Food

Picnic in the Park With Vegetarian Tortas and Tacos From La Esquina

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La Esquina (114 Kenmare Street; 646-613-7100) sits on the axis of Kenmare Street, a block past the point where Lafayette forks into Centre. The restaurant has the façade of a vintage bodega, with its neon “Corner Deli” sign and walk-up windows. By the looks of it, you would never know it’s actually the home of three different Mexican eateries, each with a unique menu.

The Brasserie, Café, and Taqueria have separate dining areas within the space; the Brasserie, which requires reservations, is located at the end of a narrow stairway in the restaurant’s basement; the Café offers first-come, first-served outdoor seating; the Taqueria has seating inside at shared tables (or you can order outside at the to-go windows).

Executive chef Adrian Ramirez is reworking all the menus to include more vegetarian options, starting with the Taqueria. “I think it’s very important these days for people to eat a bit more healthy and have many different vegetarian options,” Ramirez says. “Vegetarianism is not a cultural thing in Mexico, but I found it to be a necessary addition.”

Ramirez, a native of Mexico City, has enjoyed a prolific career as a chef in New York. He came to the United States fourteen years ago, jumpstarting his career as a line cook. He worked as a chef at Tacombi and Dos Caminos Meatpacking, and opened his own taqueria near Union Square before settling in to his role at La Esquina.

We visited on a pleasant spring day and ordered at the Taqueria window, with the thought in mind to eat across the street at Petrosino Square. We tried the aguacate con queso torta ($7.50) — avocado, queso fresco, black-bean spread, lettuce, tomato, onion, and chipotle mayo served on a baguette.

In Mexico, tortas are traditionally served on a white sandwich roll. Taqueria’s baguette was crusty and chewy, and the black beans and avocado added a creamy quality. The lettuce gave the sandwich a welcome crunch, the chipotle mayo a spicy kick. And queso fresco, the most texturally interesting ingredient in the sandwich, was similar to cottage cheese, but firmer and saltier.

Plátanos machos fritos ($4.00) — sweet plantains, salsa verde, and queso fresco — formed a great side. The plantains, firm and soft, were only slightly sweet, and the queso fresco, as with the torta, provided a salty punch, which contrasted well with the fruit and the salsa verde. 

A couple of new dishes that Ramirez and his team are rolling out for the Taqueria include plantain tacos and a coches quesadilla, which will feature Mexican truffles and have a vegan option.