Panama City's Newest Food Movement: Courtyard Tacos
Visitors to Panama are often surprised. The city itself is not what they anticipate. When someone pictures a Latin American capital they rarely imagine sprawling boardwalks, modern high rises and a business district that rivals Miami. Even more surprising is that beyond the fanciest condos, luxury hotels and 60-storey mega towers, lay some of the most interesting restaurants and culinary experiences you have yet to experience.
Panama has recently undergone a culinary revolution. There are more international inspiration and gastronomic masterpieces than ever before. There is street food and grab-and-go from all over the globe, food courts and luxury five-star cuisine. But it is when the world of luxury meals and typical street food collide that some of the most spectacular culinary experiences arise.
Most recently, outdoor food courts and courtyard restaurants filled with picnic tables and style-savvy customers have risen from the rubble of demolished buildings and empty lots. Well-managed, super clean and incredibly diverse, some of the most popular Panama City neighbourhoods are now home to open air casual dining options.
El Cangrejo is a popular expat area with a beautiful park and the very walkable Via Argentina. Restaurants line the busy street and hotels are everywhere. Hidden just half a block from Via Argentina, a new, open-air food court has quickly gained popularity and at the centre of it all is a taco stand called Mordida De Burro, or the donkey’s bite.
Mordida De Burro is actually a reference to a surprisingly painful pinch to the thigh. A joke or playful game undertaken by teenagers or the occasional grown man after a few too many beers. But instead of capturing this particular image, the taco stand boasts an amazing and totally bewitching image of a donkey chowing down on one of chef Rafa Suarez’s amazing tacos.
Originally from Mexico, Suarez has spent his life loving food and embracing cooking in his family kitchen. His mother encouraged him to join her in the kitchen at a young age. She always cooked authentic, healthy, whole foods that were purchased at the central market every week.
All four of their amazing tacos were inspired by regional favourites in Mexico. If you have the appetite, trying all four delicious tacos is a must. They serve chicken, beef, pork and a vegetarian zucchini taco that rivals its meaty counterparts. Each taco is topped uniquely with fresh cheese, house made pico de gallo, salsa verde, roasted potatoes and/or caramelized onions. Their signature pork taco is made by marinating the meat in fresh orange juice and beer. It is served with caramelized onions, the best salsa verde you have ever tasted.
Quesadillas and savoury sides complement the main courses and include guacamole, arroz rojo, refried beans and his unbelievably delicate roasted potatoes with cilantro. Wash your meal down with horchata, a creamy cinnamon flavoured rice drink that is made in house with the freshest ingredients.
With their own patio, lined by rapidly growing cacti, Mexican decor and casual seating, this taco stand represents a new era of spectacular food in the most unlikely of locations. They cater to families whose children enjoy drawing with sidewalk chalk on the paved children’s area, as well as to couples seeking a unique night out. Groups are welcome and can seat themselves at any of the many tables on the private patio or throughout the covered food court.
In time, Mordida de Burro will also be offering typical breakfasts, breakfast burritos and hope to expand to additional areas of the city. Until Mordida del Burro reaches your neighbourhood, you will simply have to experience the flavours of Mexico, under the stars in El Cangrejo.