Pampano Taqueria

When Chipotle opened up in the bottom of my building I spent a full week lamenting how bad Midtown (and even New York in general) had become for finding good Mexican food.  Of course, “Good Mexican food” can mean alot of things to alot of different people.  For me, it means there are a) no good burritos (hold the “cilantro and lime rice” please), and b) no good authentic tacos. 

If you need an example of what I’m talking about, go to Tehuitzinga on 10th Ave. (btw. 47th & 48th) after work one night.  It’s far west, but worth the trip.  It’s a tiny bodega that happens to have a small window in the back, where these two women turn out some of the best tacos I’ve ever had.  And by “best” I mean done the way they do them on every street corner in L.A. (where I spent the two years before I moved to NYC).  Nothing fancy… just good.  Two soft corn tortillas, some delicious meat (roast pork, delicious stringy beef, stewed chicken, etc), onions, cilantro and some salsa verde on the side.  Delicious!  No hard shell tacos served from a cart with a sombrero.  No fancy rice or grilled vegetables.  The real deal.

When I wrote these things a month ago, I got a number of suggestions for good Mexican food in Midtown- and they all pointed me to the same place:  Pampano Taqueria.  It was recommended to me as a great place, with delicious tacos and burritos, in the basement of this building on 3rd Ave. btw. 49th & 50th.  With visions of Tehuitzinga East running through my head… I ventured cross town in search of some decent Midtown Mexican!

My disappointment, happy surprise, pictures, and the +/- all after the jump…

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly recommend Pampano Taqueria.  It’s not the savior I was looking for- but I admit, any problems I had with the place were solely because of expectations, and had nothing to do with the food (which in the end is the most important thing.)  My first problem was, I couldn’t find the stupid place.  I saw a sign that said Pampano, on 49th st btw. 3rd and 2nd- so I went in and was surprised to find a pretty upscale, modern Mexican sit down restaurant with $11 and $12 lunch entrees.  This was definitely not the taco mecca I was looking for… 

The lady at the front kindly informed me that the Pampano Taqueria was in the Crystal Pavillion Food Court, which I could find around the corner.  I entered on 3rd Ave., went down the escalator, and found what can best be described as an “Under Construction” Food Court.  Now, I am a huge fan of the food court.  Always have been.  What’s not to like?  Something for everyone… There’s always the cheap Chinese food (with the free samples of orange chicken) for me- and then a bunch of other crap that my wife can choose from.  (Quite frankly, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t eat the cheap Chinese food.)

Anyway, this was easily the worst food court I’ve ever been in.  No cheap Chinese food.  No Japanese teriyaki place.  Not even a Chick-Fil-A.  And nobody giving out free samples of anything.  As a matter of fact, only three places were even open.  Some “fitness” health place that helps you to bulk up, or tone up or whatever, some other place that I didn’t even bother to check out., and Pampano Taqueria- a Mexican take out counter with food made in the fancy modern Mexcian restaurant upstairs.  All hopes of an authentic taco mecca, down the tubes.

That’s it for the complaints.  Here’s the good news.  Once I got over my shock of how nice a place it was (I was hoping for authentic… and by authentic, I mean dirty), I ordered a torta and a taco.  A torta is a Mexican sandwich usually stuffed with pulled pork or beef, avocado or guacamole, maybe some lettuce and or tomato, and sour cream.  This one was not the best, but it was in the better half of tortas I’ve had.  The roast pork, or chilorio, as it’s listed on the menu was delicious, and it came on nice crusty bread with guacamole and the flavor of cilantro.

The taco was a bit more hit or miss.  I thought the chicken part of the taco was a little boring… but the corn tortilla was the big star of the day.  You only get one, but that one tortilla is totally delicious- probably due to the fact that they are homemade (if they aren’t than they have a really amazing supplier).  3 tacos, with rice beans and a drink is a moderately priced $8.95… but you can only choose from carne asada, chicken or shrimp.  Based on my experience, the next time I go back- pork taco is the way to go!  They also have agua fresca ($2), a different flavor every day- made with fresh fruit.  I tried the melon one, which was clearly made with fresh cantaloupe.  Refreshing, and good.

The food is made fresh to order, so expect to wait at least 10 minutes for your order.  Right before I got there, a huge order came in, and I ended up waiting over 20.  I would recommend calling ahead to order, so you don’t have to wait.

THE +

  • Your options for cheap, quick Mexican are pretty limited and this is one of the best Midtown has to offer
  • Amazing homemade corn tortillas
  • Really good roast pork (if you are into that sort of thing)

THE –

  • The chicken was sort of boring… so if you don’t like pork, beef or shrimp, and you like your chicken stewed in plenty of spices- you may not like the chicken tacos at this place (on the flip side, if you like your chicken boring- they might be perfect for you!)
  • Really long wait during peak lunch times, if you don’t order in advance
  • Can get a little expensive depending on what you order… but overall it is really well priced
  • It’s not a dingy shack.  It’s actually part of a “Modern Mexican” food empire that includes restaurants in Vegas, NYC, Denver, San Fran & D.C.   I wanted a dingy shack!!!

Pampano Taqueria, Crystal Food Pavilion, 805 3rd Ave., btw. 49th & 50th.  212-651-5257

7 Responses to Pampano Taqueria

  1. Craig says:

    OMG! Someone in the Northeast who knows what Chick-Fil-A is. If only we could get them to build a franchise here somewhere, I would be in cheap eats heaven.

  2. Astoriette says:

    The chicken burrito is a bit lackluster, and I’ve had something else from there–a taco, maybe, that wasn’t that good. But the grilled veggie burrito is delicious. I had it today. Yum! Try it, even if you’re not a vegetarian (I’m not). It has a really good mix of flavors.

  3. jpbelmondo says:

    The chicken alambre, with manchego and poblano chilis, is better than the regular chicken, but it comes in a flour tortilla. That, the fish, and the pork are my favorites.

  4. Teenwolf says:

    Craig- There is a Chick-fil-A in Manhattan…but you’ve got to know an NYU student to get to it. It’s in their food court on University Pl btw Waverly and 8th St.
    Almost makes it worth signing up for a night class or something…

  5. Carnitas Lover says:

    As some one who likewise misses the taco stands of LA, I agree with your expectations in a Mexican place. Thanks for a bright spot in my day.

  6. julesj66 says:

    The construction going on in there is fairly new (I was there yesterday the 24th for lunch). It’s normally much better looking (and brighter) inside! I usually get the 3 combo taco sampler – the shrimp is the best of the bunch of the 3 choices – but if you throw enough extras (beans, sauce, etc) inside the chicken, it’s decent enough. Chips with extra salsa for later makes a nice dinner snack.

  7. […] I love burritos, and have often lamented about the fact that there is not a good one in Midtown (here, here, here and here).  More than anything that comes from past experience, and experiences.  I have had some truly great burritos over the years, that hold special places in my heart…  the Carnitas Super Burrito at Anna’s Taqueria (Boston), the Chicken Mole Burrito at Casa Diaz in Los Feliz (Los Angeles), the Baja Chicken Burrito at Baja Fresh (locations everywhere in the U.S. except Manahattan!), the Huarache I had two weeks ago at the Ballfields in Red Hook, and finally, the gigantor Carnitas Burrito at La Costena (Mountain View California)… it’s what all carnitas burritos aspire to be. […]

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