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La Esquina's New Chef

Akhtar Nawab is in the kitchen at the Mexican joint in Soho.

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La Esquina, that beacon of neon in SoHo with a notoriously difficult reservation policy, has never been a food-driven restaurant (unless you count its late-night stock in trade, the $4 soft tacos). But over the last three months, more sophisticated Mexican-inspired entrées and daily specials have been appearing on the menu. Sweetbreads al pastor, anyone?

The man responsible is chef Akhtar Nawab, an alum of Craft, Gramercy Tavern and the shuttered Elettaria, who took control of the kitchen in May and started cooking up nontraditional dishes like scallops with coconut horchata. The additions, Nawab says, maintain a “Mexican sensibility, but it’s more refined, based on good ingredients and execution. We’re not trying to disturb anything that’s there. We’re just trying to improve upon it.” Which is why the aforementioned tacos survived the revamp, except they’re now made with higher-quality seasonal and local ingredients when possible.

One thing that hasn’t changed? The ability to book a table. As of press time, the first prime-time two top is available on Sunday, but only if you’re into the 6:15 early-bird special.

La Esquina; 114 Kenmare Street; 646-613-7100; esquinanyc.com.