Among New York’s oldest eating and drinking establishments, the city’s oldest Mexican restaurant belongs to a little know establishment at 213 Pearl Street – Pancho Magico, owned by the Avila family since 1996, who modified the original name, Don Pancho, but have maintained the cuisine and atmosphere of its founding in the 1950’s. It represents another layer of the blocks rich history and is a New York culinary hold-out with development and changing demographics leaving, remarkably in a city of six thousand restaurants, only a handful of long established restaurant landmarks.
In 1956, according to NY directory listings, a German-Mexican by the name of Carlos Majorman opened the Mexican Restaurant Don Pancho (Inspired by the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa) in the second floor loft space of an 1830’s commercial building at 213 Pearl Street. Older patrons still stop by to reminisce about the “kind and handsome” restaurateur that did not use checks, but trusted customers to pay for what they ordered at the register. At the time, there were dozens of Spanish and Mexican restaurants in Manhattan, including two others that continue to operate – the highly rated El Charro and El Faro, both located in the West Village since the 1920’s. But these establishments changed to a Spanish menu and decor after the large influx of refugees into the West Village during the Spanish Civil War, leaving Don Pancho as the oldest and most authentic representative of Mexican cuisine in NYC’s restaurant world.
The establishment is currently owned and operated by the Avila family, lead by Jose (manager) and Arcadio (cook - hired by Mr. Majorman), who carry forward the tradition as Pancho Magico, serving the same authentic Mexican menu surrounded by the ambiance of old New York. The restaurant at 213 Pearl St., an 1831 neo-Classical warehouse, will soon be the last building left from the heart of New York’s early trade center.
Pancho Magico has carefully preserved the charm of its early days - from the interior decor, including its tight and uncomfortable booths, decorative iron lamps and Mexican prints, to its menu of home cooked Mexican cuisine, featuring old time favorites such as Hot Tamales and Fresh Tacos along with specialties like Shrimp Tampiqueno.