La Esquina: A tale of two taquerias
Nolita hotspot La Esquina and its new Williamsburg outpost, Cafe de La Esquina, are two places that appear very similar to the naked eye. But because of location and some intangibles, they're actually quite different.
The space: In the DNA of both places you'll find humbler forebears: a deli at the Soho location and a diner in Williamsburg, both dating back to the mid-1900s. Each has a takeout taqueria, a cafe or restaurant, and a more seductive room that takes reservations. The big difference is that at the BK location, the resto's varying spaces interact and overlap—you can, say, order a beer and eat your takeout on-site in the garden during warmer months. In Soho, the spaces are not only distinct, they're more than the sum of the parts: The doorman-equipped underground brasserie is what makes it such a recognizable name and enduring nightlife spot.
The food: Pretty similar at both locations, for the most part: tacos, tortas and quesadillas to go; classics like queso fundido and chile relleno; and plenty of tequila by itself or in cocktails. In BK, though, there's a menu section called guisados—basically deconstructed stews—as well as a rotating selection of special dishes only available in dimly lit back room.
The scene: As you'd expect, the scene is Brooklyn is more casual: no guest lists and no doormen (but there is a DJ). In Soho, the brasserie is loud, energetic and packed nightly with regulars, the occasional celebrity, and out-of-towners getting a taste of Manhattan nightlife.