Pampano Taqueria: Midtown’s Best Pork Tacos & Fish Tacos

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Notoriety through anonymity; a phenomenon strengthened by its own hypocrisy. What is it about a little-known establishment that makes it so much more alluring?

Well in a city where people pride themselves on having “a guy” or “knowing a place” that’s ideal for what you need, it’s no surprise that Midtown’s best pork & fish tacos can be found in the basement of an office building.

pork-taco-bite-close-up.jpg
Mexican style pulled pork with Pico de Gallo & guacamole ($2.75)

Find out why Pampano’s Tacos take the Midtown crown after the break.


Let’s get something straight right off the bat. All of you out there looking for authentic “California” tacos can stop your whining. NYC tacos will never live up to the California legend so give up the dream and embrace what we’ve got. Or just open a California taco spot.

Also, I’ve eaten tacos at Tehuitzingo and Tulcingo del Valle and neither place impressed. Tehuitzingo’s tacos are not good enough to validate the dingy, dirty kitchen. Tulcingo’s strengths are their sauces and entrees (they have a restaurant attached to the deli). Chile Rellenos and a dish of Chipotle Chicken were both flavorful, filling, and affordable.

That being said, let’s breakdown what New Yorkers expect from a great taco:

  • Fresh and flavorful ingredients. New Yorkers love something that excites the palate. Bland, unspiced fillings, despite their authenticity, do not entice.
  • Great fillings and sauces. I’m a sauce man. There, I’ve said it. Friends have disparaged me for over-saturating all of my food with condiments and sauces, but I say “F the haters”, it’s my meal and I like flavor! Vibrant cilantro, creamy guacamole, fiery hot sauces, unique salsa, and maybe some manchego cheese. We won’t use them all but we want variety. We like choices.
  • Solid Housing. Steamed, grilled, or cold, we want good tortillas that won’t fall apart when we’ve juiced up our taco.
  • Cheap prices. We’re all ready paying through the ear just to live here, our tacos shouldn’t be more than $3 each. Even that’s on the steep side.

So where does Pampano Taqueria rank in regard to those requirements? A+ across the board.

Fresh and flavorful ingredients ($2.75/taco):

  • Mexican style pulled pork – this is my favorite. It’s moist, juicy, and flavorful enough to stand on its own. Personally, I just add a little cilantro and onion as seen below. Then again, some spicy salsa, Pico de Gallo, and a little guacamole, never hurt as you can see in the lead photo up top.
good-pork-taco-unrolled.jpg
  • Sauteed King Fish with Napa cabbage & Chipotle sauce – this is my second favorite taco after the pulled pork. It’s also the only taco besides the pulled pork that has enough flavor to stand alone. The fish is sauteed and chopped and is delicate, flaky, and neutrally flavored. The Chipotle sauce is mixed with a little mayo and combines with the cabbage to create a slightly spicy flavor. The cabbage adds a nice crunch.
fish-taco-whole.jpg
  • Grilled Chicken – this is probably the most boring option. It’s grilled chicken, it’s standard, there’s nothing special about it. It’s how you dress it that makes this taco.
  • Mexican Style Shrimp with black bean puree – This and the vegetarian are the only tacos I haven’t had.
  • Carne Asada (grilled hangar steak) – see Grilled Chicken, all the same holds true. The hangar steak isn’t as gamey as you would imagine.
carne-asada-decorated.jpg
  • Grilled Chicken/Hangar Steak with Poblano Rajas (roasted & salted strips of poblano chiles, mixed with grilled onions and melted cheese) – as intriguing as this sounds, the poblano rajas isn’t very spicy and its overlying value is in the melted cheese, which is fantastic because, well, it’s melted cheese.
  • Vegetarian – Chile Poblano Rojas, onion, zucchini, and mushrooms

Great fillings, sauces, chips, and Aqua Fresca:

You may assume that with all the vibrant colors below, there’s no way everything can be as good as it looks. You’re wrong. Dispensed from decorative molcajetes, you can choose from three levels of hot sauce, three kinds of chopped vegetables, and some Pico de Gallo. Rice and black beans ($3.00) and guacamole ($1.50 small/$4.50 regular) can also be requested.

toppings.jpg

Pico De Gallo, chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro.

