Restaurant Review: El Centro

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Prepare yourself for one of the best eating experiences of your life. That is of course if you make your way to El Centro and indulge in authentic Mexican cuisine. Being a California native and a member of a Hispanic family, I am no stranger to good Mexican food and El Centro isn’t either.

The moment you walk into the restaurant, you will feel transported to a place resembling somewhere south of the border. El Centro is a small place with lots of character, from their authentic Mexican art to their cozy seating layout, it’s fun and welcoming.

My first impression of the restaurant was not the best. With no host stand, I felt almost as if I was walking into a private dinner party. However, the host promptly approached us at the door from the bar in the back of the restaurant. The wait time on a Friday night at 8 o’clock was about 30 minutes and there is not a lot of space inside the restaurant to wait, unless you squeeze into a space at the bar.

After being seated, the first glance at the menu sent me into the dilemma any food lover faces; would they judge me if I ordered three entrées? Luckily, I came with three other people so we strategized and ordered several things to share amongst all of us. To drink, I went with a classic glass of horchata, which is a cinnamon rice milk and the first test I have when judging a Mexican restaurant. El Centro passed the horchata test – just the right amount of ice and cinnamon making it a refreshing beverage to go alongside spicy tortilla soup and chips and guacamole as an appetizer.

Tortilla soup is a no-fail food when it comes to Mexican restaurants, but El Centro took their tortilla soup to a whole new level. It was abundant in flavor and spice which paired perfectly with the plentiful amount of tortilla chip strips, chicken, and tomatoes. The portion was also quite large for just a starter soup, so you definitely get your money’s worth.

Like I said, I’m a native Californian so I have been spoiled by growing up with some of the Earth’s greatest avocados. El Centro’s guacamole upheld the fresh and flavorful standards of which I had been used to on the West Coast. Pairing the guacamole, seasoned with cilantro, with freshly made tortilla chips was an amazing break to take between spoonfuls of spicy tortilla soup.

As for tacos, the staple that everyone could survive off of, El Centro’s tacos were by and large the most perfectly crafted, heavenly, tortilla-wrapped things I’ve ever eaten. I tried the carne asada, taco al pastor, and barbacoa tacos. Personally, I did not love the carne asada tacos because I thought the meat itself was a bit dry. If you like a good smoky meat, I would highly recommend the barbacoa tacos. Even if you don’t like a smoky barbeque flavor I would highly recommend it. Their barbacoa is a juicy, flavorful shredded beef taco topped with a very light and almost refreshing guacamole. The taco al pastor was pork loin cooked in orange and pineapple, giving a sweet, glazed flavor to the meat.  

The last thing we ordered was La Mejor del Mundo, which translates to best in the world, and it was. It is a charcoal-grilled juicy steak served with a side of refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and warm flour tortillas. The meat is fantastic by itself, but I urge you to fill one of the fresh tortillas with the steak, guac, beans, and pico de gallo because the combination is unlike any other.

El Centro has so many traditional Mexican dishes to offer that are rich in flavor and served in perfect proportions. If you are of age, El Centro offers a unique array of margaritas, mojitos, and more drinks worth their price point. Since Mexico is about 3,000 miles away, save yourself some time and head to the South End for some real Mexican food at El Centro.

El Centro is located at 472 Shawmut Avenue.