’s set menu and elegance.  The outcome: a quaint 8-12 seat restaurant located inside the chef’s home.  The chef welcomes you inside and personally explains to the small group what he/she is cooking for dinner.  I went to a restaurant like this in Greece.  It was so good that is was booked out weeks in advance.

The Casco Viejo foodie scene is still under development.  Today, it’s no match for the foodie Meccas like New York, Barcelona, Lima, Singapore, etc.  However, Casco Viejo is already the center of Panama’s foodie culture.  It has the essential foodie ingredients of cultural diversity and word-of-mouth marketability to potentially become one of the main foodie centers in Latin America.


Evan Terry Forbes

Evan Forbes 122 post in this blog.

Evan Terry Forbes is an Author, Entrepreneur and Hall of Fame Traveler. He writes entertaining books about how travel has changed his life. In so many beautiful ways. Currently, Evan is traveling with his retired mother for 1 year through Europe and Asia. This book will be called, Travels With My Mother - How Travel Transformed A Mother-Son Relationship. Read his books here.

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16 Comments on "What’s Cooking In Casco? Hear From The Foodies"

  1. Mary Roush on Wed, 17th Feb 2010 2:49 pm 

    Made my mouth water! I “second” the Manuela’s pizza at Cafe Per Due and the longing for a cafe serving Thai or Vietnamese cuisine…but Indian or Malaysian would be just fine, too. Variety is the spice of life…but the operative word when it comes to food I most enjoy is “spice.”

    In my original submission, I also mentioned a bagel/internet cafe like NY Bagel Cafe off Via Argentina (so I “second” Dan’s suggestion) + we should roll out the red carpet for a great wine and cheese shop where you could both buy and go to nibble on sampler plates of your choosing.

  2. Kent Davis on Wed, 17th Feb 2010 6:31 pm 

    Fantastic article Evan. You just inspired me to head on down to Casco for my favorite food, a dozen freshly made chocolate chip cookies from Super Gourmet. Ya just CANT go wrong at that place!

  3. Mara Yanoshik on Wed, 17th Feb 2010 7:56 pm 

    Hey Evan,
    I really enjoyed this article! Justin and I were just talking about all the restaurants in Casco and what is so worth it and what’s completely overrated. There’s a bunch! Thanks for the good info. I want to go to this Mama Chefa’s…Ropa Viejo I have yet to try. I’m still sort of stuck on the delicious grilled chicken from the guy next to Teatro Nacional.

  4. Lucy Smith on Wed, 17th Feb 2010 8:58 pm 

    The new Thai place is bland and totally dreadful. AVOID.

    Fresh fruit stands, aqua de pipa, batidos, liquados. What’s wronig with Panamanians? Look at the Lime juice sold in the streets in CTG, the fruit, the popsicle. GET IT TOGETHER SOMEONE.

  5. Mary Roush on Fri, 19th Feb 2010 2:04 am 

    Check out this website on “the world’s best street foods”.

    Makes my mouth water/brings back memories.
    In my travels, I’ve found that street food often trumps what is served in restaurants at 4x the cost. Also, the start-up costs are MUCH less than a restaurant. (Just don’t handle the money and the food in the same motion)

    We could sure use more street food options in Casco. Creative stuff, beyond the hot dogs. (But let the guy at Calle 3 and Avenida B keep his grill monopoly on the pork/chicken combo).

  6. Christoph on Sat, 27th Feb 2010 9:16 am 

    Very good article Evan, I totally agree on the Manueala Pizza at Cafe Per Due that Mary mentioned, it’s very tasty. My fav restaurant is ‘Ego’ I guess near ‘Casablanca’.
    Mama Chefa is great too, thanks for taking me there but I agree with the overall longing for a good thai food place.

  7. Chris on Sun, 7th Mar 2010 10:29 pm 

    Dan’s so on the mark, need a good comfortable coffee shop with WIFI here. A Go Green would be awesome as well but currently Ego is where I eat most often here. (Ceviche and portabello bruschetta)

  8. customer on Mon, 8th Mar 2010 6:19 pm 

    Had an great baked chicken empanada and an awesome caramel late at Super Gourmet this morning. The owner Blayne had a great story why he is in Panama. We have been traveling a lot and it was nice to feel welcomed in Casco Viejo.

