La Esquina Cafe

I have passed by La Esquina numerous times during my trips to-and-from Soho and Chinatown but I had never actually tried their food. Their corner storefront is always busy with people taking out or eating in so I knew it must be good. One free afternoon, the Boyfriend and I stepped into La Esquina’s sit-down cafe just next door to their corner Taqueria.

We arrived just when they opened and were seated immediately. They soon filled up not too long after we were seated. We decided to share a starter and two entrees since neither of us could decide on one entree that we wanted. First to arrive was the Tostada De Cangrejo with lump crabmeat and mango on chipotle mayo ($12.00). The crabmeat was very generous and you can taste that it’s real crab instead of the mushy canned kind. The tostada was crunchy and the mixture of flavors went really well with each other.

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Our first entree to share was the Bistec Taco, which features char-grilled skirt steak, charred onions, cilantro and salsa de chile de arbol on top of soft corn torillas ($10.00 for 2). The skirt steak was very flavorful but there was just too much cilantro! I also kind of wish the torillas were thicker because some of the oil leaked through.

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Our second entree was the Aguacate con Queso Torta, which features avocado, queso fresco, black beans, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo on bread. The sandwich comes with papas fritas and a mixed green salad ($8.00). The portion size was huge! The fries, which is sprinkled with lime juice was super tasty. The star was definitely the sandwich. The avocado, queso fresco and chipotle mayo was a great mixture and tasted extremely fresh. It was definitely the best dish of the day.

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La Esquina has Happy Hour everyday from 12pm – 4pm, which features $6 margaritas and $3 Tecates. It’s definitely a good deal if you’re in for a lunch-time drink.

Columbus Circle Holiday Market 2012

Every winter, the entrance to Central Park turns into a festive fair and I’m always super excited when it does. Every winter, new vendors come to fill the tiny white and red-stripped tents. I love browsing around the tents to see all the things that are on sale – jewelry, winter gear, chocolates, candles, and other knickknacks. My favorite part of the market though, is the food section. The food is always concentrated in the middle of the tents and each year someone new always comes. This year, the standard German Delights and Wafels & Dinges were there. Sonrisa Empanadas were also there. I had tried those last year and they were pretty good. This year, I noticed Bar Suzette, known for their crepes, and Mexicue, who has 2 storefronts and a truck. The first we tried was Mexicue, since I’ve been hearing so much about their Green Chili Mac and Cheese from various foodie websites ($4.00 per cup). I thought the green chili was a bit weird but boy was I wrong. The mac and cheese had a tiny taste of chili but not too much. It was so cheesy! The noodles weren’t mushy at all, despite the fact that it’s premade and not cooked on the spot. I wish there was a little more cheese topping though! We also tried their Brisket Topped Green Chili Mac and Cheese as well (extra $2 per topping) and it was just as good. The brisket was soft and tender and the juices leaked down into the mac and cheese. My only gripe with this was the fact that it was a bit difficult to get to the mac and cheese with so much brisket on top! IMG_2635 IMG_2633IMG_2652 Next up was Bar Suzette, who is known for their crepes. But surprise! This Bar Suzette stand was selling burgers! We weren’t too upset though, because we noticed another stand that was selling crepes. We were happy with burgers too! I left the deciding up to the Boyfriend because I was sitting down on one of the yellow benches nursing my mac and cheese from Mexicue. The Boyfriend came back with their Bistro Burger ($6), which comes with an organic beef patty, cheese, arugula and tomato. He opted to add on mushrooms for an extra $1. And boy, was that burger good. The patty had just a little bit of pink left in the middle, which is just the way I like my burgers. The mushrooms and cheese melted perfectly into each other and all the juices were leaking out. I didn’t even need ketchup for this burger – it was so juicy! IMG_2637IMG_2641

On our next trip to the market, we tried out Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen, which sells grilled cheeses. They have three options for grilled cheese, all of which looked amazing. I decided to go with their Cheddar Grilled Cheese ($6), since it was the more original sandwich. The wait was a bit longer than I expected for a grilled cheese but they were also pretty popular since it was lunchtime. Each grilled cheese comes packed nicely in a folded box so there’s never any mess. Perfect for taking back to work or school! The grilled cheese was very cheesy and the Italian country bread was very crunchy as well. My one problem with it was the oil – it was a bit oily and I had to use a napkin to eat my half of the sandwich. IMG_2650IMG_2651 There’s a couple of more things that I haven’t gotten to yet but with all of December left, I know I will definitely attempt to try them all! But before I go, let me leave a tiny plug for Beurre & Sel’s cookies, which we discovered on our way out of the fair one-day. They have a variety of flavors and each batch of cookies comes inside these cute little plastic containers. I tried their Classic Jammers ($14), which features Blueberry Streusel and their Sable ($14), which is a shortbread sugar cookie. Both are very delicious – soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. If you’re in the mood to splurge, definitely try them out! IMG_2643

Columbus Circle Holiday Market Pt. 2

Now it’s time for Columbus Circle Holiday Market Part Two! Since my last blog post, I was able to try two more food items from the Holiday Market. I repeated two food stands in this blog post, but they just looked too good to give up. I wanted desperately to try a new food stand but the moment I walked into the food section of the Holiday Market and walked by these food stands, I knew I had to try the rest of their menus.

