Construction cranes have descended on Huntsville. Development here is booming, with new food, entertainment, housing and shopping options sprouting weekly if not daily. Our city is taking things up a click in pretty much every category. Local TV anchors are getting hotter looking and street people cooler looking.
Some of this newness can be transportive. “It feels like you’re somewhere besides Huntsville,” is how more than a few of us have described some of these recently opened consumer options in Huntsville. You know what I mean.
Dining at La Esquina Cocina doesn’t seem like you’re in another city – rather, this new Mexican restaurant downtown feels like you’re where Huntsville is headed. Yes, there’s a difference. This is better.
Family owned and operated, La Esquina is the type of spot downtown has needed for a while now. The food is interesting, well-executed and tasty without being so expensive it requires cosign-financing. The atmosphere is chill instead of stuffy or faddish. Or Axe body-spray-scented lowest-common-denominator. There are other worthy downtown restaurants at various price-points, but this one fills a hole. No doubt.
La Esquina Cocina is Spanish for “the corner kitchen.” This corner is at 127 Holmes Ave. N.W. #101, in a colored brick building across from The Avenue development. Above the restaurant’s entrance, cursive signage reading simply “La Esquina.”
It was cold and snowing outside when I walked over from our office for a weekday lunch. Inside La Esquina, salsa music was playing on the sound system and a tastefully-chill high-ceilinged dining room beckoned. The place is pretty much wrap around windows, so lunch light is largely natural. Back of the dining room, there’s a kitchen window offering view to where the magic happens. The food menu here focuses on traditional Mexican influenced tapas and small plates. It encourages sampling and there’s a smart mix of accessible and anthropological options.
While trying to do decide between the guacamole here and La Esquina’s artichoke chorizo dip, I asked my server, a smiling young lady named India, for counsel. She endorsed the guacamole but said, “You can get guacamole anywhere. Where else can you get artichoke chorizo dip?” Point taken. La Esquina’s artichoke chorizo ($8) dip is comprised of homemade chorizo, artichokes and cream salsa. Zesty, core-warming stuff. Almost like Latino barbecue. Comfy without being goopy. You’re going to want to use a utensil to load up accompanying totopos, as those small tortilla kept structural integrity better when not scooped.
With ingredients including shredded pork, hominy and roasted poblano peppers, pozole verde ($7) read intriguing on the menu. When it arrived at the time it was more soup than I’d imagined. Its rustic creativity and clean heartiness won me over, although would probably allocate funding otherwise next time.
La Esquina’s tacos are served on coaster sized corn tortillas with homespun appeal and masa-like funkiness. Unlike some street-type tacos, they don’t fall apart without being double wrapped. Of the three tacos I tried here, the pollo al pastor ($4.50) was the standout. Pineapple-marinated grilled chicken chipotle salsa, cilantro and onions adding up to tikka masala-ish flavor. Also dug the citrus kicks on the cochinita pibil ($4.50) taco, with roasted pork shoulder, achiote, chiles anchos, sour orange and pickled red onions. The costilla guisada ($5) taco was meatier and messier. And peppery. Spice-rubbed braised short ribs, cilantro, onions, salsa. For moderate or small appetites, three tacos should do the trick or if hungrier than that, start at four.
Next time would be interested in the tapas menu’s chile en nogada ($9.50, roasted poblano pepper stuffed with beef, pine nuts, almonds, sweet cream salsa). Also bookmarked the bistec adobado ($12, steak skewer, charred onions and line vinaigrette) and tamal oaxaqueno ($6.50, banana-leaf wrapped pork or chicken tamales) for future consumption. La Esquina’s shareable entrees – including pollo adobado ($24, half grilled chicken with sides) – seem dinner/date compatible The menu here is wide enough for adventure but not so oceanic you drown. Desserts involve cilantro-tequila infused mangos, fresh berries and white chocolate mousse and cayenne-caramel popcorn.
The diverse staff at La Esquina is knowledgeable and passionate without being cult-follower intense. Just a week after opening, they’re running smooth. La Esquina had a solid lunch crowd, dining room chatter warm without cacophony. In one corner, there’s a minimalist bar, serving modern makes of Latino classics (Paloma, rumchata and a spicy margarita) and craft beers (Modelo, Goat Island, etc.). Outside, there are railed-off patio areas and a roll-up wall waiting warmer months. With dining options surging in West Huntsville, it’s been a minute since a buzzy place opened downtown. If the future here will be like La Esquina, the future is bright.
La Esquina Cocina is open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 .m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. More online at instagram.com/laesquina_cocina or by phone at 256-858-1026.
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Source: Thanks https://www.al.com/business/2020/02/how-this-mexican-restaurant-changes-downtown-huntsville-dining.html