Breakfast tamale at Casa Sucre Coffeehouse, Casco Viejo, Panama
Central America, Food & Drink, Panama

A Foodie Tour of Casco Viejo

Ah, Casco Viejo, Panama.

The longer I travel the more I realize just how important great food is to my experience.  I know not everyone feels this way–some people would be perfectly content eating hostel pancakes and home-cooked spaghetti every day while traveling–but for me, great food and restaurants are major players and even game changers when it comes to how well I connect with a city.

Never mind the fact that during my stay in Casco Viejo I was recovering from illness, I had my heart broken for the first time in years, and I got a serious bed bug infestation in the hostel that left me emotionally scarred for life–this charming neighborhood of Panama City will hold a special place in my heart for years to come because it somehow knew that the real way to my heart was through my greedy stomach.

I really believe that good food has superpowers.  Under the weather?  Let a delicious meal nourish your body back to health.  Traumatized by blood sucking insects?  Allow great food to suppress those terrifying flashbacks.  Broken-hearted?  Dine like a queen (or king) and instantly start to feel your heart mend.

Okay, so maybe there’s no science to support this just yet, but I’d gladly volunteer to participate in those trials.

In any case, Panama’s old town is brimming with delectable dining options.  The following are my top recommendations for where to eat in Casco Viejo.  Buen provecho!

UNIDO Coffee Roasters – The first place I happily stumbled into as I searched for a coffee and a pastry upon arrival to Panama City was this quaint little coffee shop serving beans sourced directly from local growers in Panama.  In fact, 10% of all sales are put right back into social and environmental projects in Panama’s coffee growing regions to directly support local suppliers.  I found myself back here on multiple occasions for their delicious (dare I say gourmet?) Americanos, their pain au chocolat, their social conscience, and their excellent WiFi.

UNIDO Coffee Roasters, Panama

Coffee direct from Panamanian growers

Tántalo Kitchen – I love a place with ambiance as well as good food, and Tantalo’s got it.  The restaurant often hosts art exhibits in addition to the already-edgy decor, so there’s plenty to please the eyes as well as the stomach.  Items border on pricey for the budget-conscious traveler ($6-10 per plate) but their lunch menu offers many items at half price.  My chicken and pesto sandwich accompanied by patacones (fried plantains) was the perfect comfort meal.  I would have loved to come back at night and check out their rooftop bar as well.

Tántalo Kitchen/Hotel/Rooftop Bar, Panama City, Panama

Tántalo Kitchen/Hotel/Rooftop Bar

Tantalo Kitchen, Panama City

Chicken sandwich on focaccia bread

Casa Sucre Coffeehouse – On the hunt for a breakfast a little more sophisticated than self-prepared pancakes one morning, I stumbled into Casa Sucre and I’m so glad I did.  As soon as I noticed a traditional Panamanian breakfast tamale on the menu I knew I had to try it.  This place is probably more cafe than restaurant which made it a perfect place for me to come for a good WiFi connection and a coffee to get some work done with few distractions.

Casa Sucre Coffeehouse, Casco Viejo, Panama

Casa Sucre Coffeehouse

Casa Sucre Coffeehouse

A lovely place to sip a coffee while working

Breakfast tamale at Casa Sucre Coffeehouse, Casco Viejo, Panama

Tamale and coffee breakfast

Forever Yogurt – What better way to beat the Panama heat than with a heaping pile of frozen yogurt?  This place caught my eye with their sparkly pink walls and lured me in with their extensive selection of yogurt toppings (read: candy).  When I finally dragged Mak to this place we felt like kids in a candy store.  Adults in a candy store.  Whatever.  You first select a yogurt flavor (I went with cake batter), fill your cup with as much as you’d like, then go wild with the toppings.  The prices are by weight though so its easy to get carried away and end up with a $10 cup of yogurt.  My philosophy was light on the yogurt, heavy on the toppings, but not too much of any one thing.  The verdict?  Perfection.  A $6 cup of perfection.

Forever Yogurt

Forever Yogurt

Toppings galore at Forever Yogurt, Casco Viejo, Panama

Toppings galore

Toppings at Forever Yogurt, Panama City

Key lime cheesecake bites, anyone?

Toppings at Forever Yogurt

I wanted to try everything…

Forever Yogurt, Casco Viejo, Panama

…and I pretty much did

La Rana Dorada – “The Golden Frog,” a brewery and pizza restaurant, sat conveniently right around the corner from our hostel.  Before choosing one of their locally brewed beers, samples are provided so you know exactly which one will suit your fancy.  Their staples include a pale ale, a lager, a wheat ale and a porter.  They had one special variety on rotation during our visit, a coffee-flavored stout that nearly brought tears to my eyes.  The pizza was pretty excellent, too, and the salad I ordered was so delicious (goat cheese, man) I was back the very next night to order the same.

