Is it an oxymoron to have to call 21 days in advance and hear a busy signal for 30 minutes to make a reservation at a casual Mexican eatery? If the food were sensational, I can understand, but what’s all the hype about? Well, the secret entrance doesn’t hurt. From the outside, La Esquina looks to be, and is, a three-dollar taco shop. But if you report to a woman with a clipboard, she grants you access to the swanky brasserie below.
I think the most irritating thing was that every time I called they asked the same question: “Have you dined here before?” I could practically hear them scrolling through the VIP list. And, since I hadn’t, I would be given the same options as before: 6:30pm and 11pm. Nevermind that tables sat empty next to us for two hours when we chose 6:30pm. I’m on to your marketing ploy, La Esquina!
Nonetheless, everyone who served us was very pleasant, even when one of our party members got lost on the subway for 40 minutes. While waiting, we started with three types of mini tostadas [not pictured]: cangrejo (crab, mango, chipotle mayo), contramar (raw tuna, smoked chili aioli, and pepino), and tinga de pollo (slow-cooked chicken, avocado, chipotle pepper). The chicken was tender; the tuna was bland; and the crab tasted a bit off. (Note to self: stick with meat.)
Our friend arrived and we moved on to a tamal de puerco (pork, chile rojo, pico de gallo, crema), elotes callejeros (grilled corn smothered in crema), and a quesadilla de huitlacoche (Mexican “truffle,” roasted corn, mushrooms, queso oaxaca). The tamale and corn were great; the quesadilla was fine.
Next, taquitos: bistec (grilled and marinated steak, charred onions, salsa roja) and pollo rostizado (citrus-rubbed rotisserie chicken, cilantro, salsa verde). Did their job.
Finally, costillas de puerco (charred chipotle-guava glazed pork spare ribs, sweet plantains, escabeche) and ejotes (grilled string beans) [pictured at top]. The meat fell off the bone and melted in your mouth, but some complained the ribs were a bit sweet for their tastes.
The atmosphere is warm and festive, and the food is worth a visit, if a bit on the pricey side. If they ask if you’ve dined there before, give them my name.
Other NYC restaurant reviews:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It
Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off
Motorino v. Kesté: Neapolitan Pizza Pie-Off
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss
Maialino: Danny Meyer Does It Again
Marea: Do Your Homework
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City
Apiary: Hidden Gem
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew?
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