At Disneyland, a corn dog costs roughly $10. Ask someone who isn’t currently at a theme park in Anaheim if that's too much, and that person will probably say yes. But that stranger isn’t factoring in the feeling you get when you’re eating your food in the shadow of the Matterhorn, several feet from a Mickey Mouse impersonator who’s about 75% too happy to see you. At Disneyland, you’re willing to pay more because it’s an experience - and the same can be said of La Esquina.
La Esquina is an upscale Mexican restaurant hidden under a taqueria in Nolita, and when it opened back in 2005, it was where you went to see someone who’d been on the cover of People Magazine. Essentially, it was a cooler version of all the party restaurants in the Meatpacking District today, and when you called for a reservation, you expected to hear a no. Nowadays, some of that can’t-fake-it trendiness has faded - you’ll see a few more tourists here, and it isn’t too hard to get a table online. But there’s still something special about a meal at this place.
It starts when you walk inside. To get to the dining room, you give the name on your reservation to a doorman, then walk through a door marked “Employees Only” in the back of a little ground-floor taqueria. Next, you head down a flight of stairs, pass through a kitchen, then wind up in a dark room that looks like a dungeon renovated by a young couple who spotted a fixer-upper. It’s a fun space that tends to be dark and crowded - and if you have enough tequila, you’ll probably start to wonder if you are, in fact, in the brick-walled basement of castle where people come to celebrate everything from 25th birthdays to 20-year anniversaries.
As for the food, it’s similar to what you’d find at a very good neighborhood Mexican restaurant, just a little pricier. The barbacoa tacos are rich and flavorful, the carnitas ones easily earn a passing grade, and the plantains have everything you want from a bowl of fried, starchy bananas. The ceviches and aguachile clock in at just-about-average - so skip them, and order the pork shank instead. It falls right off the bone, and it comes with a side of tortillas that you can use to make DIY tacos.
At $27, that pork shank isn’t cheap - but it’s big enough to share, and you’re not just paying for the food. You’re paying to eat it in a secret basement in Nolita that, unlike Good Charlotte or a popped collar in a yearbook photo, has aged well over 13 years. If it’s your birthday, you can even get a dessert with a giant sparkler in the middle. Do you need this borderline-dangerous firework in your tres leches? Probably not. But it’s part of the experience, and that’s why you come to this taco and tequila-filled dungeon in the first place.
Start your meal with this. It’s a little pan of chewy, melted cheese with pepitas for texture and a little agave for some sweetness.
Some perfectly good grilled corn covered in cheese and mayonnaise. It isn’t essential that you have this on your table, but you’ll probably want it once you see some other people eating it.
If you want something light to share with one or two other people, order this. It’s a little fishy at first, but just let it sit in its citrusy sauce for a minute. After that, you’ll have some solid red snapper ceviche.
If you’ve been to a wedding or a special event where servers were passing out little crackers with tuna tartare, then you know what these tostadas taste like. They might sound appealing, but they’re not essential.
The tortillas at La Esquina are very good. They’re thick and soft, and they’re the perfect vehicle for some juicy barbacoa. These are the first tacos you should order.
These don’t pack as much flavor as the barbacoa ones, but they’re pretty straightforward examples of what you want from pork tacos.
If you’re considering the grilled fish tacos because you’re looking for something lighter, think again. It’s not that these are bad - they’re just boring, and you won’t remember eating them.
This pork shank is as tender as a quality Ryan Gosling performance, and it comes with rice, beans, and tortillas that you can use to make your own tacos. For some reason, you only get three tortillas at a time - but just look your server in the eye and say, “More please.”