First off I would like to point out that I was a little bit of a budget traveler when I was living in Bocas del Toro. As a result, I tended not to splurge on fancy dinners that consisted of lobster, prawn and/or steak. I did get the opportunity to taste many different delicacies in and around Isla Colon, but my list of restaurants is not exhaustive.
Bocas is a small little island. But in terms of food this tiny paradise offers a large assortment of food that can range from $2.50 USD to over $50 dollars. Let me start with my favorite restaurants and then work down the list. Please note that I have not been to some of these restaurants, yet have heard such GREAT reviews that I would be robbing the readers of something truly special if I did not add it to my list. So here we go….
The top scrumptious Bocas del Toro restaurants are: El Pecado de Sabor, Guari Guari, Bibi’s on the Beach Restaurant, The Casbah and El Ultimo Refugio. I haven’t been to the last two so I will not write about them although I heard that the Ultimo Refugio has an great view and fresh seafood.
El Pecado de Sabor
Translated into “the sin,” this Bocas restaurant is an excellent choice for any traveller. It has a huge variety ranging from seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes in italian, thai or american style. I went to this restaurant on my last night in Bocas del Toro. Before the meal, the waiter brought over a fresh piece of bread and some vinegar/oil as a dip. I ordered an amazing shrimp skewer that came with potatoes while my friend ordered chicken. The food was amazing and the ambience relaxing. It’s also the perfect place if you are looking for a romantic place to dine (think a candlelight dinner). The restaurant is located at the bottom of Hotel Laguna.
Bibi’s On the Beach
Although I have personally not been to this restaurant, it came highly recommended by a Bocas local who raved about the fresh seafood. Not only is the seafood to die for, but my Bocas insider tells me that Bibi’s is often cheaper (and still on par taste-wise) then most other famous Bocas seafood restaurants like El Ultimo Refugio. Located right across from Isla Colon on Isla Carenero this restaurant is located right on the beach. So as you sip your fresh fruit smoothie or take a bite out of your delicious lobster, take a moment to enjoy the green waters of the Caribbean, breath in the fresh air and relax.
Another restaurant that I never had the opportunity to visit. Not because I didn’t want to! I have heard outstanding reviews of this place and I had planned to go to Guari Guari on my last night in Bocas. Unfortunately, the only way to enjoy this restaurant’s delicacies is to call and make a reservation. I made the mistake of calling the day I was leaving and they were full! Guari Gauri is a little away from downtown, about a $5 cab ride. And make sure to bring mosquito spray. For $22 USD, you’ll enjoy a 6 course Spanish-inspired dinner that you will not regret. My advice? Call at least a day in advance to secure your spot
My other picks?
Riptide is da bomb! The restaurant is located right behind Mondo Taitu and has a great view since the restaurant is a boat – so if you are prone to seasickness, skip it! It has great “gringo” (bar) food, like chicken friend chicken (DELICIOUS!), onion rings, chicken wings etc. This restaurant is also a great location if you want a cold draft beer while watching a sports game. I have a thing for Mexican so I was tickled pink when I found Gringo’s Mexican Restaurant. It has scrumptious food (great burritos and good portions) and the margaritas are definitely something to try. OM Restaurant is the place to go if you are craving Indian food. Although it’s a little on the pricey side, the cultural ambience and the great food are worth it. But please avoid having breakfast there! After OM why not go downstairs, grab a beer and play some free ping pong at the Bookstore.
If you are looking for a nice coffee and a breakfast bagel try Mana Bar & Restaurant (also right beside Mondo Taitu) – they also have a fantastic variety of pizzas and free pool if you want to pre-drink ($2 USD beers) and play a game. The best fish tacos can be found in the restaurant right next to Starfleet Scuba (I forgot the name) – they also have really good Gringo burgers (although I found that the chef was not consistent). The best lobster sandwich I’ve ever had was at a restaurant (only takeout) that is located right beside The Pirate. You’ll recognize the place because it has two statues infront of it – one of a fish and an ice cream cone. Great garlic sauce on the sandwich and a to die for tartar sauce that I put on my sandwich and fries.
Starfish Resturant (located on the main strip) is owned by a French woman who has excellent coffees (something that is rare in Bocas) and great food including breakfast! I ordered the meal of the day and I was not disappointed. The owner is also a cacau broker, which means you can get your chocolate fix. On top of that, you’ve got a whole shelf of interesting magazines, nice music, and a cute little deck overlooking the water. Try to the Bocas Bambu Beach Restaurant. Overall the service here was horrible but as a mushroom fanatic I recommend trying the steak with the mushroom sauce – best I have ever tried! In the end the restaurant is overpriced and is a little too fancy for my taste. Yet, I would go back just for the steak! Lastly, if you are looking for a BUDGET meal than you must go look for the blue house. A woman cooks a traditional Panamanian meal (meat/chicken/fish) and serves it with beans, rice and a drink – all for $2.50 USD. My mind is a little hazzy on the exact location but I am pretty sure that you have to walk down the street towards the airport and turn left on the second street (it should be right in front of large compound with a high blue fence). Another way is to walk down the street past Gringo’s Restaurant and turn right – walk until the next street and the blue house should be on your left hand side on the corner). If in doubt, ask a local.
Now it’s time to tell you about the restaurants that are mediocre to just plain bad. Lemongrass is an OK Thai place although I was unimpressed with their chicken pad thai (since my time in Bocas, Lemongrass has gone under new management so it could have changed). At times there is a live band and cheap drinks and the restaurant overlooks the water so it’s a decent place to relax before going out to the bar. It’s located right over Starfleet Scuba. Bocas Wine Bar is an OK place to relax and have a glass of wine. The only problem is that they have extremely overpriced wine – I think I paid $6 USD for a glass of red. Reviews on tripadvisor are all good but I don’t think it’s worth the price. Natural Mystic is on my “meh” list. I had a wrap and was disappointed that it had no taste. It’s a cheap place to go to (it also has healthy and veggie options) but it’s not a meal you will be talking about later on. The same goes for the Pirate (it’s a little too touristy for me).
And the two places that you MUST avoid under ALL circumstances
La Buga Restaurant and the Golden Grill. La Buga is a dive shop and right in front is a restaurant. It has the WORST food in Bocas and you will be wasting your money if you go there. Also please avoid Golden Grill. It’s the biggest tourist trap and has horrible food. If you are looking to eat something post-bar (at 3 am when most things are closed) skip the Golden Grill and go to a small local place in front of El Torro Loco (near Barco Hundido) for some great chicken and deep-fried plantains (YUM).
Does anyone else have any fabulous restaurant recommendations?