This is one of our favorite times of the year, simply because corn is in season. And while we often do nothing more to it than cut it off the cob and eat it raw with a little bit of salt, we’ll never pass up the opportunity to eat elote, or Mexican grilled corn on the cob. It’s probably the best thing to happen to corn since melted butter, and we’re fortunate enough to work within a short distance of two restaurants that know how to do it justice. So earlier this week we went to La Esquina and Café Habana to see how they fared against one another.
Our first stop was La Esquina, where the corn comes wrapped tightly in foil and sealed with a sticker bearing the restaurant’s name, just in case you forget where you just spent $3 on an ear of corn.
The problem is that once you unwrap it, you quickly discover that all of the good stuff — namely the cheese, chili powder, and mayo for which the corn is a mere mode of transportation — has come off of the corn and adhered to the foil. So you’re left with what is basically a piece of naked grilled corn.
But at least it’s pretty fantastic grilled corn, with just enough char and row upon row of tender, almost juicy kernels. You can use it to scrape most of the goo off the foil, which works pretty well, and the accompanying lime wedge adds some character, too. Still, our experience was a bit underwhelming, and we set off to Café Habana hoping for something more.
We actually went to Café Habana To-Go, which is the sane alternative to Café Habana’s inevitable waits and frequently insufferable clientele. There, $2.20 gets you an ear of corn, making it a relative bargain. But unlike La Esquina’s, it doesn’t shed its coat of cheese and mayo all over its foil wrapper. Instead, everything stays miraculously affixed, clinging like barnacles to a whale.
And there’s plenty to go around; the kernels are clotted with glorious amounts of fat, salt, and spice. Which is fortunate, because the corn itself is a bit on the desiccated side, with chewy, slightly tough kernels. Which led us to wonder which was the lesser of the evils: wrinkly corn or a dearth of the very things that make elote, elote?
[ We ultimately decided on the former. Because while we preferred the corn at La Esquina, we can get a good ear of corn just about anywhere right now. We can’t, however, always find the magical fatty, spicy morass that is elote, and so Café Habana is our winner.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 29, 2011