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Hot sauces: mild, medium, and hot, none of which is actually very spicy. They’re all pureed and taste fairly similar despite the obvious use of green and red chile peppers.

close-up-guac.jpg

Guacamole is thick and creamy and full of onion, cilantro, and tomato. It’s everything you’d expect from good guac.

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Corn chips are of the best variety: homemade. Corn tortillas are chopped into quarters and deep fried, making these chips a little greasy and a lot delicious. $1.00 for an extra order.

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Aqua Fresca which literally translates to “fresh water” is just that with natural fruit flavor added. It’s created by blending real fruit with water then pouring the concoction through a sieve into a container. You’re looking at the watermelon variety, which is freaking delicious. I’ve also seen pineapple and lime but have only tried the watermelon. The best version I’ve had of this Mexican staple was at the Red Hook Ball Fields.

Prices, Quesdillas, Burritos, Tortas, and Combo Meals

Prices are affordable. You can have a great lunch for under $10 especially if you do a combo meal. Here’s what you’re working with.

Tacos $2.75 – can be served on corn or flour tortillas, some are all ready specified so speak up if you want one over the other

Combo $2.50 – can be added to any individual item and includes white rice, black beans, chips, salsa, and any drink. You can get an individual order of rice & beans for $3.00, chips for $1, an Aqua Fresca for $2.25, and a soda for $1.00.

Tortas $7.50 – I’ve never had one, but this is the traditional Mexican sandwich and you can choose all of the taco fillings as a torta filling. Here’s a brief review from Midtown Lunch.

Burritos $8.00 – Never had a burrito from here either. All the same fillings are an option.

Quesadillas – Cheese $5.00, with filling $7.00 – these guys are monsters. Take a look at the pulled pork one below. It’s a beast and it’s packed tight with whatever filling you choose.

quesadilla.jpg

quesadilla-bite-unraveled.jpg

close-up-quesadilla-cross.jpg

YOU NEED TO KNOW…

  • It’s very important to note one major pitfall of Pampano, its hours. They’re only open from 11am until 3pm Monday to Friday. Not exactly prime for those of us who don’t work in Midtown.
  • Delivery is available but minimum is $25 and it’s only between Madison Ave and York Ave and between 42nd Street and 57th.
  • It’s also a bit tricky to find. It’s located in the Crystal Pavilion Food Court (map) at the bottom of an office building with the same name. It’s a bit tricky to find but if you follow these directions, you’ll be ok.
  1. Find the mirrored Crystal Pavilion entrance on 3rd Ave b/t 49th & 50th.
  2. Upon entering, make your immediate left down the first escalator that you can go down. You’re now on the level of the food court.
  3. Make a right and a right and walk straight towards Pump Cafe, make a left before the Pump and Pampano will be straight ahead.
the-shop.jpg

Pampano Taqueria

Crystal Pavilion Food Court
805 3rd Ave b/t 49th & 50th St.
New York, NY 10022
(212) 751-5257
Hours: Mon. – Fri. 11am – 3pm
Delivery: $25 Minimum, 42nd St. – 57th St./ Madison Ave – York Ave.
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26 Responses to “Pampano Taqueria: Midtown’s Best Pork Tacos & Fish Tacos”

  1. Celestialnyc Says:

    NYC FoodGuy-
    Great review. But, guess whats missing on that taco?:>

  2. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Celestial-

    Let me guess, it starts with “m” and ends with “ayo”? What don’t you put that on?

    I need a serious rundown of good spots in Flushing. You gave me some good recommendations on a previous comment but I need some good spots that would give me a real taste of everything in Flushing.

    I’ve been to a place called Spicy and Tasty and that’s it. Do you know anything about it?