  9. Ursula Kiener Ford on Tue, 9th Mar 2010 5:51 pm 

    Check out the lunch specials! We have a travel agency, Panama Travel Group in Avenida A in Casco and we eat lunch almost every day in the neighborhood.

    Good lunch specials:
    - Frits Art – the owner Maria Consuelo is like a second mom, she caters to everyone. Great place, great food and prices. A daily Panamanian lunch special for $4.50 if not you can order off the menu. Eat there almost every day.

    - Cafe Per Due – pizzas or a daily pasta special from $4 – 6, delicious authentic Italian food, the owners are Italian. They make the pizza thin crusted, absolutely amazing!

    - Casa Blanca – lunch special I believe for $5,50 included a beverage a soup and a main dish. Amazing to get so much for so little, last time I went options included fish, chicken and pasta.

    - The Deli – besides their fresh sandwiches and soups, they also have a lunch special for $5, varies daily.

    Hope this helps! Come visit us if you are in Casco Viejo, we are on Avenida A, between 7 and 8 st.

  10. Julio Matteo on Tue, 9th Mar 2010 9:42 pm 

    Who decides what is better or not?,
    I have been in Fritarte several times (Thai Food Place),
    The thai food is really good. The smoothies are the best i’ve ever tried.
    The service is really good, and the place has a french coffee touch.
    That’s my opinion!.. I love the place has a mystical and magical ambient..
    I recommend it!…

  11. Barbara Scott-Cannon on Sun, 14th Mar 2010 11:09 pm 

    I visited Panama for 2 weeks in early March and had the pleasure of dining at Frit Arte several times during my stay. The food was very tasty with lots of attention to detail in the presentation. The reasonably priced vegetable spring rolls served with a tangy sauce were one of my favorites and I suggest you try them if you visit.
    The owner,Maria,welcomed her guests as if they were family. I went for dinner one evening when a belly dancing class was in progress. What a unqiue fun experience!
    Frit Arte was decorated with an artist’s touch. Check out the artwork hanging from the ceiling and decking out the walls…the place is charming, comfortable and charismatic.

  12. Ellie Fagan on Tue, 16th Mar 2010 3:40 pm 

    For the past two weeks I had the opportunity to visit your fine city and eat at many very fine restaurants but the coziest and most fun was Frite Arte in Casco Viejo. The food was the best Thai food I’ve ever had–try the salad with mango, greens and nuts and the freshest Thai lime dressing–Even better than the food was the atmosphere. While we were there one night was a belly dancing class and one night someone else taught salsa dancing. We met the owner, Maria, as does everyone and she makes you feel like she is your sister. Go, you’ll love it My only complaint was that I wish it were bigger, so more could fit in. Well worth it, though.

  13. Keenan Featured in Casco Culinary Article | Locusta on Thu, 25th Nov 2010 2:34 am 

    [...] Analysis is that “I will order this plate every time I go there” Read the rest of the article here. This entry was posted in BLOG. Bookmark the permalink. ← Remon2 [...]

  14. How To Explore Panama’s Restaurants on Thu, 3rd Mar 2011 5:02 pm 

    [...] 3, 2011 by: Evan Terry Forbes Exploring new restaurants in PTY is a challenge. Only with a STRONG recommendation from a foodie friend or an OfertaSimple coupon will I venture out. Let me tell you [...]

  15. karla on Tue, 22nd Mar 2011 8:35 pm 

    I 2nd that, Thai food is missing in PANAMA, no just casco, lol
    Thai in casco no good, don’t bother going there.
    I loved Casa Blanca’s chicken sandwich there. YUUUMMY

  16. schmoo on Sun, 27th Mar 2011 2:30 pm 

    Peruvian ceviche, and get up lazarus soup at the Peruvian resturant in the upstairs of the fish market forgot the name and dont know if it counts as Casco, but hands down some of the best ceviche on the planet. And the soup is the best hangover cure in Panama. Actually everything from this place is good

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