El Ultimo Refugio

Nobody really knows exactly when Katherine took over El Ultimo Refugio. According to her, it had to have been either 2006 or 2007. I say let’s call it 2006-07, much like an NBA basketball season. At any rate, whenever she opened, it has since been a whirlwind of success and what is for sure is that she is proud to keep serving up her version of “American-Caribbean Fusion” as she calls it.

Katherine came to Bocas from Washington D.C. and took over the Ultimo Refugio with a partner, but has been running the restaurant herself for the last 4 years. She finds it exciting to build her menu based on whatever is fresh and readily available on the island.

“Bocas is hard to get the produce you need so sometimes you just have to fly by the seat of your pants,” says the owner and head chef. Katherine is a huge proponent of healthy entrée size salads that utilize the locally grown fruit and vegetables as well as taking advantage of all the fresh fish in Bocas. After all, we are on an island.

This month’s featured dish is Ultimo’s Sesame Seared Tuna Steak. If there is fresh tuna in Bocas, then it’s on the menu; and if it’s on the menu- I strongly suggest you order it. I’m a huge fan of eating tuna raw, but even better is when it’s seared: seasoned and cooked on the outside, but still raw on the inside. The tuna comes with ginger, wasabi and soy sauce so don’t be shy about adding even more flavor to your fish. Accompanied by purée and sautéed vegetables, this dish is certainly a favorite of many who frequent the Ultimo Refugio.

Aside from the top notch quality food at the Refugio, the restaurant has got an ultra-cool vibe. It’s set over the ocean and you’re surrounded by tropical plants. It’s also a place for local artists to showcase their work. Everything from the tables to the walls is adorned in paintings, recycled material art pieces and wooden sculptures from local chainsaw artist Bubba Daniel. You can also expect to be entertained by live music acts on any given night.

Katherine is thrilled that people still come even though the roof leaks when it rains and the waves sometimes crash over the floor. I know personally that a little rain will never get in the way of me and my tuna steak.

The owner-chef herself is actually currently on a little hiatus from the restaurant, as Katherine recently gave birth to healthy baby boy, Taj. In the meantime guest chef Benjamin Jones is filling in. He has a different style in the kitchen, but patrons do not seem to be disappointed. Many are raving about his filet in blue cheese fondue with crispy fried onions, which Katherine claims will stay on the menu upon her return.

When asked about the future of Bocas del Toro and El Ultimo Refugio, the boss lady had this to say:

“Bocas seems to be growing. I have seen that my business is getting busier and busier every year and we hope to continue our success into the 2014-2015 season.”


Nicholas Corea is the editor of the Bocas Breeze. He wasn't born in Bocas, though he got there as fast as he could. He is just one of the many foreigners who became enamored with the islands. His mission is to provide the community with news that unites and inspires, while sharing with the world the magic that is Bocas del Toro. Mr. Corea likes to extend his gratitude to everyone who makes The Bocas Breeze possible- starting with YOU (the reader).

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