Manolo Caracol (Panama City; tel. 228-4640): The city's most innovative restaurant features an adventurous and creative daily menu that embraces in-season products and the freshest and most exotic fish of any restaurant in town. Sit back in the colonial, artsy ambience and wait for a "surprise" of 12 courses to be slowly ushered to your table -- you never know what you're going to get, but you know it will be good.
Market (Panama City; tel. 264-9401): This snazzy new restaurant is one of the most popular dining spots in Panama City, and it's easy to see why. Contemporary, yet classy, Market serves up some of the best burgers and steaks in Panama City.
Palms (Panama City; tel. 265-7256): It's one of the hippest restaurants in Panama City, with a tropical-chic and sleek decor, and delicious, well-conceived dishes that expertly blend Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin American flavors and ingredients. Upstairs is an ultra-modern bar for a nightcap.
Las Barandas (Panama City; tel. 265-7844): Panama City's best boutique hotel also has one of its best restaurants. At the helm is "Cuquita," nationally famous as the Martha Stewart of Panama, who adapts traditional Panamanian recipes to modern gourmet tastes, and serves her delicious creations in a cozy and sophisticated dining area. They serve Sunday brunch, too.
Madame Chang (Panama City; tel. 269-1313): Few diners are aware that some of the best Chinese food outside of China is here in Panama, and Madame Chang is where you come to savor it. The Peking duck is the restaurant's showcase dish. The owners have merged Old China with new, both in terms of cuisine and their smart-casual atmosphere.
La Casa de Lourdes (El Valle de Antón; tel. 983-6450): The cuisine is so to-die-for good that some residents of Panama City endure the 4-hour round-trip to El Valle de Antón just to have Sunday lunch. Ultra-fresh ingredients and exotic fruits are used to create updated takes on Panamanian and Latin American fare. Dining is alfresco: under the archways of a Tuscan-style manor house, next to an outdoor swimming pool.
Restaurant Vista Mar (Vista Mar; tel. 215-1111): This restaurant is run by a renowned French chef, and sports a chic Moroccan decor, plus outdoor dining with ocean views. The Mediterranean-style seafood is well-conceived and bursting with flavor. The restaurant is within the Vista Mar residential community, on the Pacific Coast.
Panamonte Inn Restaurant (Boquete; tel. 720-1324): This sanctuary of gourmet cuisine is located within the clapboard walls of the oldest hotel in Boquete. The food is inventive and consistently good, and service is attentive and courteous. You can bypass their more formal dining area for a comfy seat in their fireside bar and still order off the main menu.
Guari Guari (Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro; tel. 6575-5513): One my favorite dining experiences in Panama, this new Bocas restaurant is conceptually similar to Manolo Caracol in Panama City; each course is a surprise and the menu varies depending on what's in stock. The Spanish cook creates delicious, creative dishes that rarely disappoint, and the service is impeccable. Make sure to call ahead; dinner is by reservation only.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.