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'Secret' Lunch Spot Hidden on Third Ave.

By Mary Johnson | July 14, 2011 8:11am
The facade of 805 Third Ave. doesn't provide any clues about the lunch spots hidden in the building's lower-level atrium.
The facade of 805 Third Ave. doesn't provide any clues about the lunch spots hidden in the building's lower-level atrium.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

TURTLE BAY — From the outside, 805 Third Ave. looks to be just another tall, glass office tower on the block between 49th and 50th streets.

But inside and down an escalator, the building holds a hidden dining gem packed with customers who discover it largely through word-of-mouth.

For most passers-by, this culinary oasis is tricky to find. There is no restaurant signage on the building’s façade. The only clue as to what’s inside is frosted lettering on the front doors that reads: “Open to the public.”

For those who find their way, the building, known as the Crystal Pavilion, houses a variety of options. Silo Café offers salads and sandwiches. Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine serves up Latin favorites like fried plantains and oxtail stew. J&V Pizzeria has been making pies since 1950 (although they are new to the Third Avenue location). Urban Lobster Shack specializes in lobster rolls, and Pampano Taqueria is the take-out version of Richard Sandoval’s restaurant Pampano, also located in the Crystal Pavilion but on the first floor. 

For the most part, this stretch of Third Avenue is not known for its dining options.     

“It’s like the Sahara Desert for food,” said Yelena Nesbit, 33, who works nearby.

Nesbit discovered the lower-level atrium only after someone told her about it. She has since become addicted to Pampano Taqueria. “They know my name, and they know my order,” she said. “And when I changed my hair, they noticed.”

Urban Lobster Shack is also attracting a steady stream of dedicated fans, according to its owner, Rony, who declined to give his last name.

“No complaints,” Rony said. “Our business is thriving.”

Urban Lobster Shack, which has another location on Stone Street, opened in the Crystal Pavilion last year.

Although word-of-mouth seems to be attracting business, Rony is taking it one step further. Three times a week, a man stands out in front of the building handing out menus dressed in a lobster costume.

There are no tables and no chairs in the atrium, so customers need to get their food to go or else grab a seat on the edge of one of the planters throughout the space. One pair on Wednesday chose a spot facing a piano being played on a raised stage in the center of the space.

“It’s so relaxing with the music,” said Mine Cebrian, 30, pointing toward the pianist sitting at a baby grand.

Wednesday marked Cebrian’s first time in the Crystal Pavilion. She learned about it from her lunch companion Richard, 36, whose co-workers shared the dining secret with him.

For Richard, who declined to give his last name, the allure of the space is less about the food—he brought the salad he was eating with him—and more about the music and the relaxing atmosphere.

Wednesday also marked a first-time visit for Minah and Peter, who both declined to give their last names. They work three blocks from 805 Third Ave., and Peter said he found out about Pampano Taqueria after conducting an online hunt for decent Mexican food in the neighborhood. Now, after spending a lunch hour inside the atrium, they are planning to come back.

“It’s not that crowded,” said Peter, using a taco chip to scrape the last bit of salsa out of a plastic cup. “And there’s live music.”

“And the food’s good,” Minah added.