Hacienda Real (Calle 49 and Calle Colombia, tel. 264-0311, www.hacienda-real.com, noon–midnight daily), which opened in January 2010, is a bright new star on the Panama City dining scene. Though part of a Guatemala-based group of restaurants with branches around Central America, it doesn’t feel like a chain restaurant at all.
Decorating the place reportedly cost millions, and it shows. Great care has been taken with this place. One of the waiters told me the parent company even has a kind of exchange program: waiters from Guatemala were sent down to help get the Panama City branch off the ground, and the Panamanian staff was sent to Guatemala City to learn a bit about Guatemalan food and culture.
The food is tasty rather than outstanding, but the restaurant alone is lovely enough to justify a visit. It takes up three floors and has the feel of a Guatemalan coffee baron’s opulent home. It specializes in grilled meats, with main dishes starting at around US$17, but a plate of soft tacos or fajitas go for half as much.
Be sure to try the typically Guatemalan black beans with thick tortillas. The choricero starter includes these along with (delicious) French fries, a heap of chorizo sausage, and guacamole. It can easily feed two people with no need for a main course. The house flan is exceptional.
The colorful basement dining room shares its space with an open-plan kitchen, but the vaulted brick ceiling makes this room noisy, especially when filled with the business crowd holding power lunches. The glassed-in terrace two floors up is a quieter option, and it has a view of the leafy neighborhood and a sliver of sea. There are many other nooks and private rooms to choose from, as well as an attractive front patio with ceiling fans for those who’d prefer to dine al fresco.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition