Located in the heart of Nolita, the Pan American’s ambiance mixes Mexican with flashy 60s retro in a wonderfully energizing way (though be warned: if you do not like the color turquoise, this may not be the spot for you) and accented with framed postcards of everywhere from Denver, Oaxaca, Havana, to Bermuda. With a spacious dining area and comfy seating, as well as a great bar area, we felt immediately welcome.
Co-owned by Fernando Riquelme, who founded Agua Dulce and served as general manager of Rosa Mexicana, Pan American also taps the talent of Executive Chef Harry Stoehr, who has worked at Sweet Baby Ray’s (home of the beloved bbq sauce), the CIA, and five-star kitchens on the Virgin Islands, makes seasonal and organic ingredients central to the menu.
Some of restaurant’s biggest draws are its cocktails. The Spiced Hemmingway, Rosey Palmer and Jack Handey all use natural juice to complexly sweet effect. The Black and Stormy, with Gosling’s rum and homemade ginger beer, was a standout.
The appetizers, including jalapenos stuffed with farmers cheese, and a duck confit & beet salad, were both excellent. The server warned us the jalapenos came with a serious kick, and they did, but not as tongue-torching spicy as she suggested. The light and refreshing ceviche, drizzled with lime, certainly cooled things off.
The restaurant offers a wide selection of vegetarian and gluten-free options that are clearly not an afterthought as they can be at some restaurants. This includes the kale chips seasoned with oil and crushed sunflower seeds, and served as a side (they rotate the vegetable chips daily), and the creamy tomato soup and butternut squash soup—both no-frills, but with fantastic flavor, particularly the tomato soup.
For more hearty veggie options, Pan American also offers gluten-free mac n’ cheese, and jerk tofurky on the entrée menu.
But we decided to eschew the vegetarian options for our main. I went with the beef skirt steak and braised oxtail (medium rare), while my date opted for the plantain-encrusted striped sea bass. Both were prepared wonderfully with very fresh and satisfying flavors. My only complaint would be that the baby spinach was a bit salty.
Stoehr has spent time in the pastry kitchens of New Orleans, and it shows in the quality of Pan American’s desserts. The apple fritters were a light and flavorful departure from the greasy dough-chunks with which one usually associates the word “fritters.” The molten chocolate cake, with a mild chili spice in the center was outstanding.
A wonderful option for a drink and small plate before a night out, or for a full multi-course meal, Pan American is a tour stop worth making.
Photos: Aphrodite Brinsmead
The Pan American
202 Mott Street
New York, NY 10012