That Time I Went to a Panamanian Restaurant and Almost Left Brokenhearted » VSB

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That Time I Went to a Panamanian Restaurant and Almost Left Brokenhearted



In this age of foot-faced presidential swampdonkeys, culture vulturing ho-ass racial stowaways, and mediocrity-masking alternative facts, a number of things are inarguable:

  1. Shawn is the LaTavia of the Wayans clan.
  2. The rent is too damn high.
  3. While Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes are wretched, gorgeous bite-sized tragedies, their banana pudding might could fix Ben Carson.
  4. Withholding gravy is a crime against humanity.

Argue with deez nuts.

Gravy—sauce in general, technically—is a gift from Almighty Saint Damita Jo Jackson, the First, and must be given abundantly. Always. Sure, a bombastic curry chicken situation can be delicious. But bathe that same chicken appendage in a majestic sauce situation, and it becomes life-changing. The right gravy could help En Vogue quit the silly shit, axe that rebound so and so lady, get it the fuck together, and continue being great together, rather than split into blessing-blocking bickering factions.

Which brings me to my latest dance with disappointment.

Every now and then, when life gets unjiggy, I hop on a magic school bus to Washington, DeeCee and hibernate in the wilderness (usually my homegirl’s house in Hyattsville, Murrland) for a few days to recharge. There is much rest. And a fireplace beside which we drink ginger tea and luxuriate, laugh, and plot greatness. New York can be skressful, and sometimes, I need a break from the cat-rats, sidewalk-blocking tourists, and wayward Eugenes on Citibikes.

And there is always food. On a recent trip, I began a steamy affair with the glorious fried catfish sammich at America’s Best Wings in DeeCee. Fish sammiches remind me of growing up in Hampton, where I’ve eaten about 92,000 fish sandwiches in my life. Bonus points for the sensible, sturdy bun. With some french fries with some Old Bay?


patti praise



It’s now part of my self-care tool kit. But that’s not why we’re gathered here today.

As my sisterfriend and I are both halfroPanamanian, we’d been curious about what appeared to be the only Panamanian restaurant in DC, Esencias Panemañas, over by Howard where the brawny young tenderonis roam. It was spacious, bright, colorful, and empty. The tables were decorated with drawings of molas, the colorful traditional embroidery and women’s blouses made and sold by the Kuna Indians in San Blas, Panama. The walls had photos of Panamanian and a map of the provinces. She was real cute.

I was absolutely famished, my nigga. After much internal turmoil, I went with the rabo de buey, oxtail with onions, peppers, and a tomato chutney moment, atop some white rice, maduros (fried sweet plantains) and “micro greens,” which, SPOILER ALERT: were nowhere to be seen in my bowl. (see picture at the top)

To their credit, we arrived minutes after the lunch special had ended, and were initially told we’d have to get the dinner portions. We deflated. Our waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned to tell us the chef gave the thumbs up for the lunch menu. Boom.

Okay, so the rice worked. This is no small feat. I’ve been working on my rice for thirty-two years. They got the plantain right. Thankfully. Because all plantain is not created equally. But that first bite of oxtail was like an employer-mandated likeability- and executive shitbaggery-focused weekend retreat led by Sean Spicer: arduous. Sure, there was a splash of gravy on the rice, and the meat wasn’t quite Madonna-well-of-creativity level dry, but they could have at least used more sauce to distract from the Taebo workout required to enjoy it. Dry oxtail just feels hateful. It’s hard enough being a Black-ass freelancing homothug here in the land of anusmouthed dumpsterhearted demagogues. I don’t need to struggle with my oxtail. Give us us free.

If I had to fight through the larger dinner portion, disappointed but smiling through it anyway, I would really be getting my Angry Black Man on right now.

My homegirl enjoyed her arroz con pollo and yuca al mojo (yuca in a garlic and onion sauce), though. Oh, and the tamale appetizer was muy delicioso and reminded me of the sacks of tamales my grandmother used to bless us with back in the day. Yet another thing I must master to tuck into my Good Husband Toolkit, for later.

When researching the restaurant, we saw a few posts about their Ron Abuelo cake. Ron Abuelo is the rum that sponsored many of my poor decisions while living in Panama. (That, and my newfound embrace of reefer.) Their food was well received but that damn cake was clearly the star of the show. The Janet in a room of Britneys, if you will. I’m rarely excited by liquor-bearing desserts, but since I was in my feelings about being assaulted by the aggressive, hateful wintery fuckshit outside, I needed something to remind me of sunshine and happiness in Panama.

