I had planned to have dinner with my friend Kathryn on Friday after work. As we were not sure where to go I asked one of my colleagues for ideas and he suggested El Centro in the South End. I had actually not heard of the place so was excited to experience somewhere new. It was really cold and windy on Friday so we hopped in a cab for the short ride to the restaurant.
Located on Shawmut Ave right across the street from Orinoco’s, El Centro is a tiny little neighborhood restaurant. The door leads right into the restaurant, which I can imagine in the bitterly cold winters could be problematic. Last night was cold but the restaurant was so packed you really didn’t get a lashing from the wind each time the door opened.
The small room is decorated with light yellow walls covered with brightly colored paintings of famous Mexican singers and actors. Tiny tables covered nearly every part of the restaurant, which I would say seats about 60 people total. We got there around 7.00pm and every table was taken and mostly with young couples with kids. A little off-putting for me as I am less inclined to dine at restaurants with kids running around. We were seated very quickly at a small table against the wall and touching distance from a family of three. I did have to ask them to get up so I could squeeze into the table. This is as cozy as it gets.
We ordered what looked like fun Margarita’s on the rocks both with salt. I loved the traditional huge margarita glasses, unfortunately the taste was less desirable. The margarita tasted like orange/lemon juice with club soda and only a glimpse of tequila.
The menu really does look traditional with lots of interesting items from the well known Enchiladas and Chimichangas to Corn dough tartlets and Ceviche. We decided on sharing a few things starting with the Gaucamole El Centro. A large bowl of deliciously creamy, slightly tangy gaucamole with savory ground chorizo and wonderful, salty fresh chips. Super filling and very tasty.
We then ordered the Mini Tamales, Chile Poblano and Ceviche. Probably a little too much food but a super and interesting selection of tastes. The tamale and ceviche with more chips came out all together – our table was starting to get a little over crowded. Just as we started to dig in, the Chile Poblano came out so we asked them to take it back until later in the meal.
The tamales “a dish made of masa (a starchy dough, usually corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper” were surprisingly tasty. I have had tamales in the past there were very dry. Not the most desirable dish to look at but these were cheesy, moist and very fresh tasting.
The shrimp ceviche was a huge portion of large and plentiful chunks of shrimp and finely chopped vegetables and avocado. Wonderfully seasoned with hints of cilantro and coriander with a tart but quite mild citrus juices. Probably my favorite dish of the evening.
Before we had finished they brought out the Chile Poblano again on a burning hot plate and looking a little dried out – it had obviously just been kept hot for us so I thought it would taste dry. I was wrong, it was cheesy goodness with tasty refried beans and a spicy tomato sauce. I would have eaten so much more but by this time, we were so full that we were just picking at our dishes.
With all the dishes coming out so quickly and the large line that was forming with people waiting for tables, I thought that we would have been rushed to leave. Not the case at all. We were left to enjoy a glass of Sangiovese and a great catch up after a long week of work.
I did read a lot of reviews about how slow the service is at El Centro. My opinion is that it is more service of chaos than slow. We did have to flag a waiter down each time we wanted something but our requests were dealt with immediately from the attentive and very friendly waitstaff. The waiters seem to serve all tables rather have a selection of tables that each one of them look after.
El Centro seems to draw quite a crowd on a Friday evening and once the young families had left, the South End urbanites started to descend upon this noisy, bustling neighborhood place, lining up down the center of the restaurant drinking large Margaritas and tall Sangrias.
A fun locale offering authentic Mexican cuisine.