This post is also available in: Spanish
By Craig Weincek
When they were discussing opening a restaurant, Ken Kress told his partner Yamilca Valdez that they ought to “open a burger joint because there just weren’t any good hamburgers available.” The result is California Burgers and Beer, immediately across the PanAmerican Highway from the Coronado Mall. This popular, informal and small restaurant offers what many of the locals along the beach claim are some of the best burgers in Panama.
Kress, who was a surfer dude born and raised in California, claims that he does not have to import the beef, but rather knows how to season and cook it correctly and uses fresh –never frozen– Panamanian meat. He also has a fresh fish burger and a veggie burger available.
Customers “get to design their burgers themselves.” When each customer arrives, Valdez hands them an individual printed “Build-A-Burger” menu. Patrons circle what they want –either a half- or quarter-pound burger, California- or Caribbean-style (which is spicy, but not hot, with added peppers mixed in).
Toppings are selected from a list that includes grilled or raw onions, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, mushrooms, jalapenos, pineapple, egg, pickles and bacon. The cheese choices include cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and pepper Jack. The result is no two burgers alike.
While “burgers” is in the name of the place, they also offer fried or grilled chicken, lasagna and fresh corvina or snapper. There is also a selection of salads, from the regular mixed garden variety to Greek and chicken salad to their special “Don Juan,” their version of a chef’s salad. The sides are the standard bar food French fries, fried yuca, patacones or onion rings.
They also serve tall glasses of natural juices, from lemonade and pineapple to more exotic papaya or guanabana. The beer is ice cold and reasonably priced. Even piling on the toppings, most customers will find that their home-made meal will cost little more than ten bucks.
California Burgers and Beer is closed Tuesday and Wednesday during the rainy season with hours of 11 a.m. to around 9 p.m. from Thursday thru Monday. Reservations are not required but their phone, when operating, is 345-9985.