Judging Restaurants – El Centro

The highly anticipated El Centro opened up in early May at 1819 14th St, NW. Their Web site says:

“El Centro D.F.

Chef Richard Sandoval invites you to gather, dine and raise a glass at El Centro, D.F. Authentic Mexican comfort food and fine Tequilas are served in three vibrant spaces

A lively open kitchen is the backdrop for the casual taqueria. Eat-in or take your tacos to-go.

Dine or lounge in the underground Tequileria, where Mixologists craft Latin cocktails and pour from 200 Tequilas & Mezcals.

Salud! Raise a glass at the rooftop’s two open-air bars.”

You can see their menus here. Any fans? In addition to the food – is this a good place to grab a drink?

56 Comment

  • Had dinner in the Tequileria a couple of weeks ago. Carne Asada entree and the guacamole appetizer were excellent. Great drinks too.
    Extremely nice decor. Very well done. Only “complaint” would be that the downstairs space is a bit too dark; it’s tough to read the menus. And I felt like a vampire stepping into the sun when I exited the restaurant.
    Also, not a big fan of the stool seating. I’d recommend asking for a table (with regular seats) when you make reservations.

  • The margarita I had there made me sick it was so sweet! Prices were too high and the bartender was not at all friendly. With all that, I won’t be going back.

    • They actually make it the right way? With fresh squeezed lime and decent tequila, instead of flourescent “mix” you find elsewhere. I think everyone is too used to Chevys and Uncle Julios

  • I had margaritas on the roof. The happy hour deal for margaritas was great, but although I am a big fan of salt, they put waaaaay too much of it on the rim of the glass.

    At the time that I went in early June, the roof-top bars weren’t offering anything to eat. I don’t know if that’s since changed. It sure would have been nice to be able to order an appetizer at least.

  • The decor is really well done, but I agree about the downstairs being a little dark. The waitstaff all seem kinda confused about their own seating process, as well as menu items.
    The margaritas were not very good, and the tacos just so so. You can get better for a less money elsewhere.

  • Completely disagree with the above posters. I’ve been to El Centro several times and although the food is not that great the drinks are amazing! They have great bartenders and a great rooftop patio. I love the place and only wish it was closer to Petworth/CoHi and I’d probably go more.

  • I think “hit or miss” is the way to describe it. My best experience has been consuming hh margaritas (great deal!) and small plates on the roof — margis were strong, flavorful and not too sweet, food was delicious and staff was fast and helpful (although that roof gets no breeze!).
    In contrast, the margaritas and food downstairs are watered down/bland. In the dining room I’ve had one incredibly knowledgeable waiter and two clueless ones.
    Sadly, the place is always packed, so I don’t think they will feel any pressure to improve the quality of the food or the service.

  • I went once and thought that the tacos 3 blocks up at Pica were better and (much) cheaper. But, of course, Pica doesn’t have the El Centro’s scene.

    • +1

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. I live across the street and 3 tacos at Centro are $12 while Pica will run you $7.50. $10 for table side guac? Madness yet I still go a fair amount. I kind of like the downstairs because you don’t have to wait for an hour to get a table. Maybe we’ll see some grasshopper tacos soon like Oyamel?

  • I have been several times and it is fantastic.

    Food: Delicious and reasonable. Bitch all you want people, but here you can get a dinner for under $15 of enchiladas, rice and beans, tacos rice and beans or something of the like. The quality of the food and ingredients was top notch. Being from Texas, I have not found good Mexican in DC. This place has been the best for me so far.

    Drinks: Better than the food. The margs were astounding – not at all too sweet. I don’t know what the person’s experience was above who said the drink was too sweet, but I thought it was perfectly tart. Their mojitos are phenominal as well. Also, both are notably boozy, if you’re into that kind of thing.

    Huge addition to the area. Love the rooftop and love the taqueria space. Have yet to eat downstairs.

    • Why do you feel the need to refer to some of the posts as “bitching”? A question was posed and people put out opinions based on their experiences. Jeesh.

    • I concur with Anon’s rating. I too grew up on amazing Mexican food in Texas. Good quality Mexican has been hard to find in DC. My meal at Centro was delish. It was affordable (by DC standards), prepared well, filling,and flavorful.