First up is Mexicue, which serves up the most amazing mac and cheese. But this time I didn’t stop for mac and cheese. This time, I was here for their Tostilocos ($5.00), which is basically a bag of Fritos topped with their signature chili, lime paste and cotija cheese. This might sound a little weird, but let me tell you, it was delicious! Since they serve it inside the Fritos bag, it takes a little bit of Tetris-style maneuvering before you can mix the chili with the Fritos, but it is definitely worth it. The chili gives the Fritos a sweet and spicy flavor. Since the chili is poured in piping hot, the Fritos are a little warm as well. You’ll need a fork or a spoon for this, so make sure you grab one before you leave.

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Next up is Bar Suzette, which is another repeat. Last time I had their Bistro Burger. This time, I decided to try their hand-cut fries ($5.00) and their Park Royale Burger, which features a double patty and unlimited toppings ($10.00). I originally wanted their Bistro Burger with an egg and mushrooms but seeing as how egg + mushroom already cost $3 extra, I figured I might as well go with the Park Royale.

First off, the fries were super crunchy. They top their fries with enough salt and garlic that you do not even need ketchup for it. Each fry is long, slender and crunchy.

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Now onto the burger. This burger was a bit of a challenge to eat. I ordered mine with mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, bacon, and an organic egg. Add on two patties and my burger was piled so high that I couldn’t even fit the entire burger into my mouth. If you are hungry and in the mood for a delicious burger, you should definitely try Bar Suzette out. Get the egg – you won’t regret it.

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I usually get the wine (non-alcoholic) or apple cider from German Delights whenever I’m at the Holiday Market, but this time I decided to try the Thai Iced Tea ($2.00) from the Thai Kitchen. It was so good! It was definitely on par with some of the best Thai restaurants that I have been to. The color was just right and it was just the perfect amount of sweetness. We actually had three of these during our visit to the Holiday Market.

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And before I leave, I’m gong to drop a plug for Sweater Toys, one of the vendors at the market. Meet Walt, he’s a narwhal made out of soft recycled sweaters. Isn’t he cute?

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Cafe Habana

The boyfriend and I had walked by Café Habana a few months ago when we were walking to LES. Café Habana is located on the corner of Prince Street between Elizabeth and Mott Street. This little restaurant is really quite small, with only 8 table-for-two’s + 3 booths + 7 or so bar seats. Most of those table-for-twos are a bit smushed so it can definitely be a right squeeze during prime dining hours.

Since we had a free afternoon, we decided to stop by for lunch. We actually arrived around 10:50am, which was still during breakfast service. Café Habana starts lunch service at 11am so we got a seat and ordered a small size of chorizo to munch on until lunch started. Our waitress was perfectly okay with us just chilling out for a little bit and didn’t rush us.

Once 11am rolled around, we gave us the lunch menus – but we both already knew what we wanted. Fellow Yelpers have hyped up the Mexican Style Grilled Corn ($4.25) so we knew we had to try it. Each order comes with two large corns that are smothered in mayo and then topped with cotija cheese and chili powder. Our corn came piping hot. I can honestly say that the corn definitely lived up to the hype. The moment I bit into the corn it was like my taste buds exploded. The mayo made sure that the cheese stuck to the corn without falling all over the place. The mayo was warmed up by the hot corn and made each bite smooth and delicious. Even as we continued our meal, I still kept thinking about the corn! It is a bit spicy if you’re biting right onto the chili powder, but it was still so good!

The boyfriend and I decided to split their Cuban sandwich since we heard it was quite big. The Cuban sandwich ($9.75) features roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles inside pressed Parisi’s bread along with a side of fries. This sandwich was huge! Just by eating one half of the sandwich, I was already full. The bread was very crunchy on the outside yet soft on the inside. The cheese melted as a result of the hot meats and held most of sandwich together. The only problem I had was my roast pork, or really pulled pork, started to fall out of my sandwich while I ate it. But in general, my sandwich was very flavorful. 

We also decided to get a side of tostones, or fried bananas. The tostones ($3.25) were very crunchy and crispy. In fact, if I didn’t previously know what they were, I wouldn’t have guesses they were fried bananas. I couldn’t help munching on these along with the fries while we ate our sandwich halves.

I was really wowed by the grilled corn. The grilled corn really was the highlight of the meal. The Cuban sandwich was good, but I feel like I’ve had better. The pig’s head sandwich that I had at the Cannibal from Madison Square Eats was a lot better. I liked their use of a crunchy flatbread kind of bread better. Our service was pretty good. We did wait a while before getting waters. Therefore, I’m going to give Café Habana 4/5 stars. I will definitely be back for the grilled corn but I will probably try another entrée next time.

