The Best Place for Fish in Panama Has the Weirdest Name
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Peach Fuzz International has nothing to do with peaches and everything to do with seriously tasty seafood.
By Allison Yates
If you want to truly savor the best fried fish in Panama City, you have to leave your pride at the door. Or, rather, under a red metal awning that shades tables placed over handicap parking spaces.
Because at Peach Fuzz International, you’ll likely leave a clean plate — whatever it takes to get there. Once you’ve cut through the crispy skin to expose the tender silky sea bass, you’ll scrounge for every last morsel of edibleness, even between bones. And if there’s any “special sauce” lingering behind on your plate? Here’s why your pride wasn’t invited: You will pour the excess liquid directly into your mouth, catching the drops as they ricochet off your chin and land on your clothes. (Those brown spots staining your shirt — you might consider licking them too.)
Just a few years ago, you wouldn’t have come to Curundú — you might still get cautioned today.
Panama City’s renovated historic district, Casco Viejo, whose burgeoning culinary scene has gained international attention, is already known for its seafood. However, just two and a half miles north in Curundú, you’ll find better. Surrounded by Soviet-style cinder-block apartment buildings, Peach Fuzz has an exterior sign that reads simply “Pescado Frito, Fried Fish.” Inside the partly open-air restaurant, chef and owner Danny (who prefers only his first name be used) and his four sous chefs (who know the recipes, including the “secret sauce” of 17 spices and three liquids that took 20 years to perfect) are behind the counter preparing plates for the steady stream of patrons.
Just a few years ago, you wouldn’t have come to Curundú — you might still get cautioned today. Dilapidated houses, fires, gangs and domestic violence have stigmatized the already marginalized community, historically composed of immigrants. By the time Danny — also called “Mr. Peach” by local kids — opened Peach Fuzz International in October 2013, the neighborhood was already on the upswing. “A lot of families come here,” Danny explains, “and when you see families enjoying themselves, and they’re not in a rush to leave, it gives you a warm feeling.”
There’s neither air-conditioning nor a bathroom, and you won’t find a cocktail menu here. But who needs frivolity when you can eat on the street with the wind in your hair, serenaded by passing cars blasting reggaeton bass, while shrieking children play soccer across storefronts and car lanes.
In between frying and sautéing seafood in his pinstripe apron, Danny goofs around with customers, answers the phone and waves at neighbors. The Panama-born U.S. transplant returned to his home country one year for his birthday, and party guests raved about the fried fish he served instead of the traditional arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). After cooking his fish for other events, people started to take notice and urged him to open his own place in Curundú. Not long afterward, in a space owned by Danny’s aunt, Peach Fuzz International was made a reality.
Initially, Danny served only fried fish, but per customers’ requests he expanded the menu. Now, he’ll make anything you want, based on stock from his daily 4:30 a.m. run to the fish market. Arrive early to get patacones rellenos (stuffed fried plantains with seafood), clams drenched in special sauce or garlic shrimp and lobster. Panama-based tour guide and blogger Joey Bonura calls it “seriously the best fried fish I’ve tried in Panama.”
So what’s with the restaurant’s weird name? It’s partly from a nickname once given to Danny by his barber — he brought the fruit to demonstrate the haircut he wanted: bald, but not completely, a bit of “peach fuzz” covering his head. And “international?” That’s because of Danny’s dual citizenship.
“My customers tell me they feel at home — they feel comfortable here,” says Danny. Therefore, messy eating is encouraged.
Go there: Peach Fuzz International
- Location: Calle Q, Curundú, Panama City. Near the Juan D. Arosemena Baseball Stadium: map.
- Hours: Open noon–8 p.m. daily (or until the fish runs out).
- Prices: $7–$35; cash only.
- Pro tip: It’s best to take a taxi or a ride-sharing service, but be aware drivers might be very confused why you’re headed there. Tell them to trust your judgment.
- Allison Yates, OZY AuthorContact Allison Yates