Da Noi sounds Asian, but in fact it's an authentic Italian restaurant. Da Noi means "by us" in Italian, a fitting name for a mom & pop restaurant tucked in a small shopping center in the El Cangrejo neighborhood of Panama City. El Cangrejo reminds me of the West Side of New York. It has narrow streets and constant bustle. There are dozens of restaurants and shops crammed into every corner of this middle class neighborhood, cheek-to-jowl with European-style hotels, car rental agencies, and big casinos.
Like many Panama restaurants, the doors at Da Noi don't open until noon. At 12:01, I was knocking on the glass and pointing at my watch. A nice looking Italian man checked his watch, realized it was noon, and unlocked the door. Although we were the first ones in the restaurant, within minutes, most of the tables were full.
The interior is typical of a mom and pop restaurant in Panama--bare tables with plastic chairs and vinyl-covered diner-style bench seating, although the brightly painted walls, high ceiling, and wall of half-bottles of wine gives it a cheery, urban hip feeling.
I was smitten when I saw the lobster ravioli with lemon sauce on the menu, but it wasn't available the day of my visit. We ordered a traditional lasagna, along with a chicken and mushroom pizza. When I lived in Dallas, I craved pizzas cooked in a stone oven. I've gotten spoiled living in Panama because most pizzas are cooked this way. That being said, the crust on my pizza was near perfection. It was just the right thickness and was both crispy and chewy. The only negative is that the toppings weren't as juicy as I would have liked. The cheese was Italian style (sparse), and the chicken and mushrooms were just ever so slightly over-baked. But the crust made up for the deficiencies, and I inhaled half my pizza in record time.
Being an American, I took the other half of my pizza home. (Latins don't like to take leftovers home. They think it makes them look poor. I love leftovers and don't care what the waiter thinks, so I always get a doggie bag when the food is too scrumptious to throw away.) The leftover pizza was so good cold that I didn't bother to heat it up. I'll definitely be back to try other pizzas and to get try the lobster ravioli with lemon sauce.