This post is also available in: Spanish
A fine-dining restaurant has recently opened in the small mountain town of Sorá in Panama province. Luky Aja, with a limited but quality menu, is welcome news for the full-time expats and the Panamanian weekenders who reside in the nearby gated community of Altos del Maria.
Until now, with only a couple of ‘fondas’ (basic food stalls) in operation, the residents of Altos del Maria (or Altoids among expat circles) had to drive down their mountain for an upscale plate. This meant a journey of over 25 kilometers before encountering a dining experience along the PanAmerican Highway. Now there is a reason for diners from the lowlands and beach areas to meander up to Sorá in quest of a satisfying meal.
Luky is located on the main street, open since the beginning of February and has a few more tables on order. Previously, a rather hapless Chinese restaurant occupied the space, which has been expanded and spruced up. Next door is the newly renovated and reopened small 14-room hotel renamed Los Helechos (The Ferns). The whole operation has the feel of a work in progress.
Both the restaurant and the hotel are family-owned with Dr. Raul García de Paredes, a retired physician, as the prime partner. Since the family lives very nearby in Sorapina, they certainly appreciate the potential and the limits of this unique location. So far, according to Hiram Guerra, the head waiter, plans are optimistic with breakfast, lunch and dinner offered seven days a week.
During a recent visit, our party enjoyed a prompt greeting and attentive service throughout the evening. Short menus are trustworthy, especially in a place off the beaten track. Chefs Sara Gonzáles and Andrés Restrepo spice things up with daily specials. Our table sampled both a creamy pumpkin soup and a spicy ceviche for starters and found both to be above average.
We then each ordered something different. One of us had the salmon special seared in butter with a soy and wine sauce. Another had the pork chop, a generous portion cooked in red wine; while another guest enjoyed a tender filet. I savored a fresh covina with an unusual but tasty potato topping. Since all the entrees are priced between $9 and $12, our foursome considered the well-presented meal to be an excellent value, including the wine. A diner at an adjoining table, who still had room for desert, reported that the chocolate cake “was light and scrumptious.”
Future plans include expanding the dining experience to outside by the large swimming pool behind the hotel with the possibility of special BBQs and expat socials. A recent successful ladies luncheon is proof that the staff is up to handling larger groups. Both the hotel and the restaurant have full free Wi-Fi access available.
Victor García de Paredes, an architect who designed the renovations and is opening a construction consulting company next door, explained that “Luky Ajá” (LOO-key a-YAH) is a slang expression that implies that they are serving what is fresh and in season and comes from the Spanish “lo que haiga” which loosely translates to “whatever’s on hand.”