Williamsburg’s original railcar diner has been reborn as a cozy Mexican café.
La Esquina welcomed hungry patrons at its grand opening with a fiesta this weekend — just over one year after Relish abruptly shut and left the Wythe Avenue diner vacant.
And neighborhood foodies will likely be pleased with the results.
Owners Derek Sanders and James Gersten spent nine months remodeling the space, darkening the space which is predominantly illuminated by candlelight, adding supple black leather benches to the back room, and placing enough antique birdcages, skulls, and gold leaf inlays to make Captain Jack Sparrow feel right at home.
But like its predecessor, the food and the scene are its biggest draws.
La Esquina’s chef Akjtar Nawab takes modern Mexican cuisine upscale, by adding octopus, brisket, crabmeat and duck to his quesadillas, taquitos, and tortas.
The menu features several delectable appetizers (around $10), including the chipotle-infused smoked brisket taquito and revelatory woodsy mushroom taquito with poblano chili and posole. They’re delicious, but too small to make a full meal.
Add several sides, such as the sautéed green beans or the rice and black beans, or a filling main such as the light chili relleno or sumptuous duck in mole sauce, a house specialty.
Unlike many new Williamsburg restaurants, the service is impeccable, though the back room is too cramped and noisy.
Relish’s opening a decade ago planted an early flag in Williamsburg’s expanding culinary landscape.
Now La Esquina appears poised to lead that exploration further south.
La Esquina [225 Wythe Ave. at N. Third Street in Williamsburg, (718) 393-5500]. Open 6 pm-2 am. Visit www.esquinabk.com.