When walking by, it’s easy to categorize Esencias Panameñas as another restaurant serving some type of Central American cuisine. When driving by, you probably wouldn’t even notice it. However, this small Panamanian restaurant is worth seeking out. Proudly displayed on its windows are awards from various publications, though I had never heard of Esencias Panameñas until I parked in front of it.
I was welcomed with a warm greeting, upbeat music, and beautiful Panamanian art and décor. A bar and bar tables sit on street level, while the dining is up one level. Having been to Panama, I’m familiar with the cuisine, and was excited to be here.
I started with a drink. I love both of Panama’s famous spirits—seco, a white spirit distilled from sugarcane, and Ron Abuelo, the well-known rum. They have both here, and I ordered a Chichita Panameña, a cocktail made with various fruit juices and Ron Abuelo. It was delicious, and at only $5 during happy hour, the price is great.
For food, I ordered carimañolas, patacones con ceviche, and a tamal de hoja. Carimañolas are similar to an empanada, but with a thicker outer layer made from yuca. The ground turkey inside was well-seasoned and paired nicely with the tamarind dipping sauce. Corvina ceviche is somewhat of a national dish in Panama, and I loved it and the crunch provided from the patacones (twice-fried tostones); plus the ceviche had a bit of heat. The tamal de hoja is a bit different from other versions you may be familiar with. Done Panamanian style, it is fresh ground corn stuffed with chicken, olives, capers, peas, and carrots, wrapped in a banana leaf. The tamal was tasty and they did not skimp on the filling. It’s worth noting that this restaurant has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
You’ll discover something different by trying Esencias Panameñas and won’t be disappointed.