reviews of tacos!

La Esquina

New York NY (Soho-Nolita)

114 kenmare st (at lafayette), new york NY 10012
mon-fri 8am-1:45am, sat-sun 12pm-1:45am

La Esquina

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Rating: 90
Price: $$$$

December is here, and that means it's time for the annual "winter solstice preparatory taco binge." While I've got no particular numerical goal in mind, I do hope to eat nine tacos for every one graduate school application I complete (meaning I've got my work cut out for me in several respects). Since my arrival in New York, I've revealed my passion to tacos to most people I've met; the most consistently recommended place, apart from the general Sunset Park region, is La Esquina.

While I've been meaning to check out the place for a while, I rarely venture more than a couple blocks from my East Village home, leaving La Esquina sadly out of the loop. However, sometimes the gods look down on me with a smile. My business associate Nina recently owed me a favor, and offered to repay the debt with tacos. With my ever-tactful mind for negotiations, I managed to get not only 3 La Esquina tacos, but also a Mexican hot chocolate out of the deal on a cold December night.

La Esquina, first and foremost, has a really cool sign - I've always been a fan of colorful lights. They also claim to be three distinct taco options at one location - a walk-up window for take-out, a small counter-style dining room, and a nightclub of some sort in the back. At 7 o'clock on a Monday night the take-out window was closed, so we headed inside to the dining room. There was a lady guarding the entrance to the bar and she had a clipboard, so we made no attempts to enter. The place was busy, but not so busy that we couldn't snag two of the ten available seats.

We placed our order for five tacos. I went with one each of bistec, lengua, and papa, nopales, y choriza; my business associate got two aguacate con queso. The tacos came out quickly, after just a few minutes waiting. They came pre-garnished with salsa, which is always a controversial method when serving to a control freak. The sauces were mild enough to not create a huge impact on the overall flavor - good news in some ways (augmentation was available in a variety of commercial salsas along the counter) but also left me wanting more. The tacos themselves were also somewhat unusual, being served on a single tortilla rather than the traditional "double-down".

The fillings themselves were well-prepared. Nothing was overly greasy or gristly, and the meats were all tender and flavorful. The asada was a particularly nice cut of meat, just the right amount of chewiness to make eating them an experience to remember. The lengua was vastly different than my experience at Mildred Deli Grocery, being shredded rather than cubed, and on the whole much better. The amount of crazy add-ons is what sets La Esquina apart from the pack - my tacos had stuff like cabbage, cheese, and black beans on them. While they may detract slightly from La Esquina's street cred, they certainly add a unique and desirable flavor.

One mystery arose, however, at the end of the meal. During my typical post-taco period of introspection, I realized I could not recall the presence of chorizo on my taco in the slightest. While Nina insists it was both there and sizable, I can only remember tasting sauteed nopal cactus. Perhaps this is a sign I'm losing my edge, and should step down from the throne of Benevolent Dictator; perhaps it's a sign that Nina's lack of sleep is beginning to affect her vision. Either way, this is a mystery that will likely remain forever unsolved (unless I die this evening and an autopsy is performed).

On the whole, La Esquina is a completely different experience than either Taco Mix or Zaragosa, but rivals them in terms of holistic delicious experience. It's a bit pricier than either, and in a rarely visited part of town, but definitely worth a trip if you're stranded in Little Italy, surrounded by pasta, dying for a taco.

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