El Centro: An Authentic Taste of Mexico in DC

 El Centro is a favorite of mine due to the fact that oftentimes it’s the starting point for 14th street nighttime activities. The upstairs roof deck immediately makes me feel like I’m in a distinctly exotic place, faraway from downtown D.C, and is a great place to kick off an evening out.

Amazingly though, I’ve never actually eaten at El Centro, nor have I ever taken the time to really examine its extensive tequila menu.

First, it must be stated, I love the entire atmosphere of El Centro because it always feels alive. As we walked in the restaurant and made our way to the host stand, there was so much activity and great energy surrounding us. People just getting off work, enjoying happy hour, laughing and conversing. Just being there is fun.

The Food & Drinks

For dinner, we made our way to a section of the restaurant to which I’d never ventured before. Instead of immediately heading to the roof (as I normally do), the host led us to a cave-like lower level outfitted with a full bar and several dining tables.

The lighting was low and moody and immediately made me want a margarita, so that’s what that first move was. Our libation selections included the classic El Centro margarita and Pepito margarita. My barometer for a great margarita is “not too sweet” and both of these passed the test. The classic was refreshing with a kick but the Pepito was the unanimous favorite. The Pepino is a concoction of serrano infused blanco tequila, agave nectar, fresh lime and cucumber. If you don’t like spicy this might not be your thing. However, if you do like spicy, you’ll immediately be hooked.

Pepito Margarita

For food, we of course, started with guacamole. What’s better than guacamole that’s made right in front of you at the table? Nothing. The guac options are choose your own adventure at El Centro, and additions can be made that include things like pumpkin seeds, corn and bacon.

Up next: entrees. I was dining with a friend who has spent significant time in Southern California, and therefore, knows his Mexican food, and more specifically, tacos. I told him to be brutally honest about how El Centro’s fare compares to what he’d become accustomed to in SoCal.

Per the waitress recommendation, we both went with tacos. Hanger steak for him and mahi mahi for me. The hanger steak tacos were topped with onion, cilantro and salsa, but the best part was that the corn tortillas had crispy cheese seemingly baked into them. Even though they weren’t San Diego tacos, they passed my friend’s approval process with flying colors. The mahi mahi tacos were topped with crispy Mexican slaw and chiles, finished with a spicy aioli. They were excellent.

Mahi Mahi Tacos
Hanger Steak Tacos

The Tequila

After dinner, I couldn’t resist heading to the rooftop for one last drink and an opportunity to enjoy the summer night. At this point, it felt like time for tequila, so we took a few minutes to study the MANY tequila options and settled on one of the anejos. Admittedly I chose the Capaz because part of its flavor profile includes caramel, and that sounded nice. The glass of tequila came served with an orange slice. Disclaimer: this stuff is powerful at first, but by the end I’d gotten used to the potency (kind of) and really enjoyed it.

In short, if you haven’t tried El Centro for dinner, give it a shot! This is an establishment that’s definitely more than just your local watering (or margarita-ing) hole.

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