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Lookin' for Grub in All the Wrong Places
Panama City, Panama
On our way back to the U.S. from Costa Rica, we had a second stop in Panama, this time...

...on a Sunday (when our favorite spot, La Luncheria, was closed). So we tried eating at our second choice, Green Tea House, located very close to our hotel, near the streets called Gaspar O. Hernandez and Andres Bello. I liked the look of their Chinese menu and food photos online: egg rolls, steamed dumplings, dim sum, yum!  However, this place can't easily accommodate a group larger than 3 people. Most tables are set up for a maximum of 2 people, and the little tables have about enough room for a cup of tea and a saucer-sized portion of food, and would be crowded with enough saucers for 2 people. The maximum capacity of the entire place is about a dozen guests, along the walls and outside under the roof.

When I afterwards looked more carefully at their review photos, I saw that all the food pictures were of dim-sum sized plates:  three or four bites and you'd be done. I probably should've taken a hint from the name: it calls itself a tea house, not, you know, a Green Tea House and Overflowing Buffet. 

Anyway, this wasn't a place for us to get a hearty meal for a large family, and it wasn't going to be cheap, either.  And we'd still be hungry afterward. So, considering that we had been there over 5 minutes without being acknowledged, we just got up and left, and made our way over to our second choice for that day. Unfortunately for us, we had our tastebuds set on some excellent Chinese food, which was going to prove difficult to find in El Cangrejo neighborhood.

Green Tea House, Panama City, Panama


Lucky Find
After a short walk we arrived at a small, random Chinese place barely a block away, called Restaurante Golden Dragon. I was intrigued because it looked like a bit of a hole-in-the-wall (which can either be a very good, or very bad, sign), and although we were standing right in front of it, my phone wasn't showing it on Google Maps. We were headed somewhere else at that moment, but we decided this place would be our new choice, since it would avoid a 20-minute roundtrip walk to where we were actually going.

So anyway, we found this invisible Golden Dragon place and saw its "Open" sign all lit up, and the doors wide open on a Sunday afternoon. However, when we excitedly crossed the street and entered, we found the place was cold, dark, and vacant except for one elderly gentlemen who looked very surprised to see us. The countertops were all empty, as were all of the tables. It was obvious no food was being prepared that day. We smiled and looked from him to the "Open" sign, then back at him. He grumbled a few words to himself and stood up. Instead of greeting us, he shuffled over to the "Open" sign and flicked the switch to turn it off. We took the hint, and left.

A Long Search
So we tried making our way to our next option, which was also a Chinese food spot. This involved a long, hot, humid walk. On this walking tour of places where we could not eat, we passed a few places that looked like they might have something edible - but they each looked expensive, sketchy, or empty, or some combination thereof.

I'm so, so unlikely to sit down to eat
at a place that has zero customers...

For example, we saw one spot where a solitary large man was smoking a cigar and watching soccer over a beer and some chips, and a lone waitress was leaning on a column just staring at him. This joint looked kind of like it might have food, but referred to itself as a "bar" on its sign, and the large man and the waitress both just gave us a hard stare as we passed by on the sidewalk. So, we kept going, hoping that the next Chinese place would be open.

Soon thereafter we passed a steakhouse, with its name in English (not generally a sign of great prices, in Latin America), and it exhibited the additional red flag of being entirely empty. Its sole employee was standing around smoking a cigarette and looking forlorn, in the valet parking area. So we kept walking.

Almost There...
So we forged onward on foot to our next choice. It was another Chinese food option listed on Google Maps. This one was called Old Beijing, which sounded pretty good. When we got there after a long, sweaty trek, we found an entire building that was undergoing major construction, and all the shops had been hollowed out. Based on the photos of the exterior posted on Google Maps, this could not have been the right location for this business. In other words, Google Maps had led us to a dead end; there was no restaurant here.

Thanks for the long pointless walk, Internet!
But there's no such restaurant anymore...
We were looking at a tall building, whereas the published exterior photos were of a one-story structure. Of course, we looked all up and down that street, on both sides, but this wasn't even the right block, and therefore may not have been the right street, either. Street signs were not generally visible, anywhere we walked that day.

So Hungry We Could Eat a Wagon Wheel
At this point we were getting pretty desperate for food (this lunch was going to be our first hot meal that day, and, it was already early afternoon). We had made a long travel day of it, leaving Costa Rica in the wee hours to get to Panama. I was feeling very frustrated, walking from place to place, leading the family along with not-very-inspiring phrases like, "Okay, just one more place, and it's not that far," only to find, at each and every place, that the place didn't seem to exist or was otherwise unworkable.

We had been up since 3am to catch a 4am shuttle to the airport. We had eaten a small ham and cheese croissant on the plane at around 630am, and this endless quest for lunch was occurring from 1pm to about 2pm that same day.

Finding our most recent choice to be the victim of an incorrect map pin, and thus, nowhere to be found, I had to step in to a convenience store to get out of the heat, and away from the street, and poke around on the smartphone for about five minutes, mostly stepping in the place just to try not to lose my cool. Finally I found one last meal option, which also happened to be yet another Chinese option, and, it was even within a 5-minute walk. But I vowed that if this place didn't work out, we'd be boarding an Uber XL for the nearest McDonald's.

And We Almost Did Eat One
So we ended up at our fifth choice restaurant, a Don Lee located on Via Veneto. Don Lee is a chain of Chinese fast-food restaurants. The service here was ludicrously slow. It's fast-food style - we could see and hear the microwave beeping in the kitchen - and yet it took 45 minutes for our order to be prepared.

For US $55, we got a family meal which was a tray heaped full of fried rice with chicken, and another entree consisting of some of the tiniest fried shrimp I've ever seen (these shrimp were one step up from brine, and a family-sized pack of them were served with approximately two tablespoons of dipping sauce for the entire order). It came with a handful of skinny fried wonton sticks, and a round of rice-based drinks flavored with lemon. We added on some pretty disappointing dim-sum (the white steamed buns with the BBQ pork inside - one of my favorite foods, usually - but these were pretty lackluster). We had a little food left over, and none of the things we ate was very good.

Don Lee: When You're So Hungry 
You Just Don't Care Anymore

We ate there mostly because we were beyond hungry, and were pretty much all out of options. On the way out of there, just at the next corner, we found a McDonald's, and I was almost (but not quite) disappointed that we hadn't just eaten some sad hamburgers instead.

This McDonald's also featured, by the way, the most disgusting sight I saw on any sidewalk anywhere in Panama (which is saying quite a lot, as this is a city with some fairly distressing dumpster contents on its sidewalks). There was a fast food dumpster concealed by a little swinging door, and oozing out of the dumpster area, and flowing right across the sidewalk and into the street, was a horrendously stinky mess of thick, viscous, pink slime. It called to mind my childhood...but, um, not in a good way.

I haven't seen slime that pink since I was into TMNT

Getting Uber-Frustrated
To cap off an imperfect day, when I tried to order us a car via Uber for the ride back to the hotel, there was no cell phone signal in the restaurant, perhaps because we were in a skyscraper canyon. The restaurant had strong wi-fi, but two attempts at signing in both failed. It was one of those wi-fi services that makes you fill out a long, needlessly complex form with your personal information (name, email address, age, phone number, favorite non-meat pizza topping) and consent to terms and conditions, then after 2 minutes of processing, it tells you that it was unable to complete the login process, without explanation - the implication being that you probably did something wrong and should try again.

So with no ability to call an Uber, and no taxis in sight, we started the 20-minute hot walk back to the hotel, and after a couple of blocks I had service again. So I advised the family to hang out in the shade by an empty shopping mall, and I'd get us a ride. Uber advised the driver would be there in 9 minutes. We briefly debated whether it was really worth waiting 9 minutes to avoid a 20-minute walk.

My "It's only three dollars" stance prevailed. While we thought about it and discussed it, pretty soon 3 minutes passed, but the estimate of the driver's arrival stayed "9 minutes." One of the things I love about Uber is that it shows you when the driver has started and when the driver is still sitting in the same place as at the moment your offer was accepted. This driver wasn't moving an inch. At that point I started searching for the "cancel ride" button and we started walking. I found the "cancel ride" button but Uber treated this as a "return to previous screen" request, ignoring my cancellation request.

Why can't Uber provide an accurate wait time estimate?


I tried three more times to cancel it, but to no avail.  "Your driver is 9 minutes away," Uber assured me, for the umpteenth time. I tried closing the app for a moment, but as soon as I relaunched it a few minutes later, Uber yet again assured me that my driver was only 9 minutes away. I really didn't want the driver to track us down three or four blocks before the hotel, so I just rebooted the phone, in the hopes that this would send a cancellation signal via the forced closing of Uber and yanking the power to my location-reporting service. After restarting a couple of minutes later, I launched Uber again, and it assured me, "Your driver is 9 minutes away." Argh!

By this time we were almost back to the hotel. I turned the phone off for a while, feeling pretty confident (at least 90%) that the driver wouldn't attempt to go pick up someone whose location dot had disappeared from the map. And yet, hours later, when I turned on Uber to try to order a ride to the airport, it wanted to know if it was my intention to cancel the ride and incur a "small fee" in an undisclosed amount. It was not my intention per se, but the "small fee" was unavoidable, particularly considering that the alternative was to continue to wait an endless "9 minutes" for the driver to never show up.

Best Place to Eat in Panama City with Kids on a Sunday
The winner is:  uh...well, it beats me!  We tried a great many places, and would've been far better off just ordering a pizza delivery. If you find something better, please let us know!

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