When Estela opened in 2013, people that get excited about restaurants got really excited. It quickly became one of the hippest places in the country to eat small quantities of food, and everyone wanted in - even Obama. The President’s visit definitely did more for his reputation than for Estela’s. By that time, Estela didn’t even need the help.
And while we liked Estela a lot when we first reviewed it, we just couldn’t fully back it. The small plates were great, but it was too uncomfortable (with its small tables, high volume, and general claustrophobia vibes) to be a useful restaurant for most situations.
But enough about history. Let’s live in the present. And presently, we have no more tolerance for uncomfortable dining situations than we did three years ago. In fact, we now have even less patience for having to dramatically over-enunciate so our friends can hear us, or sitting on a chair that’s only big enough for one butt cheek. Which is why we feel the need to tell you that Estela is now fully worthy of your time. The crowds (and the discomfort that comes with them) have eased up just slightly, and the best aspects of the food have gotten even better. Estela has evolved into a classic restaurant we’ll tell our friends to go to.
You know that feeling you get in great restaurants, when you just know instinctively that you’re in capable hands? That’s what Estela feels like. The food is as creative as it is tasty, so much so that we were legitimately sad to get to the end of one plate, only to get just as excited about what was going to show up on our table next. The beef carpaccio is probably the best we’ve ever had - every bite is such a perfect mix of raw steak and crispy bits (Sunchoke? Onion? Potato chip? Impossible to tell, but it doesn’t matter.) that you forget you’re eating raw meat. And suddenly, a pile of burrata on top of charred bread swimming in a moat of green juice just makes so much sense - why would you want to eat burrata any other way?
Considering how small the place is, they manage to pack in a ton of action without descending into total chaos. Sit at the bar for optimal people watching, or reserve a table on the other side of the restaurant for a slightly more formal experience. We even had luck walking in recently around 7pm on a Friday and getting seated immediately. Despite all its trendiness, and all its press, the experience at Estela remains a casual one – while you could use it for a special occasion, it feels much more suited for a regular night out.
Another big reason Estela’s been heavy in our rotation lately: brunch. Just when we were ready to cut the cord on paying $16 for anything having to do with eggs, Estela swooped right in to serve the kind worth getting out of bed for on a Sunday. The sweet, savory, highly memorable breakfast sandwich would be reason enough to go, but here’s the real kicker: they take brunch reservations.
So yes, Estela is still a little too loud, and a little too cramped, and a little too crowded. But it’s also great enough that you’ll most likely be able to forgive it for those things. So f*ck that line that wraps around the block for ridiculous milkshakes or rainbow bagels – Estela is an actually good reason to get a little uncomfortable.
This has been on the menu at Estela since the beginning, and for good reason. It’s a small mound of raw steak mixed with fried sunchokes - kind of like a fancy dip, with the chips already mixed in - plus a side of bread to scoop it onto. (Save the bread for later - the tartare is so good you don’t need it.)
We’ve eaten approximately 1,000 burrata dishes in our lifetime, but we suddenly forgot about all of them when we ate this one: a pile of insanely creamy burrata on top of charred bread, all sitting in a pool of liquid that tastes like grass - in the best way possible. We’ll never be able to order a green juice without craving burrata again.
The richest thing on our table, and one of our favorites: a good portion of lightly fried rice with small pieces of squid, dressed in a very light red pepper sauce. If salty, oily, even slightly fishy things scare you - avoid this one. Otherwise, this needs to be on your table.
Not something we would normally order, or something we’d think to recommend, but you should absolutely order this heaping pile of mussel salad on warm, thick toast. Flavors are bold, and overall this is a sloppy mess of goodness.
Despite the fact that this is one of the most popular items at Estela, we would skip this dish in the future. The ricotta dumplings are huge and light and fluffy, but they’re overpowered by the raw mushrooms layered heavily on top. That said, if you love mushrooms, you’ll probably enjoy this.
These are super flavorful, thanks to an aggressive herb crust you almost have to fight through to get to the meat. Not a must-order, but very good.
Save room for dessert. If you want something sweeter, go for the panna cotta. If you want something less sweet (Is that a thing?), go for the chocolate cake - it’s very bitter, and weirdly satisfying.
Whether you’re here for brunch or dinner, don’t miss the opportunity to try Estela’s cocktails. We’ve yet to be disappointed by one.
We’re going to go ahead and crown this the best breakfast sandwich in NYC, and one of the best brunch foods of all time. The eggs, pancetta, and avocado all come together with a light, spicy mayo-ish sauce, and the poppy seed bread is flaky and sweet. We wouldn’t change a thing.
We kept seeing this come out of the kitchen and had no idea what it was, but we knew we had to try it. Turns out that mojama is salt-cured tuna, and it comes piled on top of a hash of fried eggs, gigante beans, and harissa-covered cubes of bread. We haven’t seen anything like this before, and it’s just as tasty as it is pretty.