La Rana Dorada Cerveceria, Casco Viejo, Panama

La Rana Dorada

Beer at La Rana Dorada, Casco Viejo, Panama

The beer selection

Ego y Narciso – Ok, so this is one restaurant I didn’t actually visit myself.  But it seems to pop up on everyone else’s lists of great Casco Viejo restaurants so I thought I’d give it a shout.  If you like ceviche, Ego y Narciso is known for some of the best in Panama City.  The food is Peruvian/International and their signature dishes are steak and risotto.  Definitely not a budget-friendly option but if you have a chance to splurge, this might just be the place to do so.

Food can make or break a city for me.  How does the quality of food available impact your travels?

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  • Reply Jason January 11, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Food can definitely lend considerably to or detract from travel experiences for me. I’m pretty sure I’ve stayed in several places a few days longer than planned because I either loved access to great street food or amazing fresh produce and a somewhat decently equipped kitchen.

    • Reply LaMochilera January 12, 2015 at 6:51 am

      I’ve definitely done the same! There are only so many meals in a day, so if there are heaps of places I want to try there’s no other choice but to extend my stay! Pretty sure that’s how I ended up spending 11 days in Medellin on my first visit last year…we knew nothing about the city when we arrived so we thought we’d be here 4-5 days MAX! I’m still working my way through all the amazing restaurants!

  • Reply Justine January 11, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Casco Viejo has such amazing options! Although I suppose I’m not surprised since Panama City seems like a great city all around. Food definitely plays a big role in how much I enjoy a city, especially because I’m a vegetarian. I can’t tell you how many cities or towns I’ve been to where I haven’t been able to find any decent budget-friendly dining options. Nothing bums me out more than eating fried rice at every meal. It makes me super happy to stumble across great little restaurants when traveling. It’s actually something that I feel is missing in Jakarta. Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough to find restaurants, but I feel like most people eat in malls or at SUPER expensive restaurants. I really haven’t found many hidden gems here. I honestly feel like I’d have a better perception of the city if there were more cool, quality eateries. Also, how good is cake batter yogurt? I would have gone for that one too 😉
    Justine recently posted…Making the Most of My Time in JakartaMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera January 12, 2015 at 7:02 am

      That wold totally bum me out, not having cool places to eat in such a big city! Maybe they are just hidden (or really far away like that burger place!). It must be a challenge to find consistently good vegetarian food. I went to a really local Panamanian place that ended up not making this list because a) all the meat looked completely unappetizing and b) the vegetarian options were basically rice, lentils and a way too mayonnaise-ey cabbage salad. I ate the veg options but I can’t say it was good!

      Cake batter yogurt = the best!

  • Reply Polly January 12, 2015 at 1:00 am

    It may be blasphemous to say, but I miss coffee more than the food from Central America! Coffee is such crap here in Russia… Should have brought back more than 2 bags 🙂
    Polly recently posted…Walking Chistiye PrudyMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera January 12, 2015 at 7:03 am

      I don’t think that’s blasphemous, I actually agree! The local food in Central America isn’t really anything amazing (there’s only so much you can do with rice, beans, and fried meat) but the coffee is awesome across the board.

  • Reply Joella in Beijing January 12, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Nom nom nom! Yes! I totally agree- I LOVE food and think it cures a lot. I’m a veggie (hey there Justine in the comments above!) so people sometimes assume I’m not really into good food.. but I really do love food and flavour! And coffee. I love a good coffee!
    Joella in Beijing recently posted…A Surprisingly Warm January Day In BeijingMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera January 12, 2015 at 7:07 am

      There’s nothing like a good meal and a coffee! My day doesn’t officially start until I’ve had both 🙂

  • Reply Katie January 13, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I COMPLETELY agree that food adds so so much to my travel experience, it’s become one of my favorite travel-related things! 🙂 Well, let’s be serious, one of my favorite all the time things haha. Glad it was able to cheer you up, the food looks fantastic. Hope you’re somewhat healed now, from the illness and the broken heart.
    Katie recently posted…2 weeks in Indonesia: Roundup and ItineraryMy Profile

  • Reply Sky January 14, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Ah, this post made me so hungry! I never made it to any of these places when I was in Panama but they certainly look impressive. I could definitely go for some FroYo and a chicken sandwich!
    Sky recently posted…That Time I Became A Total FangirlMy Profile

    • Reply LaMochilera January 15, 2015 at 11:07 am

      I was obsessed with all the food options in Casco Viejo! I could have stayed an extra couple of days just to keep eating…

  • Reply Franca January 21, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    That coffee shop looks like my kind of place, I could see myself stopping there quite often. What is tamale exactly made of? I like trying local food and it would be lovely to know that it’s suitable for a vegan like me.
    Franca recently posted…Five Pics & Tips for TaipeiMy Profile

  • Reply Greg H May 2, 2017 at 3:59 am

    So glad I found this post. I’m making a quick trip to Panama and will be staying in Casco Viejo the entire time (4 nights).

    I as well, am recently heartbroken and hoping to find some clarity/comfort by visiting this city.

    Thank you for putting this list together.

    • Reply Leah Davis May 2, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      Awesome! Glad I could help! Enjoy your stay in Casco Viejo 🙂

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