Whether you’re a Panamanian native, relocated expat, or first time tourist, Panama City’s food scene has something for everyone. Panama’s local cuisine is filled with bright flavors, simple preparations, and fresh ingredients. The seafood dishes, soups, and fresh juices are all phenomenal. But ask any capital dweller what his or her favorite restaurants are and you’re likely to hear about more than just Panamanian food. Sushi, Italian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern restaurants are all available and delicious.
Panama City’s diversity of people also means a diversity of delicious cuisines to try. Nowhere in the city is this more apparent than in El Cangrejo. El Cangrejo is a vibrant and centrally located neighborhood in the capital that is very much a melting pot of cultures. The result, a diversity of delicious restaurants to meet your every craving.
So where to begin? Unfortunately, there’s no right answer to that question. But to help you get started, here are 10 of our top dining destinations in El Cangrejo. You’ll probably want to bookmark this page until you know these spots by heart. And once you eat at each of these establishments, we promise, you won’t forget it. So get eating!
One of our favorite things about Panama City (and El Cangrejo in particular) is how easy it is to find cuisines from all over the world. That said, there are plenty of times where what we are really in the mood for is Panamanian cuisine at its finest. El Trapiche delivers on that time and time again. This local establishment dishes out heaping plates of some of Panama’s most beloved dishes. The sancocho is amazing, the ceviche hits the spot, and make sure to try the bistec picado, which at just over $6 will fill you up for the whole day. Best of all, there’s always enough food to share. In fact, the best way to dine at El Trapiche is family style, ordering a bit of everything and passing plates around. For an inexpensive feast of local favorites, El Trapiche can’t be beat.
This tea house is a perfect spot for breakfast or lunch if you’re looking for something a little bit different. If you’ve never experienced the magic of dim sum for a mid morning breakfast or tasty lunch, add Green Tea House to your must visit list. And if you’re already a dim sum fan, you’re probably already on the way there. Apart from an assortment of delicious dumpling and noodle dishes, Green Tea House serves up a variety of teas, fresh juices, and pastries. Packed with fresh ingredients and with meat and vegan options available, this little gem is a crowd pleaser. If you plan on stopping in for lunch, try out the menu ejecutivo for a perfect well rounded meal and a chance to try multiple items.
With a fun ambiance, friendly service, and a funky Mexican decor this is a great spot for a casual meal. Especially if you’re in the mood for something with a little more heat. Mordida del Burro serves up Mexican street food classics like tacos and burritos along with some more Americanized favorites such as nachos heaping with meat, cheese, and toppings. What’s not to love? The salsas are fresh and made in house, and there are a number of draft beers to wash your meal down if you can’t handle the heat. Portions aren’t huge, so go ahead and order that extra taco. We promise you won’t regret it.
If you’re looking for fabulous food, impeccable service, and an all around good time, this Spanish restaurant is the place. The staff are well trained and perfectly attentive without being overbearing and the mediterranean and Spanish menu will offer something for every palate. Favorites of the house include the cochinillo, roast suckling pig, and the Pulpo a la Gallega, grilled octopus. The wine list is extensive and well chosen and the ambiance is perfect to celebrate a special occasion, a business deal, or for a romantic date. Restaurante Angel is the perfect place to treat yourself.
This newer addition to El Cangrejo is not to be missed. With an extensive menu of contemporary and classic Italian dishes, Lucca Trattoria is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The space is large and has a nice patio for those looking for al fresco dining, and the ample indoor dining room has its own charm. Try the artichokes in salsa verge as a starter and then take your pick of the delicious homemade raviolis or fresh pastas. And don’t skip a glass or two of hearty Italian wine from the well selected list. With such a lively and charming ambiance, you could almost think you’re in Italy.
Eating at La Negra Tomasa is what I imagine it would be like to have dinner at your Italian grandmother’s house. As soon as you walk in you’ll notice the delicious smells drifting from the kitchen to this cozy dining room, and that’s just the beginning. The food is unbeatable. From fresh made pastas to osobuco bursting with flavor to risotto cooked to perfection you can’t go wrong no matter what you order. The real treat here, though, is the chef’s hospitality. She’s known to regularly visit tables during dinner, chatting with diners and pouring small glasses of her homemade Limoncello. One evening spent here and you’ll find yourself wanting to come back week after week.
Every neighborhood needs a cozy coffee shop, and Mentiras Blancas fills that need for El Cangrejo. On a typical weekday here you’ll find plenty customers enjoying coffee and pastries from tucked away behind their laptops. On weekends the small shop fills with friends and family looking to catch up and relax while munching on red velvet cookies or chocolate croissants. For those interested in a heartier (or less sugary) treat, there are plenty of savory options as well including breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, and empanadas (don’t miss the buffalo chicken ones). With top notch coffee sustainably sourced from Panama and beyond, this is the perfect place to get your caffeine fix and a whole lot more.
Manolo’s is the ideal spot to meet the tastes of any group. From locals to foreigners, adventurous eaters to those with mild palates, adults to kids, everyone can find something that excites them at Manolo’s. Open 24 hours a day, this local establishment really has something for everyone. If you’re in the mood for something distinctly local get the corvina a lo macho with patacones. Want something more familiar? Manolo’s has burgers, sandwiches, and pizza as well. In addition to crowd pleasing food and reasonable prices at all hours of the day, Manolo’s also has a full bar perfect for trying a local seco or Balboa beer to wash down your meal.
Arguably the most delicious sushi on offer in all of Panama City, Tsugoi is an Asian restaurant and lounge with a giant menu of amazing sushi. The sushi chefs at Tsugoi take advantage of the incredible local seafood that Panama has to offer to prepare both classic and creative sushi rolls. Everything tastes incredibly fresh and the ingredients and presentation are topnotch. On Tuesdays and Sundays they also offer 3 rolls for the price of 2. For the raw-fish-faint-of-heart, the menu also has plenty of non-sushi offerings including and incredible thai coconut soup and a number of delicious noodle dishes. In addition to an extensive sushi menu, Tsugoi boasts an equally large drinks menu. Cheers!
One of the best parts of dining in some of Panama’s international restaurants is the ability of the food and atmosphere to transport you to a different place. This is entirely the case at Taberna la Malagueña. Five minutes into an evening spent here and you’ll think you’re in a bustling cantina in Spain. The menu of reasonably-priced tapas are perfect for sharing. Don’t miss the croquetas, alioli potatoes, pulpo, or chorizo. On Thursday and Saturday nights there is a live flamenco show which only adds to the ambiance. Top it off with a bottle of Spanish vino tinto and you might as well be in Madrid. Taberna la Malagueña tends to get crowded on the weekends and during happy hour but is always worth the wait.
So there you have it. Far from being a comprehensive list of where to dine in El Cangrejo, this is just the beginning. Not only are there plenty of great options (we could go on for days), but new offerings are opening up every month. Don’t take our word for it, though. Get out and and start tasting! If you try something you love or if your favorite El Cangrejo joint didn’t make the list, let us know in the comments below we’re always looking for new favorites ourselves.