Living it up --- or should we say, chowing down? --- at the Hotel California
by Eric Jackson
The Hotel California on Via España is one of those budget hotels --- inexpensive, but by the many accounts I have heard, clean and comfortable --- thats very popular with, among others, Peace Corps volunteers when they get time off to come to the city. (This must mean that the hotel side of the business isnt like in the Eagles song of the same name, because the volunteers eventually make it back to their posts in the outer boonies, which wouldnt happen if you can never leave.)
It also has a little bar and restaurant on the premises, which is an unpretentious but good place to do breakfast or lunch. (They also do dinner, but I havent tried that one yet.)
On previous visits I went for chorizos, patacones, coffee and orange juice breakfast, and for sandwiches and orange juice lunches. (They always have fresh juice, served in reasonably sized glasses, and its always orange juice and one or two other selections. As in REAL orange juice, not the sugared chicha that you get from the store in cartons that purport to contain orange juice.)
Call this a Saturday brunch. It was about 11:30 in the morning and I was knocking off for a bit after five hours working in front of a computer. They stop serving breakfast at 10:30, but I wasnt entirely in a breakfast mood, either.
I was on a modest budget, but even were I not, there wasnt anything on the menu for more than $9. The Hotel California isnt as cheap as street food from the kioskos near the Ministry of Economy and Finance or the Hospital del Niño, but this is an inexpensive restaurant.
I splurged, or at least attempted to do so. Alas, no ceviche, so I skipped the appetizer course. (I dont say this to complain. In my experience, the eateries that dont have certain things that are listed on their menus on any given day are usually places that pay attention to quality control. Its very easy to freeze ceviche and take it out to thaw in the microwave when needed, but so much better to have it fresh when available and not at all when its not fresh.)
So take the ceviche away and I was down to chicken spaghetti and a glass of orange juice. It came with a basket of garlic toast.
The spaghetti sauce was slightly watery and the thick spaghetti noodles al dente. There were hunks of chicken within, and they brought a shaker of parmesan cheese with the meal. The condiments on every table include salt, pepper and a little bottle of DElidas yellow aji chombo sauce.
So I went heavy on the parmesan cheese, kicked up the heat a bit with about five drops of aji chombo sauce and had a very tasty brunch. I left the garlic toast for the end, when I used it to sop up the remaining sauce. The orange juice was my vitamin C fix for the day.
Can you beat that? Well, of course --- even at the Hotel California. But Ill go back for the pulpo, the langostinos or the filete some other day.
(And actually, I could make a plausible journalistic excuse to go back. This place is not far from PRD headquarters, and on this Saturday morning one of the tables was surrounded by a group of Martín Torrijos apparatchiki, who were exchanging war stories from the campaign trail and making their prognostications for some of the less noticed legislative and local races. I always find that the inexpensive places where the campaign workers go to be better locales to get real information than the upscale restaurants where party leaders hang out.)
After May 2, the campaigners will spend less time in the neighborhood. However, as the Hotel California is a short walk from The Panama News office, Ill still be in the area, and I will be back there to dine.
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