Lili was cooking at the Buena Vista when one day they ran out of the house hot sauce. Her boss asked her to make some of her own. A guest comes in the next day and asks for something spicy and Lili (Lilly) tells him that she has just the thing for him. Well, apparently this gentleman has been around the world and has tried every hot sauce and that her sauce “can’t be so hot.” He comes back 3 days later, out of breath, red like a tomato, with a crazed look in his eye and says to Lili, “You’re killin’ me, man!” He thought he was going to die, but of course he wanted to take bottles of her sauce back to his country.
Today I find myself in Lili’s Café, the one and only home of the “Killin’ Me Man Sauce”. I’m probably red like a tomato too as I sit down for a chat over a spicy omelet with the saucy mama herself.
Lili’s Café is so many things. It’s a restaurant over the water with beautiful views of Solarte and Bastimentos and the bustling boat traffic between Bocas Town and Carenero. It’s the host to ritual gatherings of musicians and music lovers from around the world. It’s a truly unique eatery run by a lovely family working as a team to keep the food delicious and everybody who steps foot on the dock smiling.
The restaurant was opened in 2005 by Lili and her daughter, Frida, who was 9 years old at the time. With her 9 year old partner and 9 chairs on the dock, the young family started working together since the beginning. Nowadays, you can find Lili’s 9 year old grandson Angel taking orders and running food when it gets really busy. The passion and beaming smiles seem to run in the family.
Lili’s is a popular breakfast spot in Bocas town; serving omelets, huevos rancheros, gallo pinto, pancakes, and fresh fruit. They also feature quite a varied lunch and dinner menu with everything from ceviche, jerk chicken, chile con carne, black eyed peas with smoked pork ribs, chicken, beef and lobster burritos, and 4 different types of lasagna (including fish lasagna).
It’s Caribbean food, throwing a lot of coconut, lemongrass, and ginger into the mix. Well known for Lili’s Killin’ Me Man Sauce, this little café is also the purveyor of “Cequila”, which is what you get when you mix Tequila with the lime juice marinade of the house ceviche.
Cequila is Barry’s invention. Apart from being Lili’s loving husband and the “man of her dreams”, Barry is that mysterious bald man on the harmonica at the notorious “Sounds on Saturday” open jam night. It’s been a long withstanding tradition for all the musical talent (and lack thereof) to get together on Saturday nights and make some noise. Few can deny that Bocas del Toro just wouldn’t be the same without the Cequila-fueled nights of friends and strangers coming together to enjoy what they love.
“It’s great because musicians come from all over and there’s not just any one sound. [Barry] doesn’t care who comes and who plays what, just as long as everyone is having fun,” says saxophonist Shannon Scully, one of the many talented musicians who frequent the Saturday night jam nights at Lili’s. Anyway, back to the woman of the hour.
Let’s be honest, Lili is a soul woman. There is so much love and happiness in her heart and you would have to be a fool not to notice this if you’ve ever been encountered with her infectious smile. Is it because she has a successful restaurant run by her beautiful family? Is it because she married the kind of man she had been longing for ever since she saw her first cowboy movie? Is it because many attest to the fact that “Killin Me Man Sauce” is a potent aphrodisiac? If you ask me she’s got a lot of reasons to smile and she has her own theory:
“You grow happiness. You create happiness. And then you live happy the balance of your life.”
Beautiful words from a beautiful woman. Please don’t be afraid to drop in on Lili and family and enjoy all the good things they have to share with you. It’s a great place to grow some happiness.