Queso Chela (Capira ... Between Panama City and Coronado) - Empanada Stand & Bakery
Queso Chela's is a Panamanian icon. No matter when you stop, there are long lines of locals and tourists. Their inexpensive menu consists of empanadas, fresh cheese & yogurt, and a variety of breads, cookies and cakes. You've probably never heard of the small town of Capira. It's about half-way between Panama City and the beach town of Coronado. Their bathrooms are pretty clean, and you can also buy fresh fruit and other items from local sellers at the same stop. The chicken empanadas are my favorite, and cost less than $1 each. Two empanadas, a homemade drinkable yogurt, and a cookie make a fantastic meal and will cost less than $5.
Veramar (Veracruz) – Casual Seafood
There are several “seafood shacks” along the beachfront just minutes away from Playa Bonita. When leaving the Westin, turn left. You’ll see three right in a row. They are all comparable in price and quality, so just pick one. Be sure to try their Corvina Frita Entera (entire fried white fish). It’s a bit daunting to look at, but it’s quite tasty. It comes with a side of rice or french fries and a tiny salad and costs just $10.
The Fish Market (Casco Viejo) – Casual Seafood
There is a big fish market that people usually refer to as "The Fish Market" but this is something different. It's a food truck parked in an abandoned lot. You order at the window of the spiffy hip food truck, and then eat at a white enamel picnic table under a blue umbrella next to a crumbling building. The charm of this setting shouldn’t be missed, nor should the food. The food is fast, delicious and has a hint of Thai influence is the exotic spice. Honestly, it’s one of the best $7 lunches in Panama.
Sushi Oishi (Obarrio) – Sushi
I'm a sushi fanatic. I could literally eat sushi every day. My favorite sushi in Panama is at the Radisson Decapolis, but you'll easily drop $75-$100 for a sushi lunch at this elegant restaurant. If you just want a quick sushi lunch--or want sushi take-out--Sushi Oishi is the place to go. It's located in a small shopping center on 58th Street in Obarrio. The sushi rolls are $5-$10 per roll, the fish is fresh, and the service is relatively quick for sushi. There are only a handful of tables, but it's a charming little restaurant that delivers big value for sushi lovers.
Pizzeria Napoli (Obarrio) – Pizza & Pasta
If you're looking for great Italian food without the high price tag, this is it. There are two locations, but the restaurant in Obarrio is the only one I'm recommending... the other one is a bit too "local" for me. They cook their pizza in a brick oven, and the food is consistently good. If you share a pizza and a Greek salad (my favorite Greek salad in Panama), two people can eat for less than $20. This is a local's hangout with large dining areas. It's located off of the beaten tourist track, but it's well worth trudging through road construction to find. They're closed Mondays.
If you have a great budget recommendation (about $10 or less), let me know!