Esperanto is a cool spot in the trendy East Village where locals hang out. In warm weather, sitting outside (with babies and dogs), is a lot more pleasant than at other sidewalk cafes thanks to the large community garden across the street and the relative dearth of fume-laden traffic.
The restaurant's inside is blue, the outside green with lights overhead that go on as dusk approaches. Service is very friendly if a bit unfocussed (we ordered a dozen oysters and got six--with an apology.) The vibe is laid-back and the drinks smallish so you tend to keep ordering them, possibly making for a more soused visit than planned.
At dinner, the pan-Latin menu offers a delicious oxtail stew in a somewhat oily but tasty sauce; grilled hanger steak; feijoada, the traditional pork and black bean stew; the obligatory burger, lime-marinated chicken served with fried yucca and spinach and a market-priced fish du jour. The vegetable empanadas I had first were probably reheated but, in fairness, the filling was fresh and the phyllo exterior greaseless. The cerviche trio ($12) isn't a lot of food but is a pretty three-dish presentation with shrimp, snapper and another sea item zippy with citrus, capers or avocado. The roast mussels going by were baked with Parmesan and paprika, an unusual approach I'll try on another visit. Esperanto serves a $15 weekend brunch with French toast, a quesadilla "your way" (the chicken/chorizo/ peppers/avocado or what have you clocking in at an additional $2 each); Huevos Loisaida meaning poached eggs on a potato shrimp pie with hollandaise sauce and other brunchables. Brunch sides of chorizo, Brazilian ham, fried yucca, Pao de queijo, avocado, chips and salsa, rice and beans, torta Espanola and more are each $5.
Happy Hour from 4- 7 PM is busy with $1 oysters, $7 red and white sangria (small glass, lots of fruit) , caipirinhas and other Latin-themed drinks as well as some beers and wine. Later, most nights have live music. From 4:40-5:30 the kitchen takes a break so only oysters, guac and chips and a few other items are available.
Jugo, semi-attached, serves cold-pressed juices and pastries including some for the Paleo regime like the house-made Tag-a-long with almond flour, honey, coconut oil, peanut butter, bittersweet chocolate and sea salt.
Esperanto is a casual, fun place for a meal or drink-and-snack. If service is slow, pretend you're en route to Brazil, drink up and you won't notice.