Tag Archives: Cafeteria Manolo’s

Panama – Day 5: Spa visit, lunch at the Coca Cola Cafe, drinks at the Radisson Decapolis, and dinner at Manolo’s

I am sorry for the extreme delay in posting!  I started writing the below text several weeks ago, but then things got very hectic.  I just got back from a Thanksgiving trip to Israel and I will try and post highlights from that trip in a more timely manner.  I hope everyone had a relaxing holiday!

Now, back to the end of Panama.  By my fifth day, I had already visited every site I wanted to see, so I decided to go to the spa at Le Meridien Hotel for an express facial.  I enjoyed using the spa’s facilities more than the treatment itself.

View from the roof of Le Meridien Hotel


In the afternoon I was planning on meeting up with a fellow traveler from TravBuddy.com, which is a website that helps you, “[m]eet travelers and locals who are going to the same place at the same time as you.”  I signed up on a whim and paid the one time $9.99 registration fee before my trip, but I was disappointed when I saw that only two members were going to be in Panama City at the same time as me.  One of the two members messaged me and asked if I wanted to go sightseeing or meet for coffee.  I had already seen all of the major attractions, but I was curious to visit the Coca Cola Cafe and I had read that it borders a sketchy neighborhood, so it seemed like the perfect activity to do with a partner.  The funny thing is that I actually recognized my travel buddy, Isreal, on the street about an hour before we were supposed to meet, but this was less serendipitous than it sounds, since most of the city’s hotels are in one area (El Congrejo).  We walked on the Cinta Costera walkway to get to the cafe.  Along the way we passed the entrance of Chinatown, but I read it was a little dicey, so we did not enter.


We then passed through the historic district of Casco Viejo to reach the Coca Cola Cafe, which is located on the border of Casco Viejo and the rougher neighborhood of Santa Ana.  The Coca Cola is oldest cafe in Panama City (c. 1875) and is known for its hearty fare and local clientele.  The Coca Cola is also historically significant, since it was frequented by Che Guevara and was supposedly the first place in Panama to serve the eponymous beverage.

The Coca Cola Cafe

I ordered chicken milanesa and pineapple juice.  The prices were very reasonable and the chicken itself was good, but the sides (salad and lentils) were nothing special.  Several other diners seemed more drunk than is optimal for lunchtime.

Chicken milanesa and rice for three people.

Before leaving we ordered the famous coffee, which was excellent!

Coffee at the Coca Cola Cafe

After lunch we walked back to Casco Viejo and passed some interesting 1930’s/1940’s architecture in the more run-down area bordering the cafe.

Benefits building

Back in Casco Viejo, we visited the Iglesia San Jose, which is known for its gorgeous gold alter.

Gold Alter at the Iglesia San Jose

We took a taxi back to El Congrejo and rested before meeting up for drinks.  I had read about the sushi and martini bar at the Radisson DeCapolis Hotel, which was supposed to be the hipest places in Panama City.  However, when we arrived around 8PM, it was almost completely empty.  We thought maybe we were too early, so we visited the Multiplaza Mall across the street and then the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino next door.  The stores at Multiplaza were similar to Albrook and not particularly interesting.  The Hard Rock had a ton of famous musician’s memorabilia, which was fun to view.

Hard Rock Casino and Hotel

We went back to the bar at the Radisson and it was still pretty empty, but we decided to stay and order drinks.  I asked the waiter why it was empty and he said it’s more popular on Fridays.  I don’t know if that is the case or if it just peaked in coolness.

Radisson Decapolis Bar

Eye chairs at the Radisson Decapolis Bar

After drinks I suggested we go to Cafeteria Manolo’s because I liked the people watching and wanted to have a traditional Panamanian dish for my last dinner in P.C.  I ordered Sancocho, which is Panamanian chicken soup.  It was more flavorful than American chicken soup, but it was a bit too salty.

Cafeteria Manolo’s

House salad

Sancocho soup

Post-dinner we walked across the street to the Veneto Casino because I wanted to try gambling for the first time.  I bet a dollar in a slot machine and after repeatedly pressing the very confusing, though all English buttons, I won $3.  I decided to call it quits while I was ahead.  We also left the casino quickly because it was pretty depressing.  The Via Veneto Hotel strip is known for prostitution (which is legal in Panama) and there were dozens of prostitutes walking around the casino floor.  The scene was very sad and it was already rather late, so we headed back to our respective hotels on the other side of El Congrejo.


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Panama – Day 3 – AM: More around El Congrejo, lunch at Cafeteria Manolo’s

For my third day I planned an overnight trip to the mountain town of El Valle.  Before checking out of my hotel, I went for my morning constitutional around El Congrejo.  I was curious to see a Panamanian super market, so I stopped in the mega store El Rey.  It was surprisingly similar to an American supermarket.  Almost all of the frozen foods and packaged products were from American companies.  Some even had English labels.

El Rey

View from above

The most glaring difference from an American supermarket was the armed guard at the entrance who shouted at me to stop taking photos.  Inventory-wise, the only noticeable difference (from my brief assessment) was the huge variety of aloe drinks.  I was also impressed with the large health food selection, which even included my favorite German Mestemacher bread.

Aloe drinks

I bought green guayaba (guava) fruit because I had never seen it before.  It was delicious!

Exotic fruit

I took photos of some interesting buses around the neighborhood.  In Panama City, the older public buses are former American school buses, and many of them are painted with images ranging from Jesus to naked ladies.

Plain bus…you can tell it’s a former school bus

Nicely painted bus

Decked out bus

I checked out of my hotel and then went for a casual lunch at a diner called Cafeteria Manolo’s, which is across from the Veneto Casino.  Manolo’s is considered the place to see all walks of life, from casino prostitutes to businessmen.  It’s also known for being inexpensive.  The interesting people watching, old-fashioned decor, and typical Panamanian menu made it my new favorite restaurant.  I didn’t know what to expect from a $2. sandwich, but the grilled cheese I ordered was huge and very good, as was the house salad.

Cafeteria Manolo’s

House salad

Grilled cheese

This is a short post, but stay tuned for a New York fashion post and photos of my trip to El Valle!

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