By JIM WILLIS
In the middle of our lunch at Red Bank’s La Esquina, a regular customer walks in to pick up his order and tells PieHole that he often suggests to the owners that they hang a sign in the window that reads, “We Speak English.”
If attracting non-Spanish-speaking customers to the corner of Bridge Avenue and Oakland Street is part of the business plan, we’d second that advice. Taco Bell regulars won’t find any Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme here, and the large menu hanging behind the counter ranges from confusing to unintelligible to a non-Spanish speaking customer. Fortunately for us, owner Elias Ayala is not only fluent in English, but clearly enjoys deconstructing the menu items for his customers.
“The menu is authentic Mexican,” he says. “We have everything from tongue to carnitas – the real carnitas, with cheeks, ears and pork skin.”
Ayala was born in Mexico City but raised in Brooklyn. His father, Eleacer Ayala, spent 15 years at a Greek-American diner in Brooklyn, starting as a dish washer and ending up as a chef before buying the Bridge Avenue store from a retired Red Bank police officer eight years ago.
Ayala describes the menu as being true to his Mexico City roots.
“We do a Mexico City-style food. It’s a flavorful style, a little spiciness,” he says. “We get a lot of customers from Pueblo and Oaxaca, but our main dishes are more Mexico City style.
“It’s a very unique place food-wise. You can get everything in Mexico City.”
La Esquina (or “the corner”) is a take-out place, but there’s a small table that’s comfortable enough for two or three people for a quick lunch. Larger parties should head down the street to Señor Peppers, which the Ayala family also owns. “Señor Peppers is more of a sit-down-and eat-place,” says Ayala.
For the uninitiated, Ayala suggests ordering the smoked pork shoulder sandwich or the Milanesa, a breaded chicken sandwich. When ordering a sandwich, you can get either a torta ($6), served on a Portuguese-style bread, or a cemita($7), a sesame seed roll that has a bit of sweetness to it.
Ayala’s father, who prepares all the meats, singles out the suadero beef taco as one of his favorites on the menu.
Piehole sat down with a plate of tacos ($2/each) that included a chorizo and potato taco, a carnitas taco and a pork skin taco. The carnitas was a real stand out, especially with the hot sauce that Ayala provided.
88 Bridge Ave, Red Bank