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With its sexy subterranean vault of a dining room, its unmarked and sentry-patrolled door, its air of exclusivity and mystery and its Mexican menu, La Esquina is sort of like Studio 54 with chipotle subbing for cocaine. The food (taquitos, quesadillas, baby back ribs, whole grilled fish) is always serviceable, sometimes distinguished and less often exemplary. But there are scores of tequilas, smartly chosen music and a unforgettable décor of weathered brick and wrought-iron gates that evoke prison bars. If the Phantom of the Opera hired Zorro as an interior decorator and asked him to do something in contemporary Torquemada, the result might resemble this. — Frank Bruni
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