Savvy Traveler's Corner 

Central America’s Culinary Capital

Amid the towers of steel and chrome waft the tantalizing smells of seafood and spices.

Argentine, Cuban, Swiss, German, Thai, and Indian are only a few of the offerings you’ll find today in Panama City. Back home you may find yourself banished to the burbs for affordable food. But here you can eat at the finest gourmet restaurants in the financial district where the beautiful people play – and spend less than $15 on a meal for two.

Panama City is Central America’s fastest-growing culinary destination. As the city’s grown, the food has become increasingly international.

At Greek-Panamanian eatery Parillada Jimmy’s try Pulpo a la plancha, gorgeous coral hunks of octopus served on a griddle. With a squeeze of lemon, this dish is a taste of summer in San Blas—the idyllic islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast. (It’s on Via Cincuentenario, tel: +507-226-1870.)

For doting waiters and oozing ambiance, head to Luna, where Rubén Ortega-Vieto is a star chef with a locavore bent. His is local street food elevated to new heights. He’s been known to use cobia (“black salmon”) from Isla Grande, goat cheese from new valley farms, and Panama’s famed pork belly for chicharrones.

Central America's Culinary Capital

In Panama City, you’re spoiled for choice in restaurants. © Andre Kostyuk/iStock

Luna is not a place to skimp—go all out: a pre-dinner cocktail, appetizer and main, and a good Catena Malbec to wash it all down. And don’t forget to spring for a side of the heavenly truffle-parm fries. All told, you’ll spend $45 to $65 per person. (To go there, head to Plaza La Florida, Marbella, tel. +507-263-5862.)

Other must-have dishes of the Panamanian capital include the unofficial national dish, corvina. A flaky fish like sea bass, its delicate flavor needs little enhancing. Get it al ajillo—gently cooked in butter and garlic—for perfection on a plate.

For this and other traditional dishes done with flair, head to El Trapiche, an inexpensive eatery where you can have lunch for $5. Don’t expect refined service or a fancy décor—do expect flavorful food. Sit outdoors for some of the city’s best people-watching. (Via Argentina, tel: +507-269-4353.)

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)

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