Dive into Panama’s melting pot flavors at Salsipuedes Cocina & Bar, which opened in 2012 at the Financial District’s elegant Bristol hotel. Helmed by Cuquita Arias de Calvo, known as “the Martha Stewart of Panama” for her popular cooking show Cocina de Autor, the restaurant pays homage to the indigenous and immigrant influences that have shaped the country. Calvo’s deep respect for her homeland’s cuisine is evident in playful dishes like sweet-and-sour crocodile tail with wonton flowers ($13.50), riffing on flavors introduced by Chinese railway workers in the 1850s, and Spanish Colonial-era favorites, like arroz con pollo ($14) and sancocho, a coriander-flavored regional chicken soup ($10). Look for unique ingredients across the menu, like the pixbae (a palm tree fruit) which comes alongside sea bass in tamarind sauce ($17.50) or the roselle (a Caribbean flower), which is made into a sorbet and served with portobello carpaccio ($10.50).
Take an internationally inspired culinary tour via the tasting menu at Manolo Caracol ($36). Chef Manuel Madueño, who grew up at another cultural crossroads (the Andalusian town of Barbate, on the Strait of Gibraltar), is a bit of a Renaissance man—he's also a bookseller and art dealer—and it shows in both the décor (he chose the contemporary paintings on the wall) and the artfully imaginative small plates. The seasonally changing menu, incorporating ingredients from Madueño’s own farm, may include dishes like tuna tartare with tamarind sauce and a pixbae caramel candy; garlic-parsley razor clams with tempura cinnamon leaves and plantain sauce; or “farm-to-plate” chorizo with creamy Peruvian huancaína sauce.
Embrace the New Panamanian cuisine of Barcelona-trained chef Mario Castrellón at Humo. Opened in 2012, the space, filled with paintings of livestock (some bisected by butcher cut labels) sets the stage for the chef’s regional take on barbecue, like smoked queso fresco ($9), baby-back ribs glazed with local rum Ron Abuelo ($19), and brisket smoked with branches from the nance tree, a local fruit popular among Panama’s native tribes ($17). If you can’t get a table, try the chef’s first spot in the city, Maito: Hidden among a tangled thicket of bamboo and banana trees in Coco del Mar, the restaurant is the chef’s ode to local ingredients and the globally inspired fusion that defines Panamanian cooking today, featuring dishes like langoustine tule masi, a traditional stew of the indigenous Kuna tribe made with coconut and plantains ($17).