Every once in a while you hear about a place that’s so hip you wonder where it attaches to the thigh bone. It’s a place for those who are in-the-know, super-cool, and in possession of other hypthenated adjectives. So when my world-traveling friend L (whom I go to school with in the UK, but also lived in NYC for 3 years), made me a list of must-dos and -eats in the city, I knew she’d be a veritable fount of insider information. She gave me not one, but two gems (the second of which will be detailed in an upcoming post).
The first restaurant is La Esquina, or the Corner. I like to think of it as a Mexican speakeasy. At first glance, this restaurant on the Lower East Side is very obvious to spot: its name is emblazoned in neon lights and a theatre marquee touts the yummies on offer. There’s a walk-up takeaway window and inside is a narrow diner-like seating area to enjoy their tacos, tortas, and other selections. However, the secret is revealed when you approach the bouncer-looking dude standing in front what could be the door to the broom closet. Ask him for a table and he’ll open the door, direct you down the stairs, through (yes, through) the kitchen, and into the dimly lit basement bar and brasserie. Surprise!
It’s a small space and booking is definitely advised. However, the night I ate there we showed up relatively early (7pm) and were lucky to score a table right away. My dining partner was E, a friend from Hong Kong whom I hadn’t seen in two years. There was a lot of catching up to do and it was imperative the food was as great as the gossip. We ordered small plates and sides to share and La Esquina did not disappoint. (On a side note, as it was so dark, I’m sorry the photos are of variable quality. I’ll have to figure out a good setting for “speakeasy”.)
Some of our favorites included the taquitos, which are not the fried version (aka flautas), but literally, little tacos (taking on their “-ito” suffixes nicely). I especially like the pulled pork (front) which were exquisitely juicy and tender. The pepper and pickled onions added a nice tangy crunch as well.
Another highlight were the fried plantains covered with salsa verde and queso fresco. The mild salsa and creamy cheese combined to become almost like guacamole and I devoured each bite thinking this dish was genius.
Last, I’d definitely recommend getting the elote callejero, or grilled corn (pictured at the top). I know everyone raves about the corn at Cafe Habana just a few blocks away, but to be honest, this one had the cotija cheese, the chili powder and the lime – and it tasted just as good! Given that I liked the other dishes here better than those at Cafe Habana, my own too-cool-for-school insider tip is this: If you’ve only got time for one Mexican meal in town, make it at La Esquina.
La Esquina (The Corner)
114 Kenmare Street (between Kenmare and Lafayette)
646-613-7100 (You can book 21 days in advance!)