Cafeterias and Diners
Restaurante Boulevard Balboa (Avenida Balboa and Calle 33, tel. 225-0914, 6:30 a.m.–1 a.m. Mon.–Sat.) was a Panama institution that opened in 1958 and attracted a mix of power-breakfasting politicians and regular josés, waited on by servers who’d been there almost since the beginning. Its most notorious moment came in July of 2001, when a prominent lawyer, Roque Alberto Pérez Carrera, was assassinated there. He was shot twice in the face by a man who then escaped by taxi.
The original diner finally fell victim to Panama’s construction boom just shy of its 50th birthday, but it has reopened two blocks away with the same staff and clientele but a significantly spiffier modern look. It’ll never have the same crummy-but-cozy coffee-shop vibe, but it does have free wireless Internet and a terrace overlooking Avenida Balboa. This is the place to come for breakfast Panama City style, such as eggs with beefsteak. Breakfast can be had for less than US$5. It’s known for its grilled sandwiches and its batidas (milkshakes).
Café Coca Cola (Calle C and Calle 12 Oeste, tel. 228-7687, 7:30 a.m.–11 p.m. daily), across the street from Parque Santa Ana, is a slightly grungy air-conditioned diner and a Panama City institution. This place has been here forever—the building it’s housed in was erected in 1907, just four years after Panama became a country—and is a good spot for people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere of a slower, quainter Panama City from an earlier era. Food ranges from sandwiches to chop suey to pasta. You can fill up here for less than US$5. The espresso drinks are palatable.
A Casa de Fernando (Calle 30 Este between Avenida Perú and Avenida Cuba, tel. 225-2378, 24 hours daily, under US$10) is a pleasant tavern likely to be of interest to those staying in the Calidonia/La Exposición area, mainly because it’s got a central location and is open 24 hours. It serves an absurdly ambitious variety of food, including salads, soups, sandwiches, and all the usual meats, seafood, and pasta. It’s not air-conditioned, but there are ceiling fans. This is a good find.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition