David, Panama is a necessary stop on the Pan American highway. For folks traveling between Costa Rica and Panama City or to the tourist hotspots of Boquete and Bocas del Toro, all roads lead to David.
Our trip landed us in David for a couple of days. Our most memorable experience was the small enclave of food stalls we stumbled upon our first night. 10 or so small permanent stalls stand under an awning in a parking lot off one of the main drags. Each stall is staffed by women, and they all serve pretty similar fare. Even with the same dishes, some stalls are obviously more popular than others. Cue the first rule of street food: always eat at the most popular stands!
Our vendor, a woman as sweet as her sweet baby corn fritters, happily give us the full 5ft x 3ft tour of her delicacies and introduced us to some Panamanian specialties: fried savory doughnuts (hojaldre), the best empanadas I’ve found thus far, simmering albondigas de res, and a wide assortment of fried meats and offal. Almost everything is prepared ahead of time and then refried in one of two large cast iron pans. One pan is reserved exclusively for fresh fried doughnuts—a treat so scrumptious and delightful to watch frying that they deserve there own venue.
Not only was everything delicious, but it was pretty cheap too. For 3 dollars we walked away with two fried doughnuts, a large freshly fried chichorrón, a piece of fried pork shoulder, one fried corazon, two empanadas, and a lemonade. All served on two heaping paper plates and eaten curbside about 10 feet away.
If you find yourself in David for longer than a bus connection, make sure you find the street food.