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New in town: Esquina taqueria

Ink

Simon and Codi Bates took their first day off in three months recently.

The newlyweds opened their second Lawrence restaurant last month, Esquina, a stylish taqueria. Like the Bateses’ other eatery, The Burger Stand at Dempsey’s, Esquina puts a gourmet spin on simple, rustic food — in this case, tacos.

You’re lucky if you can get a seat during peak hours at either eatery. Likewise, the Bateses are lucky to get a day off once in awhile.

But Simon’s not complaining. He said he always wanted to open a “taco-centric” restaurant like Esquina.

“This is my favorite type of food to eat,” he said. “It’s not too complicated — it’s just fun.”

A basket of three tacos at Esquina costs $7.95, and you can choose from seven spiced fillings: steak, chicken, pork, shrimp, fish, tofu and Peruvian potato. The fillings come nestled in a white-corn tortilla with a heap of red-cabbage slaw. The best part: You can mix and match your taco basket.

The food here is authentic in some ways, inauthentic in others. Esquina sticks to tradition by serving only corn tortillas, for example, but sometimes Bates adds passion fruit to the rice to give it a sweet/salty balance.

Hungry yet? Here’s what you need to know about Esquina.

How to order: When you walk in, don’t wait to be seated. Go directly to the left cash register at the back counter and order your food. You can also order drinks from the bar, located near the front door. Then move right to the second register, where you’ll pay. Grab your number and take a seat. A server will bring your food when it’s ready, and if you ordered, say, a Tecate or a margarita, a bartender will bring your drink.

What to eat: The tacos are a no-brainer, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try Simon’s favorite dish, the chilaquiles ($7.50), a generous hunk of tortilla casserole immersed in spicy chipotle-tomato sauce. The casserole comes in a moat of habañero cheese dip with a fried egg up top. On the lighter side, there are daily fish specials. We tried the walu ($10.95), a fresh-tasting, spiced and seared whitefish atop a hearty blue-corn-potato cake.

What to drink: The house beer special is canned Tecate ($2.50). Esquina’s beer (Dos Equis, Pacifico, Sol) comes from Mexico, and the wine’s from South America and Spain. The bar is a great place to try a new cocktail. Bar manager Kenny Pingleton twists traditional Latin American specialties to delicious effect. Three of his top concoctions:

•The Verdida, $6.50, has a base blend of cilantro, mint, pineapple juice and jalapeño. Hot-pepper-infused tequila adds a jolt of heat, but the herbs and pineapple cool things down. The hot/cool drink tastes like liquid summer.

•Las Tres Esquinas, $8.50, is like a deconstructed Bloody Mary. The drink consists of a shot of Milagro Silver tequila, a shot of house-made “Bloody Maria” mix (decidedly fresher and spicier than traditional Bloody Mary mix) and a Mexican beer of your choice, served in a salt-rimmed glass with a lime wedge.

•The Caipirinha, $5.50, is a combo of lime juice, simple syrup and cachaca, a sugar-cane liquor popular in Brazil that’s like rum in its purest form, Pingleton said.

What to know: Esquina is co-owned by Robert and Molly Krause, who used to run a fine-dining operation, Krause Dining, out of their Lawrence home. Two years ago, Food & Wine named Krause Dining one of the can’t-miss places in the world. The Krauses closed their restaurant in January to focus more on Esquina and The Burger Stand at Dempsey’s, which they also co-own with the Bateses.

What to notice: The Massachusetts Street storefront Esquina moved into had been a pharmacy for more than a century until its most recent tenant, Round Corner Pharmacy, closed last summer. To transform the space into a modern taqueria, Esquina’s owners added big windows, painted some walls the color of fresh avocado and exposed the surprisingly pristine 100-year-old wood floors. They also installed a bar, a kitchen and booths. Much of the wooden furniture in Esquina was made using wood found in the basement.


infobox-hr-separator /> infobox-head>Esquina
What: A new taqueria and bar from the chefs who opened The Burger Stand at Dempsey’s last year.

Where: 801 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence (formerly Round Corner Pharmacy)

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. The kitchen closes at 10 p.m.

Info: esquinalawrence.com, 785.856.1625

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