We ordered one to share. I was skeptical, having just slain dragons and fought for a fortnight to get into that rough-and-tough oxtail meat. But unlike Meek Mill, that cake is a winner. ‘Twas roughly the size of a large muffin. Warm, light, airy, and just sweet enough. I tasted the rum. I don’t know how I missed that they had homemade Grapenut ice cream (before you make a screwface, bitch, it’s amazing), but that would have set the whole motherfucker all the way off. Still, it was like paid bills, booty rubs, and an A Different World marathon down pon the fireplace on a cloudy day. I instantly regretted sharing. It saved the day.

I need to have that cake in my life every time I’m in town. That’s going to be somebody’s birthday gift. We asked, and it’s available as a nine-inch or half-sheet. And perhaps one day while strung out on reefer, I’ll order a niner for myself and gain some more cushion as a result and I’m totally fine with that.

The lesson here is: always ask for more gravy and if they refuse, call Homeland Security.

Filed Under:
Alex Hardy

Alexander Hardy is the dance captain for Saint Damita Jo Jackson's Royal Army. He is a writer who escaped Hampton, Virginia and is now based in Panama City, Panama. There, he runs The Colored Boy, and consumes copious amounts of chicken. He has written for, CNN, Gawker, and Huffington Post among other outlets. Alexander can likely be found daydreaming about his next meal or Blacking It Up on someone's dance floor. He also doesn't believe in snow or Delaware. Read more from Alex at

  • Cheech

    Mmmm, gravy ….

    • nillalatte

      I see you trying to be “FIRST!” lol

      • BrothasKeeper


  • miss t-lee

    Yuca al mojo though.

    *homer drool*

  • Mr. Mooggyy

    Americas Best FTW! Fish Sammiches be on point!

    Back to reading…

    • That sammich was like a kiss from a rose on the gray or something.

  • cdj

    I’m sorry to hear about your oxtails. That’s weird; they pretty much make their own gravy when you cook them.

    • Yeah, I was disappointed because people raved about them online.

      • Charles Johnson

        i never had oxtail but my friend loves them. Are they that good?

        • Dee

          No, they’re gross. I always hated those ox tail my mother and the rest of the fam loves them. You’re not missing out on anything.

        • StillSuga

          Well cooked oxtail is heaven

          • Michelle

            For me, I am very picky about my oxtails. And not every person knows how to make them. I’ve had some horrible oxtail meals before.

        • NonyaB?

          What? Please repair your life immediately by making arrangements to let some oxtail in ASAP. Yes, it’s that good. Make sure you get it done well by a friend or very recommended resto.

          • Charles Johnson

            “please repair your life” – those words would’ve left me for dead if it was directed at someone else. But being that it’s towards me, it hurts a lil bit.

            • NonyaB?

              You know it was delivert with love and it hurt me more to hear of a life bereft of oxtail!

              • Robert Dotson

                Bereft……NIce…(in my FABO voice)

              • Charles Johnson

                Ole is sensitive in these streets. Hahhaha

          • Mr. Mooggyy

            Why did I imagine you sucking your teeth when you said this!?

            • NonyaB?

              Maybe because I did?! I was outraged by the suggestion! ?

          • Spicy Kas

            Not all oxtail is good oxtail.

            • NonyaB?

              You know it!

        • Spicy Kas


        • Ms.Moon

          Oxtails are expensive, but worth it; you are paying steak prices for mostly bones and little meat. I can’t eat beef anymore but oxtails are one of the few beef things I miss. It is very delicious and when they are cooked just right you can enjoy chewing up the bones it is heaven. When I cook oxtails I stew it a little first to get it brown, then put it in the pressure cooker to get it soft and I stew beef on the side to stretch it then cook them together at the end so the beef tastes like oxtails it’s the only way my family gets oxtails because it is expensive now.

        • miss t-lee


        • Rastaman

          I you like stwewed bones that look like meat then yeah they are good. Otherwise like crab legs they are too much effort for too little reward.

      • cdj

        :-( I’ve been disappointed like that before. Since I left the NY Metro area, I finally just learned to cook my own oxtails — and yellow rice, pernil, and plantains (tostones and maduros).

        • Swap out the pernil for some pollo al horno, and we can be best friends. :)

          • cdj

            My chicken is hit or miss, for some reason, if I cook it the regular way. But I do this one recipe where I cut the backbone out, marinate it, and grill it flat, under a brick. So good!