Quick Tip: The bathroom is a bit of a tight squeeze. If you’re planning on visiting Soho, just use the restrooms at the stores there.

Hawaiian Food Paradise

During the summer I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in several of the Hawaiian Islands. My family and I visited the Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. During those two weeks, we ate a lot of food – both native Hawaiian and various others. Some of the Hawaiian dishes we tried were the Loco Moco, Poi (a side dish consisting of mashed taro) and Tuna Poke. But many of the other foods we ate were of an Asian influence because the majority of Hawaiian inhabitants are of Asian descent. I wanted to highlight two restaurants and one bakery that we visited on the island of Oahu that served up cheap and delicious foods – Side Street Inn on Da Strip in Honolulu, Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Leonard’s Bakery.

Side Street Inn opened in 1992 and is a hole-in-the-wall local bar in Honolulu, Hawaii. They serve local comfort food that is a mixture of many cuisines: Japanese, Korean, French and Italian. Our meal was truly a mixture.

Our first dish was the Sautéed Mushrooms, which is mushrooms sautéed with shallots, white wine, garlic butter and topped with parmesan cheese. Not your typical Asian dish but it was very delicious. The mixture of garlic butter and white wine made you feel like you were eating an Italian pasta dish and not mushrooms!

Our second dish was Ahi Tuna Sashimi. This dish came with 18 pieces of tuna sashimi for the low price of $24. The slices were thick and almost melted in your mouth. It was so fresh! You would never find 18 pieces of tuna sashimi priced at $24 in New York City! 

Our third dish was their Side Street Inn Fried Chicken, which is boneless chicken that is dipped in their own sauce and fried. This dish is served with a side of salad. The fried chicken was tasty without being too oily. Their fried chicken is very similar to Korean fried chicken in the sense that there is a sauce on top of the fried dough. Unlike American fried chicken, which has a dry fried crust on the chicken, this fried chicken had a wonderful moist fried crust.

Next up is Shokudo Japanese Restaurant. Shokudo is located by the Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is the biggest shopping center in Honolulu. This restaurant features traditional Japanese cuisine with a modern flair. Their menu and dishes are meant to be served family style – as in dishes are ordered for the entire table and everyone shares.

Our first dish at Shokudo was Garlic Shrimp Rice. Garlic Shrimp is a favorite local dish in Hawaii and is served at most restaurants. This dish is served in a sizzling hot stone bowl. The waiter mixes the rice and the garlic shrimp at your table in front of you. The rice has the flavor of the garlic shrimp because of this method. The rice and shrimp also stay very warm until you eat it because of the hot stone pot. But be careful not to touch the pot because it’s very hot!

Our second dish was Teriyaki Chicken Quesadilla. This dish features a tortilla filled with teriyaki chicken, mozzarella, and mayonnaise. I really enjoyed this dish because it used a very typical Japanese dish, Teriyaki Chicken, and combined it with tortilla, a very Mexican stable. The outcome was delicious as the teriyaki chicken sauce soaked the tortilla.

Another dish that we tried at Shokudo was the Sushi Pizza. Sushi Pizza is a dish that is typically served on the Western side of the United States. You won’t find Sushi Pizza here in New York City! Shokudo’s Sushi Pizza had a toasted seaweed base topped with rice and followed by a layer of salmon, crabmeat and scallops. I had never tried Sushi Pizza before so this was quite the experience for me. The pizza was cut into little bite sized squares, which made it very easy to just pop into your mouth. The seaweed melts in your mouth so all you taste is the salmon and crabmeat combined with the rice.

The star of the night at Shokudo, would be their signature dessert – Honey Toast. Their Honey Toast consists of thick Japanese white toast that is cut out and cubed. Honey is then drizzled on top of the toast, followed by a cube of vanilla ice cream. The uniqueness of the dessert makes it all the tastier. With this dessert, you don’t eat the crust. You fork a bit of vanilla ice cream and then stab a piece of cubed toast. The combination of honey and ice cream brings so many flavors to the otherwise bland taste of white bread. This dessert is a definite must try.

And lastly, we reach Leonard’s Bakery, established in 1952. Leonard’s Bakery is famous for their malasadas, a Portuguese pastry that is sort of a doughnut without the hole. They fry the balls of dough until they are a golden brown color. The fried dough is then rolled in sugar and depending on the type you choose, it might have a cream filling. They offer a different cream filling every month and August’s filling was mango cream. This is another food that you will not find in New York City! Leonard’s malasadas are so famous on the island that when we visited at around 9pm, there was still a line almost out the door. Their malasadas are super fluffy and just the right amount of sweet. The moment you bite into one, the cream filling will start to ooze out and melt in your mouth.

So while this food review contains food that aren’t easily accessible to those of us who do not live in Hawaii, I felt the need to share with all of you the delicious finds that can be found there. All of these restaurants are not touristy restaurants. They are all local restaurants that cater to those who live in the island of Oahu. The only reason why my family was able to find such restaurants is because of our relatives who live there. We were very lucky to experience such good local food and since they shared with me, I felt that I had to share with all of you.