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 Tehuitzingo 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 Tehuitzingo 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.


  • 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 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


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I’m an L.A. transplant as well and for the last 8 years I’ve been on a constant quest for authentic Mexican food in NY. I’m convinced that it just doesn’t exist. I tell my co-workers this, and they say, “Why don’t you go to Chipotle?” which either sends me into a fit of laughter or fury (depending on the magnitude of my Mexican food craving).

    I only work about three blocks from Pampano Taqueria, but I rarely eat there, because they are so gosh-darn SLOW!! I’ve only gone there about four times, each time I’ve had to wait well over 20 minutes for a couple of tacos! It’s ridiculous. Even if you call-in ahead of time, there’s bound to be some type of mix-up with the orders and you’ll end up waiting for them to fix it!

    Everytime I meet someone from Mexico living in NY, I ask them if they can suggest a good, authentic Mexican restaurant. I have yet to try these, but here’s what I’ve heard so far: Santa Clarita (for their Tacos Al Pastor) on 103rd & Lex./ Florence Trece on 107th & Amsterdam / Las Mexicana Picante 138th & Bwy / El Toro Partido on Bwy btwn. 139th & 140th

  • I’m from the West Coast as well (although, not California but Oregon) and I miss my neighborhood (well, really practically next door to where I used to live) taco stand… I just can’t seem to find any place here that can duplicate it at all… I tried Chipotle once here a few years back for the first time and they completely and utterly failed. Now whenever I go back, I usually hit that place a couple times a week.

  • I’m actually Mexican, born there and raised as such, I do recommend El Toro Partido on Bwy btwn. 139th & 140th. You know what makes this place authentic? This is the kind of place that serves Mexican food for Mexicans, its not an Americanized Mexican restaurant in midtown. I also wanted to make a correction, this is NOT an accurate definition of a torta “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”. A torta is characterized by the refried beans smeared on the bread and always has tomato and lettuce (unless of course you run out). Also, we dont put sour cream on our tortas nor on our tacos, I’ve never seen anyone do that in Mexico, the sour cream is reserved for the chilaquiles or enchiladas.

  • I, too, had trouble finding the place. I was actually in the upstairs lobby and turned around after seeing a closed escalator and columns wrapped in brown paper. You’re better off entering on the 50th street side near the corner of 3rd ave and going downstairs. I’m pretty sure some of the inhabitants of the food court were mole people, and the two guys behind the counter appeared to be Mexican hipsters. I don’t know about authenticity, but the burrito I had was far better than Burritoville or Chipotle. Very satisfying.

  • has anyone ventured out to Queens? There’s are a few good eats there. I know this website is midtown related but outside the city there are also good places to eat if you can’t find it in Manhattan.

  • Try El Paso Tacqueria on the upper east side. Very authentic. Delicious tortas, the best in the city. I don’t know about their burritos though.

  • Based on this article I tried Pampano Taqueria today (by the way, they have opened a Sophies there also). 1 chicken, 1 pork, 1 carne asada. All were good, but the pork was the winner.

    On an unrelated note, my other favorite recent find is Empanada Mama. Not sure if ML has covered it, but the place is fantastic.

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    In the spirit of Mexican food…

    New York finally has some decent and authentic Mexican food to feed the stomach and soothe the soul :)

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    Since when does Pampano Taqueria use flour tortillas for their tacos? I went today specifically because I wanted real corn tortillas, and was very sad when I got back to my desk and opened my bag to discover lame flour tortillas. I’m hoping this is a temporary thing…

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    I’ve been frequenting Pampano since 2008 and from my experience they’ve always used flour tortillas, which is why I don’t often order the tacos.

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