Get New York quality dishes at Panama prices at Restaurante Guari Guari, only a five-minute taxi ride (50 cents per person) from central Bocas (cell: 507-6627-1825; cab will know location). A changing, six-course prix fixe menu is $19 per person. A Spanish chef works wonders with local ingredients while her German partner provides pro service in the open-air dining room, enveloped by banana trees and within earshot of the sea.
Snag a sidewalk table at Restaurante La Casbah (cell: 507-6486-5558; Ave. Norte nr. Calle 4) in Bocas for good people watching while you sample from the Mediterranean-inspired menu. Start with a half-liter of sangria ($6) and a bowl of gazpacho ($4) before moving on to goat-cheese-stuffed chicken, falafel, and tapas.
A traditional Caribbean meal is a ten-minute water-taxi ride ($3 per person) away in the town of Old Bank on Isla Bastimentos. Roots (no phone) is a tranquilo thatched-roof waterfront restaurant that sells a whole fish of the day—red snapper if you’re lucky—with coconut rice, beans, and salad (around $8). A Balboa beer will take the edge off the killer hot sauce, but adventurous drinkers can try Panama’s favorite drink, seco (a clear, sugarcane-distilled liquor) with milk.