El Centro: a Mexican Reconquest

The insides of 1218 Wisconsin Ave., NW, have been totally altered. The Third Edition has been booted and replaced by a second edition of El Centro, a restaurant featuring tacos, tequila and more. Most of the menu items match those of the original Richard Sandoval restaurant, located on 14th Street, NW. About 40 percent of the items are new, however. Restaurant guests will find fajitas on this menu, as well as new taco and enchilada options.

Four Georgetowner staffers got a chance to taste-test and see El Centro during its grand-opening week Sept. 6. The friendliness of the initial greet matched the lively crowd.
The décor mimics the original El Centro’s style, both restaurants embracing a Mexico City theme. The restaurant is very dim, illuminated only by dark turquoise windows and small candles upon the wooden tabletops.
We promptly ordered the spicy mango and regular margaritas, and the paloma was given high notes from its recipient: our list including fruity, spicy and regular margaritas, palomas, mojitos and Coronas.

After devouring handfuls of chips and exceptional salsa, we ordered two types of guacamole. Avocado fanatics will not get bored at El Centro as the menu kicks off with four different kinds of guacamole. The tuna tartare and spicy crab were our picks.

Appetizers next! We each got one, and sharing ensued. Our orders included ceviche, a shrimp and citrus soup, pork sopas, mushroom empanadas and chicken tamales. The table found the ceviche all right, but the rest of the items got higher marks.
Our entrees came out with top-notch presentation: steak, pork carnitas, chipotle shrimp, and mushroom huarache.

The steak arrived garnished with peppers and onions with a cornhusk-wrapped tamale on the side. All traces of steak were gone at the end of the meal, thanks to a very content eater.

Another at the table enjoyed the pork carnitas, a chef’s favorite. Guacamole, habanero salsa, Mexican rice and charro beans were sent out as toppings, while tortillas sat beside the plate in a heating dish. The carnita recipient loved her meal, with the exception of the very salty beans. She had enough food left over to pack up and take some home.

Chipotle shrimp came out atop richly vegetable-induced rice. The shrimp were big and fresh, unlike the shrimp in the ceviche. There was enough for her to take some home, too.

I had chosen mushroom huarache, a small mushroom and goat cheese pizza, basically, from the relatively short list of vegetarian options. My meal was delicious, despite the crust being a little hard. I was able to comfortably finish my food even after having eaten so much beforehand.

Despite our being full and some having leftovers, my group did not pass on dessert. We ordered tres leche and churros. The tres leche, a moist sponge cake topped with bananas and cream, came with fruity custard on the side. I enjoyed the cake more than the thin churros that came with chocolate, caramel and passion fruit dipping sauces.

After hoisting ourselves from our chairs, we ventured upstairs to check out the bigger bar and the balcony. The balcony overlooks an open lower patio, lit by strings of white lights. This area, weather permitting, has the best eye appeal of the entire restaurant.

We stopped in the upstairs bathroom before parting. It is worth noting. While there are two doors, which are unmarked but could be mistaken for gender-specific entrances, there is only one room. It contains six stalls, three on each side. There are sinks and water barrels in the center, and the two halves of the bathroom are set up as mirror images of one another. An illusion! You think you are staring into a mirror while washing your hands, until someone, who might be of the opposite sex, walks out of a stall right across from you. Surprise! Never a fan of waiting in long lines at ladies’ room and watching men walk in and out of their room, I am a fan of this genderless setup. El Centro might end up being awarded “Best Bathroom in D.C.,” or it might make some patrons uncomfortable.

A first, unofficial review of El Centro? In a nutshell, it has an eager, helpful staff, succulent food and delicious drinks. Stop by El Centro at Wisconsin & M. It looks like it will be a hit. And don’t forget to check out the bathroom.

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