As a Panama City resident and food lover, my pocketbook can’t keep up with the amount of pricey fine dining that has opened in the city. Luckily this has made me a guru on where to dine fine on the cheap. My definition of eating cheap? It has to be possible to eat for less than $10 (not including a drink because if you’re cheap you’ll drink the free tap water).
Here are the best cheap eats in Panama City, Panama.
As far as price vs quality is concerned, Fonda Lo Que Hay is one of my favorite spots for an inexpensive gourmet meal. This new eatery was opened by legendary local chef José O. Carles of the Dónde José restaurant and is a gourmet version of a fonda or local Panamanian cafeteria. The menu changes almost weekly, so you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s guaranteed to be delicious.
Good southern style BBQ has been difficult to come by in Panama City, but Pig Backside delivers. This is located in the San Francisco neighborhood (dangerously close to my apartment). I’m a huge fan of the pulled pork sandwich for $7.50.
El Trapiche is an old-school diner that specializes in traditional Panamanian dishes. You can order any of the classics like Ropa Vieja, Tamal de Olla, or their famous Hojaldra Sandwich for under $7.
Peach Fuzz International is by far some of the best seafood I have had in Panama City. It’s located off the beaten path in the Curundu neighborhood (use Uber to arrive or Waze if driving to locate it) and their specialty is the Pescado Frito, the whole fried fish.
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El Social is located in the Casco Viejo neighborhood and creates a fun, casual atmosphere for a bite to eat. They have daily food & drink specials like a $10 burger & beer on Mondays and $3 tacos on Tuesdays.
Niko’s Cafe is open 24 hours and one of those places you normally only admit to eating at after a night out, but they have some decent options for a local style meal of rice, beans, plantain, and meat.
One of Panama City’s most famous food trucks is definitely Esa Flaca Rica and you’ll typically a line of people patiently waiting for El Choripan or one of their iconic burgers.
This hidden gem prepares amazing Filipino lumpia’s that won’t break the bank. El Corazón is located inside the Luna’s Castle Hostel in Casco Viejo on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 8 pm to 3 am.
Anti Burger is another food truck in the San Francisco neighborhood that offers up affordable casual dining. They are also one of the few spots that have veggie burgers for the non-meat eaters.
Originally opened in 1906, Cafe Coca-Cola is the oldest still operating diner in Panama. It’s located on the border of Casco Viejo and Santa Ana and is a great spot to go for an affordable local style breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The Smoke Truck is another great food truck located in the San Francisco neighborhood. The ribs and poutine are delicious!
Mentiritas Blancas is a coffee shop situated in the heart of Panama City’s funky Via Argentina neighborhood. As you enter the place, you are welcomed by a cozy, intimate setting that instantly makes you feel at home. This is one of my favorite coffee shops in Panama a great spot to go for brunch and coffee.
Serving up tropical tacos in the San Francisco and Casco Viejo areas, Tacos La Neta has some of the most creative tacos in the city. For $10 you can choose any three of their signature tacos.
Tantalo is normally on the pricier side for dinner but their lunch menu is very affordable. They offer a different menu of the day that includes a main plate and drink for only $5.50! They also have happy hour from 12 pm – 7 pm every day so it is actually possible to get lunch and a cocktail for under $10.
In the mood for Spanish tapas? Taberna la Malagueña offers an affordable and pretty legit tapas restaurant in the Panama City. Their daily lunch menu includes one tapa + main plate + desert + WINE for just $7.50. You can also stop by for their daily happy hour between 5 pm – 7 pm for different daily specials like three tapas for $5!
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Raro es encontrar a alguien que no disfrute comiéndose un buen pincho de tortilla española. Es una tortilla con huevo y patata, también se le puede añadir cebolla, pimiento…sobre gustos no hay nada escrito!! O como ésta que lleva taquitos de ibéricos, recién hecha y calentita todavía… riquísima!! Ya sabes, en La Malagueña.
Loving Hut is a vegan cafeteria that is surprisingly cheap. I’m not a vegan but I used to work near here and I would have a large lunch every day for $3.75.
The Mercado de Mariscos is always a cheap spot to eat. You can order ceviche, patacones (fried plantains), and local beer from the outdoor vendors for under $5!
Other tips on eating cheap: To end the post I just want to give two other tips on eating cheap in Panama City. First, subscribe to Oferta Simple and Gustazos. These are Panama’s version of Groupon and you can eat at some pretty nice restaurants for half off. Also, check out the Discount Specials on Degusta. Just by making a reservation through the app or website you can get up to 50% off your meal!
Where are your favorite cheap eats in Panama City? Leave a comment below.