As a culinary knight errant, I’ve long sworn fealty to certain California Mexican food establishments — the finest eatery overall is Taco Mesa, the best burrito can be found in San Luis Obispo at Chile Peppers, and I’ll be blanket tossed if there’s a better chile relleno than those served by Las Golondrinas, where the chicken enchiladas are also well worth your while. Lest I come off as an Orange County partisan, I hasten to add that El Conquistador on Sunset Boulevard just east of the 101 Freeway offers by far the best metro LA margarita (and that Albuquerque denizens might try the Territorial House).
In the course of spreading this message, I’ve lived for stints in Paris, Seville, Washington DC and New York City. None offered any Mexican establishments I’d patronize were they plopped down in California, a fact that particularly grated in Manhattan. How hard is it to make a good taco? Why was I forced to spend my graduate school years — a time so amenable to burritos, nachos and fine tequila — in a city that offered everything an urban dweller could want save South of the Border cuisine? (And don’t even get me started on the abomination of combination Mexican/Chinese takeout.)
But I was wrong! Though I suffered through more subpar, overpriced Mexican meals than I care to remember, venturing as far as Queens and Jersey City, and annoying friends by constantly tilting at the local fare, I’ve just now discovered a Manhattan taco worth eating — were it plopped down at the end of the Santa Monica Pier I’d pay for parking, brave the crowds and walk the planks for the pleasure of eating there again and again. The establishment is Pampano Taqueria, where 7 varieties of hearty tacos are offered for around $3 apiece. So far I’ve sampled the Carne Asada, the Pescado, and the Alambre. All excellent, as are the three fresh salsas on offer, one of which is legitimately spicy!
Directions: Get consulting gig that forces you to work, and thus eat lunch, in midtown Manhattan. At breakfast, get fruit cup and breakfast sandwich at the ingenious-if-your-expenses-are-being-covered Pret A Manger, an establishment that would vanquish Starbucks if not for the recession, and that might anyway. This start to the day will allow you to take a late lunch, avoiding the awful crowds that swarm Midtown East at noontime. Exit your building around 1:15 pm, take a left on 3rd Avenue, walk north past 48th street, and start looking on the east side of the street for a nameless building at 805 Third Avenue. Enter through the revolving door, look quizzically at the office workers and security guards, turn right through another door and descend the escalator to the food court in the downstairs atrium.