  3. Celestialnyc Says:

    NYC FoodGuy-
    Of course i know of SPicy and Tasty. I’ve order several items on the menu here. Various sauteed veggies (shanghai bok choy), fish and pork. All the items here were cooked nice and spicy and good. You can always ask them to take out the spice if you can’t handle it, but if you are looking for something with a kick to it, come here.

    A tibit, you should try ordering some of the cold appetizers that are near the front door. All of them are worth the taste and are good. They have this spicy fish that really gives you a nice ‘after tingle’. When you eat it, it tastes nice and sweet on first bite, but then afterwards, your whole lip feels nice and numb. Great stuff!

    There are great restaurants in Flushing. Joe Shanghai’s is wonderful for their little steamed pork buns.

    Next to Joe Shanghai is a Cantonese place I swear by. But you have to get there early…otherwise there is a long wait.
    It;s called Imperial Palace (cheesy florescent lights outside) located on 37th Ave and Main. There are known for dungeness crabs over sticky glutinous rice.

    For dimsum there are lots of great places. Here are a few:
    1. Perfect Team Corp. Rest (corny name) also on 37th ave…upstairs.

    2. Ocean Jewels (39th Ave and Prince)

    3. Gala Manor (huge restaurant located upstairs – I think BUSY BEE mall is downstairs)

    For a little of everything you can try EAST Buffet. More expensive than the other places in Flushing…though.

    If you’ve never tried Malaysian food…you must try SENTOSA on Prince…right off Roosevelt Ave (across the Street from Flushing Mall Parking Lot)

    If you want a taste of a little but of everything all in on eplace and that is dirt cheap? Go to Flushing mall. They have a food court with a variety of amazing goodies. When your done pigging out, don’t forget to grab a baked japanese yam for the train ride home.

  4. DDR Says:

    FoodGuy – I couldn’t disagree more. I think Pampano is da pits. Totally bland meats except for the chilorio, which has some flavor, just not enough to make it worthwhile. All of their “hot” sauces are weaker than a single drop of Tabasco and are thin and watery. But the biggest problem (other than the very idea of a Latino place serving what tastes like boiled chicken) — Portions are muy pequeno and you can’t really leave with a full belly for under $10.

    Not sure why you claim otherwise because I don’t think it’s even a close call. In fact, I think 3 of their mini tacos with rice/beans, guac and a drink is closer to $20 than to $10. And even then any grown man will leave hungry. I went with a colleague who is not very critical and not very price conscious, but he still couldn’t believe that he paid $13 for a few tiny tacos with a few spoonfuls of rice and beans and a coke. We stopped on the way back at La Bellezza III so we could each get a slice.

    Celestial – why not start a Queens food blog?

  5. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    DDR-

    $10.75 + tax for 3 tacos, combo included.

    Note my title, it’s all about the pork taco and the fish taco. I don’t give much acclaim to the other varieties.

    You can go to Taco Bell on 3rd and 45th and get a lot more food for a lot less money, but that’s your perogative.

    I’m not doubting the weakness of the hot sauces, I noted that they all taste alike and none were very hot.

    But regardless, it all comes down to one question, excluding taco bell, where am I getting better quality tacos for this price in Midtown?

  6. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Celestial-

    Amazing breakdown. Thanks. Now you need to guide me further.

    What am I getting at all of these places?

    I’ve never had Dim Sum or Malaysian so I’m completely in the dark.

    And I’ve heard about some food courts in flushing but are all of the signs in native language? Which stands are worth going to and what should I get?

    Maybe we’ll do a little meet up and Flushing Food Tour. How does that sound?

  7. DDR Says:

    Yes, that’s $11.65 and you walk away hungry. Add in a tiny side of guac and an insultingly tiny “side order” of extra chips (which you don’t include in the math) and it’s $14.36 and still no guarantee that you’re entirely sated. If I’m spending $15 on lunch, which I do on occasion, it’s not going to be for this.

