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209 East 49th Street
Pampano 1 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay

Pampano is the perfect escape from the bustle of 49th Street. An adapted townhouse, the restaurant has three dining areas, but the standout is, without question, the second floor patio, where I sat down to talk to Chef Lucero Martinez about her coastal Mexican food.

Lucero is from San Miguel, Mexico, and she describes herself as a self-caught cook. She learned recipes from her mother and aunt, and gained experience in the restaurant industry by working her way up from prep cook to chef. Lucero was the chef at her family’s restaurant in Atlanta for many years, until she decided to make the move to New York in search of bigger challenges. In 2010, she was able to realize her dream while working at Pampano as a sous chef, swiftly being promoted to chef de cuisine.

Lucero describes her menu as “coastal Mexican with a modern twist.” She adapts many of the recipes from her childhood, using gestures to other culinary traditions to make the food feel contemporary and fresh. One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is a take on the classic Mexican cactus salad – Lucero’s version is topped in tender octopus, with a lemon oregano dressing and black olive caramel, a delicious nod to Greek cuisine. In another dish, Lucero adds hazelnut to a classic mole sauce recipe. “It’s like nutella instead of chocolate,” she explained.

I was convinced that I was not in Manhattan at all, but rather sitting in the backyard of a Mexican casa, as I sat down on the terrace to sample some of Lucero's creations. The atmosphere and Lucero’s food is truly transporting, creating an oasis in the center of the city. In the ceviches sampler, each dish is an inspiration. The Camaron features shrimp in a habanero sauce with cilantro and red onion, while the Atun accents the fresh tuna with poblano and ginger. The halibut and seafood ceviches are equally delightful.

The majority of Pampano’s ingredients are sourced and shipped directly from Mexico, but Lucero remembers a time earlier in her culinary career when it wasn’t as easy to get the specialty items required for authentic Mexican cuisine. Back then, she would rely on family and friends to bring back the particular ingredients she needed. Fortunately for Pampano, these days Lucero is able to import the items she requires – from fresh squash blossoms to huitlacoche, a “Mexican truffle.”

I asked Lucero what her plans are for Pampano in the future, and she told me that she wants to keep taking risks. “Now that I am comfortable, now that the customers are comfortable, I want to surprise them,” she said. To that end, she recently added grasshopper tacos to the menu, served with a tequila pico de gallo.

Dinner at Lucero is certainly an experience, however, it is brunch that particularly intrigued me. Unlike most other New York restaurants, Pampano’s "bottomless brunch" does not offer unlimited alcohol. Instead, hungry customers enjoy as much food as they desire in a two-hour sitting, choosing from a wide selection of small plates or family style dishes.

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Pampano 1 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 2 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 3 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 4 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 5 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 6 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 7 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 8 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 9 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 10 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 11 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay
Pampano 12 Mexican Midtown Midtown East Turtle Bay

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Opened in 1992 and originally located on the Upper East Side, Oceana moved to 49th Street in 2009. The Livanos family sowed the seeds for the glorious Oceana long ago when they ran a diner and realized their ambitions to develop it into something more. Having worked hard to make their dreams a reality, Oceana continues to pride itself on the freshness of its food and makes a point to have direct relationships with the fish mongers and farmers. Although some have called Oceana the Mecca of seafood, the restaurant's menu is notably diverse. The executive chef, Ben Pollinger, takes to the broad reaches of American cuisine and mixes elements of different dishes together, often in an unexpected way. The Manhattan Sideways team eagerly sampled a few of the marvelous dishes, including the Copper River Sockeye Salmon Crudo, featuring pickled ramps, parsley oil, and Amagansett sea salt, and the Sea Scallops Ceviche that is topped with peaches, ginger, and cinnamon basil. I was pleasantly surprised by the incredible vegetarian dish that the chef also prepared - Summer Squash & Cranberry Bean Salad, consisting of zucchini, gold bar and pattypan squash, pignoli, purslane and drizzled in lemon vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious. The last member of the Oceana team that we were introduced to was their wine director, Pedro Goncalves. Pedro, who began working at Oceana in 2001, makes a concerted effort to develop drink pairings to accompany the delectable food menu. Standing near the white marble bar, he proudly told us that Oceana has 1100 wine listings and 600 spirits. He went on to report that with forty-seven different gins, Oceana has one of the largest selections of in the city. "There is something to fit every personality, " Pedro said.