  • I haven’t been since early June and only had drinks and apps, the apps were so so but the drinks were horrible. It was obvious the bartender didn’t know what she was doing (she even had to double check with us the standard ingredients in a margarita, wtf?). My second visit the bartender was just as clueless and the margarita and other drinks my friends ordered were horrible as well- pretty much undrinkable. Really too bad because I like the vibe and idea of the place. Maybe its gotten better but it seemed like they were very unorganized, no consistent method to making drinks, and the waitstaff pretty clueless about what they were serving.

    • This was very contrary to my experience. This was without a doubt the best margarita I’ve had in DC. Sounds like they may be settling in and still training some bartenders. On the few times I’ve been there I’ve been very lucky.

    • Undrinkable? If it’s cheap and boozy and not mixed with gasoline or piss I can damn well drink it! (And piss wouldn’t preclude in a lifeboat.)

  • Happy Hour is a great deal. My sister and I were running late and the bartender extended happy hour for us while our friend held our seat on the roof.
    The basement is a little dark – but the food is great. Will go back often – much better than that place on 18th.

  • As someone about to head to the southwest for the week, I can say authoritatively that it does not compare to authentic New Mexican and Mexican food.

  • Upmarket Mexican food is usually disappointing in my experience. Hole in the wall is really the way to go. This place tries to look like a hole in the wall, but the prices suggest otherwise. The food is decent as far as taste goes (I had a good enchilada), but poor value in comparison to other options in the area which are just as tasty. Also, I second what was said above about the confusing seating arrangements.

  • i’ve had lunch once and dinner once, and both times the food was excellent. good (not quite excellent) service. in all, it’s a nice addition to the neighborhood!

  • When we went, the food and drinks were both lackluster. Worse than Lauriol Plaza if that’s possible. The service was also pretty spotty.

    As for the praise for the decor, my personal description of the downstairs consists of one word: suburban.

    Overall, this place warrants one big yawn.

  • leftcoastsouthpaw

    I actually really liked the downstairs space. I didn’t think it was too dark at all. If I were to eat there again, I would definitely rather be seated downstairs. The real question is whether I would eat there again. The food is average, but the drinks are fun. There are so many good restaurants on 14th I would go choose over this one. However, I will take advantage of their great roof deck.

  • ledroittiger

    Same as 89% of the openings around town in the last couple years: mediocre food and decent drinks.

  • They don’t have los chimichangas on the menu, so I’m gonna pass.

  • I’ve only been for drinks on the rooftop and thought that the Palomas were quite tasty (and strong). Friends of mine have been to eat and advised me to skip it. Which is such a shame because the food at Masa 14 is so good. It’s sad that its sister restaurant can’t seem to get it together.

  • I’ve eaten there a few times. The drinks are great and I’ve had generally good experiences with the staff (some confusion but that’s not surprising in a new restaurant).
    I love their queso fundido appetizer and am a fan of their guacamole. I’m a little disappointed with the tacos though. They’re pretty good but I was expecting better.

  • i find the hostess/seating situation to be bizarrely clueless and even kind of hostile, but the menu has a broad range of prices and overall not too expensive. THe guac is really good. The margaritas were made without mix. The downstairs front is SO LOUD you can’t hear yourself. BUt I think it adds to the great mix of price and options along 14th. Thumbs up.

  • The corn on the cob on the roof is divine! And, if you sign up on the website you get a free maragarita, easing the pain of spending $9 for one.

  • Two thumbs up. The food is more or less authentic and to my taste, very good (My spouse is Mexican, I’ve eaten all over Mexico). Not perfect mind you, and overpriced, but tasty. The tacos are what they are supposed to be, although lacking a bit in flavor, the enchiladas were pretty perfect, and I’ve tried all the appetizers and liked them all. They skimp on the rice though, definitely out of a box and just drowned in cheese.

    Drinks are very good, the selection of tequilas and mezcal, especially the mezcal is unrivaled in DC. Margaritas are more American than Mexican anyway, so I don’t really go to a real Mexican place to get them. That’s for the Lauriol Plaza’s of the world.

    I hope they keep the quality up over time, but so far, I’m very happy they opened. Very hard to get real, good, Mexican food in DC.

  • The best Mexican food in the city. Very nice flavors and well seasoned meats. Love the beef tongue here, its better than most places that offer it. Drinks are fine, nothing special. Food is great, too bad they aren’t doing lunch on the weekdays anymore. Ate there during the week for lunch once, but when I went today, they were closed.

    • “Best Mexican food in the city.” Nice backhanded compliment there!

      Think it is better than Taqueria DF huh?

