Helena Elko of La Esquina Isn't Sweating the Taco Wars

Helena Elko

"One guy came into the cafe and asked me how to get downstairs."Melissa Hom


Not long ago, the owner of newcomer Pinche taqueria accused La Esquina of having less-than-authentic tacos. We were interested to hear the thoughts of Helena Elko, a server at La Esquina since its buzzy opening about two years ago (“It’s the only place where we can sell you a bottle of $700 tequila and then we’ll dance in front of you and tell jokes”). But Pinche’s got nothing on La Esquina, according to Elko. “Of course you’re going to start a war to get attention if you talk shit on La Esquina,” she says, “because everybody goes there.” And just why does everyone go there? We asked the waitress.

Why did the downstairs close for three weeks? There are theories that there is a conspiracy against Serge Becker.
There’s no real conspiracy. We had a certificate of occupancy, but it was for a lower number than what we were bringing in. When we started, we never believed we’d be as busy as we are.

When you read gossip items about celebs at La Esquina, are they usually accurate?
It makes you really think about what you read because usually it’s like, “None of that happened.”

When’s the best time to walk in without a reservation?
6 p.m. is a good time because it’s very quiet. Or late nights after 11 p.m. If you have a crew of dudes, you’re not necessarily going to get in, but if you have a reservation and a crew of dudes, you can get in and be in guy heaven!

Do people try to sneak in?
There’s a door in the café that goes down to the basement. One guy came into the café and asked me how to get downstairs. I was like, “Go out front, etc.” Then he came in again— this time with a hat like I wouldn’t notice the difference—and ran downstairs. I told the “bodyguard.” The kid eventually resurfaced and obviously got made fun of.

What do models eat when they come in?
A lot of them come with their agents and sit there and eat tortilla soup and no tortillas and no avocado and just broth.

Do you get obnoxious diners?
This girl came in with her friends. They were beautiful. She just wanted slices of manchego cheese. I was like, “I’m sorry, we can’t do it.” She said, “But I see it’s in one of these dishes.” She’s like, “Why won’t you give me something I want?” They all started freaking out— every time I passed them they’d say, “GIVE ME MY CHEESE.” She ended up knowing someone who owns the restaurant and called them. We ended up giving them the cheese, which is a horrible thing for me. She didn’t deserve to get it. The table sitting beside them gave me a shot of the most expensive tequila we had.