Casco Viejo has tons to offer to both Panama City visitors and locals. It’s packed with a vibrant history and local culture. The colorful colonial architecture is a feast for the eyes at every turn. Add to this the abundance of amazing restaurants you can find here, and it’s no wonder why this tangle of narrow streets keeps people coming back for more.
So just what are the best restaurants in Casco Viejo? It’s hard to know where to start! Whether you’re looking for Panamanian classics with a modern twist, a great place for a romantic date, or even creative Japanese food, Casco Viejo has something for you.
Read on to find out about the best restaurants in Casco Viejo and be prepared to be hungry when you finish!
Fonda lo Que Hay
Fonda lo Que Hay is a Casco Viejo favorite and for good reason. This cozy restaurant serves up beautiful plates of upgraded classic Panamanian dishes. Expertly prepared fresh fish, empanadas, shrimp with plantains, and pork with yucca are all on the menu. Your best bet is to come with a friend or two and order a number of different items to share. Trust us, you’ll want to try it all. Fonda (as it is sometimes called by frequent visitors) does not take reservations or hold tables, so if you’re planning on dining at peak hours you may be in for a wait. Anyone who’s eaten here before will tell you that the wait is well worth it, though.
There are plenty of restaurants in the city that do one thing really well. And then there are places like Tio Navaja that do everything well. It’s almost hard to classify this Casco Viejo gem because it really does offer a bit of everything. Craving a delicious burger? Theirs is smothered in cheese, paired with crispy thin-cut fries, and is absolute burger heaven. If you’re up for something lighter they prepare incredible ceviches, salads, and seafood dishes. AND, if no meal is complete in your book without an accompanying beverage, check out some of their signature cocktails. The perfect spot for an intimate date or fun dinner with friends!
Everything about dining at Tomillo is fun. The concept behind this restaurant is to provide sharable plates of eclectic dishes from around the world. In doing so, Tomillo creates a space where people can relax and enjoy each other’s company over a fun, communal feast. And a feast it is! With so many delectable dishes on the menu, you’ll definitely be tempted to order one of everything. Don’t miss the squid ink risotto, tuna ceviche, or the lamb. You really can’t go wrong with any of the menu’s thoughtful and delectable dishes. There is both indoor and outdoor seating available, including on the rooftop. No matter where you dine you’ll love the casual yet intimate ambiance of this culinary gem.
A relatively new addition to Casco Viejo, Madre Pizza is THE place to enjoy scrumptious plates of elevated Italian specialties. As the name implies, pizza gets the spotlight here, but good luck choosing which one to order. Classics like a margarita are expertly prepared with a light crust and fresh toppings. Or you could opt for something more unique like the short rib and goat cheese and be equally impressed. There are also plenty of pasta, risotto, and appetizer options that are not to be overlooked. The bottom line: come hungry. The staff here are knowledgeable and friendly, and the atmosphere is the perfect place to enjoy a meal and a bottle of wine at the end of a long day.
No list of the best restaurants in Casco Viejo is complete without including Tantalo. The name refers not just to the restaurant, but also to the adjoining hotel. While hotel guests are in for an excellent surprise, you don’t need to be a guest to enjoy the creative menu and stunning ambiance of Tantalo. The rooftop restaurant’s menu combines flavors from around the world and whips up fun dishes using Panama’s freshest ingredients. The beef tenderloin, the mac and cheese, and the octopus will all keep you coming back from more. Here’s a place where we recommend skipping the wine and opting instead for one of their creative cocktails to accompany your meal.
Craving something a little more exotic? Then consider booking a table at Salvaje. This restaurant is well known for its take on gourmet Japanese cuisine with some unexpected twists. You won’t find the same hum-drum sushi rolls here that you’re likely to find at a shopping mall food court. Instead, prepare to be wowed by the fun and fanciful flavor combinations. Try, for example, the mushroom and wagyu dumplings or the cauliflower tempura with scrumptious sauce. Go as a group and order an array of dishes family-style in order to make the most of your trip. And don’t forget to check out the rooftop bar after dinner for a delicious nightcap as well.
Donde José is definitely one of the best restaurants in Casco Viejo, but it’s also so much more than that. This is one place that’s worth booking a table if you’re looking to impress. Make sure to do so in advance, though, as the dining room is tiny and this restaurant is popular. At Donde José, guests get to indulge in a creative tasting menu that tells the story of Chef José’s history with cooking Panamanian food. The menu evolves based on the season and what fresh ingredients are in the market, but Chef José’s creative combinations never disappoint. Come ready not just to eat, but also to learn as the staff describes each and every dish as it arrives at your table. And if you’re sitting at the bar, you can even delight in watching the cooks work their magic right before your eyes.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Laboratorio Madrigal. From the moment you step foot in this stunning dining room, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to some magical new place. Diners have the option of ordering from a pre-fixe menu or ordering a la carte, and you honestly can’t go wrong either way. Favorites include the octopus ceviche, the blackened fish tacos, and the braised beef. The fish of the day is always sure to impress as well. While there aren’t many vegetarian-friendly options on the menu, the kitchen can prepare something off-menu upon special request. This is one spot that’s perfect for a special meal if you’re looking to splurge.
Come to Lazotea for the food, and stay for the view. This hip rooftop eatery has a great vibe, and even better food and drinks. Calamari with squid ink rice, jumbo seared shrimp, and seafood fettuccini are all winners. Not in the mood for seafood? You can’t go wrong with one of their delicious cheeseburgers. Creative cocktails featuring local fruits and specialty spirits are beautifully presented and all-around delicious. Often featuring live music, this is one place that’s great for a night of dinner and drinks with friends and you couldn’t ask for a better backdrop than the sunning Panama City skyline.
Totally deserving of a spot on any list of the best restaurants in Casco Viejo is Caliope. Whether you sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work or enjoy the comfortable yet sophisticated dining room, you and your party will be sure to enjoy this phenomenal restaurant. The menu features a wide variety of Panamanian fusion dishes that will satisfy any craving. The duck confit, chicken tortellini, and grilled pork belly are all worth ordering. And certainly, don’t skip enjoying a signature cocktail or two. With an exclusive feel and impeccable service, Caliope is the perfect spot to wine and dine in style.
So there you have it, the best restaurants in Casco Viejo. As this neighborhood continues to evolve, we can’t wait to see what else might pop up, but in the meantime, happy dining!
Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments below!