      • It’s much better than Tacos DF. But you’re comparing apples and oranges really. El Centro is more upscale, Tacos DF is more down to earth. I dig Tacos DF, but the tacos at El Centro taste better and more authentic.

  • The tacos we had at El Centro were tasty but the margaritas weren’t worth it. It was too sweet and hard to enjoy the flavors when loaded with ice in a pint glass. I think the decor is OK but it gets a little crazy when its busy and can be really loud. I probably wouldn’t go again because it was too stressful and the food wasn’t great enough to bring me back.

  • Best Mexican food in the city? Certainly not. I shared the guac appetizer and had the pork tacos. My friend had the fish tacos. We both had margs. The margaritas were OK. Strange tinge at the end, and didn’t taste very alcoholic. The guac was incredibly too salty. Avocado needs to be balanced with some sodium, but Jesus- overkill! My pork tacos, though seasoned nicely, were really fatty/chewy cuts of meat. My friend’s fish tacos were quite bland.

    Our waiter was incredibly knowledgable and friendly without being obtrusive. That said, I may try drinks on the roof, but I’ll eat elsewhere.

    One last note- I found the prices quite reasonable for the product.

  • I think this is the most over rated restaurant/bar in the neighborhood. While the roof top is nice, the rest of the place doesn’t live up to the hype. I didn’t think the food was anything extraordinary, particularly considering the prices (10 bucks for guac?! get out!). The margaritas vary significantly depending on the bar tender. And Saturday nights, the place is a complete disaster. I once saw a line down the block just to get in!?

  • We ate dinner at El Centro a couple of weeks after it first opened. My husband and I thought the margaritas and guacamole were excellent and the tacos good to very good. For upscale Mexican, Oyamel downtown offers better cuisine, but Oyamel isn’t just a block from our house. If one doesn’t mind Spartan surroundings and no booze, Pica Taco a few blocks up the street offers much better value.

    The service made a poorer impression than the food. I hope the servers have been permitted to retire the BS about Richard Sandoval restaurants (with which we’ve never been subjected a few doors up at Masa 14, under the same ownership) to which we were repeatedly subjected. And El Centro was the only restaurant of about four dozen where I’ve made an Open Table reservation not to mark me as having shown up for the reservation (an error which Open Table graciously corrected.)

  • I liked the restaurant a lot and have eaten there twice. The first time I had pork carnitas, and they were excellent. I would recommend it to anyone trying the restaurant for the first time. The second time I had chicken enchiladas, and I was disappointed because they weren’t as good. I agree with some of the posters that the margaritas were too sweet.

    For everyone complaining about the price, I’m surprised. Lots of people are dropping Taqueria DF as a cheaper alternative, but you pay $10 for the three taco combo there, and it doesn’t come with rice and beans. Admitedly it’s cheaper, but you get a lot better environment and higher quality food at Centro. Two thumbs up for this restaurant.

  • I like their menu, but last time I ate there I got aweful food poisoning!

  • Only been once but will return. Other than TDF the best Mexican / El Salvadoran I’ve had in DC. Good atmosphere and service and very fair prices. I don’t like Masa but this place is solid. And SO much better, cheaper, and nicer than Laurial Plaza.

  • They need to put micheladas on the drink menu or at least be able to make them when asked. Otherwise, good.

    • I went last week and asked for one and they made it for me. Maybe you just need the right waiter. Agree it should be on the menu.

  • They have almost no food on their roof bar. And you can’t order food downstairs to go and bring it upstairs to eat. Learned that the hard way ($50 later – hungry and drunk at 10pm at their upstairs bar). The manager was a titanic douche about it too. Hospitality 101 – make your customers happy. (This comes from a former server too, and I’ve dealt with idiots that don’t know the ‘rules’ of your restaurant and you still have to make them happy.) Manager talked to me like I was a total dumbass. Needless to say, i won’t be back.
    PS: food is mediocre at best, and not real mexican food. Casa Oaxaca isn’t cheap eats, but the mexican food there is legit at least. ALSO – no one has posted about super tacos on columbia road — my best kept DC secret.

    • Super Tacos is nasty. Back in the day when they were Pepitos, they weren’t bad, but then they just tanked. I agree that Casa Oaxaca is pretty good, but to say that El Centro’s stuff isn’t real is just false.

  • Seems pretty standard/generic to me. I haven’t eaten, but have had drinks downstairs and on the roof. As a friend once said, “I didn’t know Chipotle had a bar”.

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