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“La Esquina”

  Occasion: Cuisine: Area: Cost: Rating:
  Night Out Latin/Mexican Soho Moderate Great

There are three parts to La Esquina, the new taqueria, café, and gothic, candle-strewn subterranean Mexican brasserie owned by a quartet of restaurant power-brokers: Serge Becker (the designer behind spots like Lure, Bowery Bar and Time Café), James Gersten (formerly of Ken Aretsky’s restaurant group, a restaurant consultant, and an owner of Pearson’s barbecue), Derek Saunders (an architect), and nightlife guru Cordell Lochin. Together, these guys have put together three spaces with fiercely cool scene, terrific food, and dynamic allure.

Let’s begin first with the corner taqueria that occupies a triangular building on the island that is Kenmare Street, below Spring Street. The taqeuria reads “The Corner,” and feels run-down, in a warm and well-loved way, like it has been there for decades, run by natives of Puebla in East LA or Baja. Tacos come out in perfect form. Stuffed into steaming corn tortillas you will find gorgeously marinated hunks of pork topped with pickled onions and jalapeños (Conchinita Pibil), a messy pulled chicken (the Tinga) stewed in chipotle and adobo, topped with shredded cabbage and salsa roja, that is seductively satisfying as the taco heats up your hands and the juices drip down your chin, and sweet, flaky skewers of char-grilled fish (the Pescado) topped with a zippy salsa verde.

All tacos are grilled up right before your eyes as you wait in the slim wood-paneled room, equipped with a window-seat counter for people watching. A good plan is to grab an Agua Fresca—fresh watermelon is a nice choice (though not as good as a recent batch that a certain special someone made for me the other night before he cooked me a phenomenal dinner), and take a seat at the counter, as I did one steamy night last week, and take it all in. The people I watched on a recent evening at the taqueria were all quite extraordinary to look at. I felt as though I was watching a casting call for the next Gucci ad. Women the width of pencils and the height of Redwoods, in oversized Aviator sunglasses, were dressed in tank tops and slim jeans at the $275 price point. They lingered out on the benches with boyfriends clad in vintage CLASH t-shirts, and similarly distressed jeans and Aviator shades. Everyone looked like Lenny Kravitz and Giselle Bundchen. (Yes, I was clearly out of place.) There is a very high hip factor at this urban joint. It is lazy, cool, and hot. Think Café Ha ... [more, click below]

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