The Nolita Nexus–Two Cafes and The Corner

What’s a trip to New York without a little tasting tour? I’m in New York and as usual, I’m eating my way through this town. So many choices, and the food is delicious everywhere. A little over ten years ago one of my closest friends moved to a little neighborhood sandwiched between Little Italy and The Village; west of the edgy East Village and east of trendy Soho. It was referred to as Nolita (North of Little Italy) and is now the epicenter of everything relevant in fashion and food.

Years before the uber stylish ‘Nolita’ existed, I met with a marketing company whose offices were in an unfinished loft above a bodega off the Prince St stop on the ‘N’ line.  The managing partner took me to lunch at a vegan health food restaurant called Spring Street Natural.  Not the meat and potatoes I was used to growing up in Chicago–but it was surprisingly tasty.  I remember it as alfalfa sprouts on brown-ish bread.  It was at this lunch that I was offered a gig traveling with the Rolling Stones the summer between college and business school, so my first experience with healthy food was lost on me this day.

Spring Street Natural is still there on the corner of Lafayette and Spring.  And within walking distance are some of my all time favorite eateries.  On every trip to New York, I always visit my friend in Nolita, and somehow, there's always an excuse to visit the same places each time and also add some new favorites.   

SPOILER ALERT:  I will attempt to deconstruct dishes served at some of the yummiest places I know.  I won’t do them justice because it is about the experience.  The ingredients are not always healthy, so in my attempts to re-create the dishes, I’ll make substitutions, but sometimes nothing can replace good old meat, wheat and sugar.  Also, I like a little kick to my dishes, so my recipes may be slightly spicier than those served at the restaurants.

DISCLAIMER:  I’m not a trained chef, so I may be off on a few things.  I’m also on the road and not able to properly test these recipes in my Santa Monica ‘test kitchen’ with my guinea pig son and friends.  But I’ll be home in a couple weeks and will update the recipes on this post, after I get the Ethan thumbs up on the recipes.
That being said, here we go on my tasting tour around the world (or the several blocks that surround my adopted neighborhood of Nolita).

Cafe Gitane
242 Mott

Even in the winter months when there is snow on the ground, you can walk up and order a cappucino or espresso from the slide window.  And it’s served in a real cup, not paper or plastic.  The food is French Moroccan.  The French part is the Cote du Rhone I always order when I am there.  The Moroccan is the light and delicious dishes they serve.  There’s a great cous cous with red peppers, raisins, pine nuts with hummus and eggplant.  Also the Spicy Organic Meatballs in Tumeric Tomato Sauce with a boiled egg, cucumber yogurt and cilantro.  There is one dish I always order and it is the Roasted Organic Chicken, Chipotle Mayonnaise, Roasted Tomatoes, and Parmesan on a toasted Baguette. 


It’s about the sauce with this sandwich, so I’ll start with my version of it here:


Roasted Organic Chicken Sandwich

The Spicy Sauce–obviously this will make more than you’ll use for one sandwich.

  • 1 cup Mayonnaise (or Vegannaise)
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha (The Asian ‘Rooster’ sauce)
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoons condensed milk
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped green onion

Blend the mayo, sriracha, lime juice and condensed milk in the Magic Bullet.  Stir in the cilantro and green onion.  Add salt, if needed.

  • Slices of Organic Rotisserie Chicken breast
  • 6” Fresh Baguette, sliced lengthwise and hollowed out.
  • Arugula or Watercress
  • Roasted peppers or Tomatoes
  • Shaved Parmesan


Spread the spicy sauce on the baguette
Fill the hollowed out bread with arugula or watercress on one side; and sliced roasted peppers or tomato on the other side.
Place the shaved parmesan and the chicken between the bread and there’s my version of the Cafe Gitane Roasted Organic Chicken sandwich.

Cafe Habana
17 Prince Street

Maybe its because I’ve only been to Cafe Habana for brunch; or maybe because I always feel hung over, but I start with a thick potent cup of Cafe con Leche.  Its just coffee with milk; like a cafe au lait, but I  think the Spanish coffee is much stronger than the French Roast.


By far, Cafe Habana’s signature dish, if you can call it that, is the corn on the cob.  Its a meal on a stick…or a cob, actually.  I think it may rival cotton candy for Ethan.  It’s so simple, but unless you have a roaster or can grill year round; it is definitely a treat.

Roasted Corn on the Cob

  • Corn, with the husks peeled back and hull
  • 2 Tablespoons of salted butter
  • Salt + Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Lime


Spread the butter over the ear of corn
Squeeze the lime juice on the corn
Sprinkle the corn on the cob with the salt, pepper and paprika
Wrap the corn (up to the husks portion) tightly in aluminum foil with the already squeezed lime resting against the corn)
Grill, turning occasionally until done.

La Esquina
106 Kenmare

At first glance, it looks like the taco trucks (aka, roach coaches) parked at construction sites all over LA.  But upon closer inspection–it is!  The taqueria is exactly as La Esquina states–it is ‘the corner’.  You can walk up and order window service or sit at one of the 8 tables inside.  But then you turn the corner on to Lafayette, and there is a separate entrance and restaurant, but its still ‘La Esquina’.  You need to make reservations here for a table in a beautifully decorated room with light wood and book shelves.  I’m not sure of the decor theme here, but its pretty.  

Then there’s ‘the bar’ on the Cleveland St corner.  I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to show up on a Friday evening with a girl friend (who happens to be a gorgeous model-type), who must’ve known the secret password.  Suddenly, at this taco stand, there appears a doorman, with surveillance accoutrement, the clipboard, the trench coat–the whole nine.  Who leads us down a back staircase and through the kitchen into a hidden lair.  It’s a bar…but its dark and sexy with cushy banquettes.  And lots of beautiful people, wearing sequins, minis, and leather.  Way too dressed up for tacos.  My friend and I grab a seat at the bar and order some small plates from the bartender, but not before ordering specialty margaritas.  Halfway through the meal, we switch to red wine–a Malbec–which has become my wine of the week.  Yummy.  

We shared a Mango y Jicama Salad, which was light and refreshing.  It really should be called the arugula y mango y jicama salad, because the blend of the three was delightful.  The mango was thinly sliced in rounds and the julienned jicama was a hidden crunchy delight amongst the arugula.  It was drizzled with a  simple viniagrette.

Along with the Malbec, we shared the Bistec, which is simply, steak.  It was a thin and small slice, served with the requisite rice and beans:


  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 Tablespoons of Adobo seasoning
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano
  • Salt to taste (some adobo seasonings include salt)
  • 1 lb of skirt steak (pounded with a tenderizer and cut in four equal pieces)
  • 1 large Onion (cut into medium sliced rings)

Mix all the ingredients except for the steak and onions in the Magic Bullet–another marinade!  Add the steak and onions and place in a Ziploc bag with the marinade overnight.  In a large pan, place the steak + onions + marinade over medium heat until the marinade comes to a boil.  Lower the heat and cover the pan.  Cook for 20 minutes; turn the steak over and cook for another 20 minutes.


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