        • Jeanette Johnson

          Native New Yorker here. My mom makes the best oxtails Ive ever eaten Lol. Once you get outside of New York the food just don’t taste right.

          • cdj

            I know! The first time I ever had oxtails was at my friend’s mom’s house. They’re from Trinidad, but they live in the Bronx. I’ve also given up on ever finding any good Italian food.

      • MsCee

        Gotta be careful with those online reviews, many a hipster have led my a s s astray. Had me eating baked BBQ cause you can’t tell me that ish had ever seen the dark side of a grill, lmfao….not even a George Foreman.

        • LMNOP

          Also, it could be relatives of the cooks and people who own the restaurant. If my kid ever owns a restaurant, I’m leaving all good reviews, no matter how the food is.

          • MsCee

            That is very true.

      • wanderlust

        Next time you’re in DC try Sandovan’s (Jamaican spot) on Georgia ave (towards Maryland). I promise you- their oxtails are divine.

  • BrothasKeeper

    I’m curious about this Grape Nut ice cream.

    • Brooklyn_Bruin

      Grape nuts in sweet cream or vanilla. The gravel calling itself cereal is tamed by freezing

      • BrothasKeeper

        Yeah, I was wondering how concrete pellets could be softened like that.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          In my fantasy Jamaican ice creamery, I do a mash up of rum raisin, grape nuts, and mango chunks in a coconut base. We’ll discuss the plantain split at later date.

          • My name is Alex and I approve this message.

            • BrothasKeeper

              I approve the approval.

          • Val

            That was confusing for a second. It was like BB was talking to himself. Darn monikers beginning with “B” and both wearing suits are to blame.

    • Holy Room

      Why I think of the honey nut cheerio comment KG made. Oh well

    • Grape nut cereal alone is fish food. But in that ice cream, it’s legendary.

    • It’s DA BOMB DOT COM.

    • Spicy Kas

      Don’t know but if you ever get a chance to get your hands on Devon Stout, take advantage.

  • Mr. Mooggyy

    There was just the right amount of shade in this write-up! Kudos!

    Now, as for that Ox Tail, why does it look like it could be used as a hockey puck?

  • BlackMamba

    That oxtail looks sadder than O’Reilly.

    • AKA The Sauce

      He not sad though…he got 25 mil

      • Mr. Mooggyy

        as for that oxtail tho…

        • BrothasKeeper

          Broke as a joke.

  • Simms~

    I have never NOT enjoyed a piece by Alex. That said, this was LOL good.

    • LMNOP

      Food and laughter, two of the best things in life. I love Alex’s writing too.

  • Zil Nabu

    I don’t eat oxtail but them plantains look like you should share them with me.

    • BlackMamba

      I’ll take the rice!

    • Hugh Akston

      Wayt those are the plantains you want? Those things look like they lived in hades before they were delivert

      I make plantains weekly…those aren’t plantains

      • Zil Nabu

        Slightly crisp edges with a wet, chewy middle. Looks perfect to me.

      • Ah, the tostones versus maduros debate…

        • I’ll take all of the above. But I’ve seen many a nasty argument over this.

          • miss t-lee

            All of the above!

        • Hugh Akston

          There is no debate lol

        • Simms~

          I prefer maduros myself but will eat tostones as well. No discrimination over here.

        • miss t-lee

          Both of em are good. Why is there even a debate?

          • LMNOP

            There is enough room in my stomach for ALL kinds of plantains. I just saw a picture of baked plantains that has me wanting to try that too.

            • LMNOP

              See how these baked plantains you can fill with other delicious stuff too, and they’re probably healthy too.

              • Namia

                now your my country we roast them too..just goodness

                • LMNOP

                  Mmm, that sounds good. I need to try that. I’ve never had a roasted vegetable I didn’t like.

            • miss t-lee

              Oh man. I may need to give that a whirl.

      • MsCee

        I swear I was searching for the plantain. I thought that was a chicken wing. No lie.

        • Hugh Akston

          Yeah don’t know how folks eat them…I tried but that’s rough if that’s all folks know

      • BrotherYou’reRight

        Thinking the same thing. They look over riped and sucked a lot of the oil

    • BrotherYou’reRight

      Those plantains looked over riped. Hate fried overriped plantains.

  • RW

    “Madonna-well-of-creativity level dry”

    I shall try to remember this for every conversation I have henceforth and forever, amen.

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