16 December 2017
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El Centro: Not So Bueno.

  • The rooftop at El Centro.
  • Guacamole at El Centro.
  • The main dining area at El Centro.
  • Pork carnitas at El Centro.

I heart tacos. I really do. I’m 32 and single, so I make them for dinner at least three times a week. It’s part of my food pyramid. So it pains me to say that the tacos at El Centro are mediocre at best. But I’ll come back to that.

The spot itself is ok. It’s a little grungy looking, which is what I think they were going for. The dining area is a bit small. El Centro was one of the most-anticipated openings on 14th Street this year, so how they are going to handle the mass traffic that is going to be in and out of there over the next few months is a mystery to me. But, whatever, that’s their problem. Not mine.

The bright spot is the roof. It’s a pretty decent size (two bars) and really the only rooftop on 14th Street other than Marvin (Policy has a balcony). That’s a great asset to have for the drunkards stumbling between Masa 14 and Café Saint-Ex. I can assure you that this rooftop will be packed on the weekends over the summer. So I would definitely recommend El Centro as a destination weekend spot.

It’s a good change of pace from Marvin or Local 16. As for the drinks, we ordered margaritas (when in Rome, right?), which were made with mix and served in a pint glass. I’m not a huge fan of mix, nor am I a fan of anything other than beer served in a pint glass, so I wasn’t blown away by it. I don’t need two shots of tequila with 14 ounces of sugar water. I like my margaritas traditional. Check out Estadio, which (in my humble opinion) has the best margarita in the city. In El Centro’s defense, there is supposedly a Tequila tasting room in the basement that doubles as a grimy dance floor a la Café Saint-Ex, but it wasn’t open, so we couldn’t check it out. Maybe the margaritas are better down there. I’ll have to reserve judgment for that later.

Back to the tacos.

I sampled three different tacos – steak, pork and fish. The fish was by far the best. The steak and pork were way overcooked. Not that I would expect anything different. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to cook meat in mass quantities and made to order. Aside from that, the meat itself was actually pretty tasty. The problem was with the tortillas. They looked and tasted like they came right from the grocery store. This was a bit of a letdown for me, because one my favorite dishes in DC is the charred tuna-wonton tacos from Zengo, another Richard Sandoval restaurant.

The difference is that the shells at Zengo are crunchy and add some texture to the rest of the taco. At El Centro, the tortillas tasted rubbery – like they were store-bought and taken out of a bag. I would have loved to seen them deep fried or, at the very least, heated in a skillet with some oil. I think that would make all of the difference in the world. We weren’t the only ones that shared this opinion. Upon leaving, a group of girls was also complaining about the tacos and said they’d rather pay for a flight to San Diego to get some decent tacos rather than eat El Centro’s.

It wasn’t expensive, though, which was good. The taco platters were somewhere in the neighborhood of $11-$13. They came with black beans and rice, so it’s a decent amount of food – just not good enough to make me run back for seconds. We’ll definitely go back for sure and try some more dishes before dropping the hammer on this place. We’ve found that at most of Sandoval’s restaurants, once you get through the entire menu, you can usually find a few dishes that are really fantastic. It just takes some time.

To recap: Go to El Centro if you are looking for a new spot on 14th Street to get after it on the weekends. But, if you are looking for some solid tacos, then make your way to Surfside (review to come soon) in Glover Park. Those are, hands down, the best tacos that you will find in this city. If someone knows somewhere better, please let me know.

Here’s an early look at the El Centro menu.

Neighborhood: 14th Street
Address: 1819 14th St., NW (Bet. S and T Sts.) Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-328-3131
Web site: www.richardsandoval.com/elcentrodf/
Parking: Street
Metro: U Street/Cardozo
Serves: Lunch (Daily); Dinner (Daily); Late Night (Sunday-Thursday 11 PM-2 AM and Friday-Saturday 11 PM-3 AM)
Specials: Coming soon
Go for: Not sure yet. But when we find something good, we will let you know.
Price: *****
Rating: *****

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Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
El Centro: Not So Bueno. , 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings


  1. Ariell says:

    This sounds awesome! Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Sorry, but I’m already planning a tequila “sunrise” and ceviche brunch in my head. Holla!

  2. Dan says:

    Shots on the roof on me!

  3. Anon says:

    Super Taco in Adams Morgan has tacos that are surprisingly decent. Give them a try, if you haven’t already.

  4. Addicted to surfside rooftop says:

    you nailed it with surfside… they have the best tacos hands down. And, they too, have a rooftop. i go there at least 3 times a week.