    If it’s enough food for you, or if your limit is higher, that’s obviously fine. But most guys are going to have to fork over at least $14 and still may not be entirely full.

    For me at least, the search continues. Calling Baja Fresh. Come in Baja Fresh.

  8. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    DDR-

    Chips are included in the combo as is a drink. If you’re nice to the guys, they’ll toss a guacamole in for free. But you’re right, it will be closer to 14 when all is said and done and I couldn’t agree more, that’s not acceptable.

    If you’re willing to spend the money once in a while though and want something different, I stand by my word, the pork and fish tacos are excellent. Forget the combo. Get four tacos for 12 bucks and take all those free side toppings and beef them up. You could do worse spending a similar amount of money at Blockheads.

    Forget Baja Fresh, we need a taco truck in Midtown. Have you had the guys over on 14th and 8th?

  9. DDR Says:

    I generally avoid meat from carts and trucks and, sir, I will never forget Baja Fresh. Qdoba is coming to my block and we’ll see what that brings.

    Yes chips are included with the combo but again it’s about 7 or 8 chips. As I mentioned, the servings are for dainty duchesses. Your best bet is probably a chilorio burrito with one fish taco + the combo. Still $14.36 but probably a decent amount of food.

  10. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Ive had Baja once. It was delivery and it was mediocre but I had the burrito and it wasn’t impressive. Moe’s isnt bad if you’ve had that, but also, was not impressed. Have not had Qdoba however.

    I’ve spent a guilt free $15 bucks at Pampano, however, and have been full. It’s all your state of mind. We’re never going to agree but I’m going to have to try a burrito and see if it’s worth the money.

    I used to be the same way, against the Taco trucks or any cart for that matter, but I’ve been swayed. I couldn’t walk past the Halal cart on 53rd anymore without seeing what the fuss is about. It’s not as amazing as everyone makes it out to be, but I also didn’t get Montezuma’s Revenge. I’ll post on the 8th Ave Taco Truck, you’ll see the deliciousness for yourself.

  11. Midtown Lunch » Midtown Links (The I Don’t have to work on Easter Edition) Says:

    […] “Superman” disses Tehuitzingo, praises Pampano Taqueria and gets in argument a valid dis… [NYC Food Guy] […]

  12. east Says:

    celestial knows best. east buffet is the effin SHIZ-NITE

  13. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    East-

    Sounds good. I’ve been to the East Buffet in Huntington, Long Island. My friend King of Ketchup lives for this place. You two would get along well. I’ll let him know about your love for east and he can recommend his top picks. What’s your top stuff there?

  14. Howfresh Says:

    Those hours don’t work with me at all- otherwise I’d definitely give it a shot. I’m not trying to walk to 3rd from 6th.

    Supertaco needs to park in midtown for the lunch crowd.

  15. Moose Says:

    I am a condiment FIEND myself. I love sauces and lots of flavor!!

    NYC Food Guy – these are my picks for places in Flushing.

    Celestial gave you some great suggestions. I”ll just elaborate on the places I’ve been to.

    Check out Sunway – corner of Prince and 39th avenue. They have fresh fruit bubble tea drinks and delicious Chinese dishes and dim sum at all times, though I wouldn’t recommend eating dim sum anywhere after brunch hours, since it’s probably won’t be AS fresh. Try their beef chow fun or any of their soup noodles.

    There is another Malaysian place on the same block as Sentosa on Prince St, diagonal from where Sentosa is. It’s called Malaysian House or something. Get the Roti Canai as an appetizer, which is this flaky/chewy/soft crusted flatbread paired with a curry-like sauce with chicken and potatoes. Amazing!! Chow Keuh Teow is a Malaysian classic – stir fried flat rice noodles w/ shrimp, squid, bean sprouts & eggs in a soy sauce chili paste.

    Go to Ocean Jewel for dim sum. My favorites are – roast pork bun, shrimp noodle (shrimp wrapped in rice noodles with sauce), sticky rice covered in lotus leaf (with sausage and beef in the rice), steamed shumai and beef short ribs. And lastly, I don’t speak a lick of Chinese so you have to be very stern with those ladies who try to sell you a dish they’re serving from their cart. If you must, shake your head yes or no very clearly. =)

  16. Mamacita Says:

    Tisk Tisk Tisk Superman, don’t be dissin’ Tehuitzingo.
    DDR keepin it real as always 😉

  17. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Moose-

    Those are some great recommendations.

    I’ve been told:

    Tung Yi Fung for Dim Sum

    and Shanghai Tide for dumplings of any kind

    and Nolbu Food for Kimbop

    How do you feel about any of these places or recommendations?

  18. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Mamacita-

    I have to keep it real. I still don’t know what the fuss is with Tehuitzingo.

    It’s a small Mexican Grocery that’s pretty grimey in the back where the tacos were prepared. I’m fine with that if the tacos are amazing, but they werent. They were fine, I didn’t get sick, but they definitely didn’t wow. Yes they’re cheap. Yes they’re authentic. But I have to draw the line at mediocre taste. I’m willing to spend a few more bucks for Pampano’s pulled pork.

    If I’m looking for Mexican Grocery tacos I’ll go down to Zaragoza.
    Check out my review of Zaragoza here

  19. Moose Says:

    I think you need to go to Sweet and Tart 136-11 38th Ave in Flushing. They have the best beef chow fun, and real fruit bubble tea. I’d go to Sweet and Tart over Sunway… I was just at Sunway this past weekend and the food was not as good.

    Nolbu kimbap IS good, and that location is a little bit further away from the rest of the places in the main street area. You can get kimbap at a place called Kimgahnae on Union St. and Roosevelt Avenue. You have lots of options- you can have one with bulgogi, tuna, spicy pork or spicy squid… a pretty filling meal for $4.

    Sorry, I have never been to Tung Yi Fung or Shanghai Tide.

  20. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Moose-

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll keep them in mind. I’m at a point where I have so many choices in Flushing, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m going to have to just try them all!

    What is bulgogi? What’s the best kimbap to get?

  21. Moose Says:

    Did you seriously just ask me what bulgogi is?? You are missing out!!!! If you’ve never had Korean bbq, you need to get to a Korean restaurant TODAY! Bulgogi is a soy sauce marinated beef dish, sweet and salty, cooked right in front of you, wrapped with lettuce, rice and delicious sauce, not to mention tons of side dishes!! You need to try kalbi(ribs), if you’ve never tried it.

    Any kind of kimbap is delicious!! Depends on what you like =)

  22. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Moose,

    Thanks for the lesson. It sounds awesome. Is kalbi a type of bulgogi or its own dish?

  23. BillyBob Says:

    In Flushing, Little Pepper (located in the old SPicy and Tasty location). Just as interesting as Spicy and Tasty (although S&T szechuan pork special with greens always makes my mouth water…) Very unusual dish at Little Pepper but spicy and good: Lamb with Cumin.

  24. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    BillyBob

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve is the pork dish the same as the shredded pork? I had that and some dumplings and the pork was okay not amazing but the dumplings were ridiculous. What should I get besides Lamb and Cumin at Little Pepper? Where are the best dumplings in Chinatown? Best Dim Sum? Best anything else worth getting?

  25. Lunch Outings at Pampano Taqueria and BLT Burger « The Wandering Eater Says:

    […] explain why. I remembered from NYC Food Guy about his post, claiming that Pampano Taqueria serves the best pork and fish tacos in Midtown. Since it’s not too far from where I work (it’s just two subway stops and […]

  26. NYC Tacos: Pinche Taqueria is Authentic & Flavorful « NYC Food Guy Says:

    […] was tasty but disappointing and the manager blamed it on a new fryer. I enjoyed it more than the Kingfish taco at Pampano Taqueria but I withhold my final judgement and put the opinion to my readers until a future […]

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