Baja tacos at El Centro DF

I had many reasons to have low expectations when I walked in to El Centro DF early Saturday evening. You only have to go as far as their Yelp reviews to see very mixed scorecards of a hugely popular new restaurant on 14th street. The gripes: bad service, long waits, subpar food. Then there was the word from various foodie friends on Twitter: it’s not very good.

But, I had to try it for myself. At least determined to bypass the long waits (and lines out the door at some times) I went for a late lunch/early dinner around 5:30 on Saturday. By the by, this is my normal way of checking out immensely popular restaurants: go early and eat a small meal.

The service in the basement tequileria we received wasn’t bad, if anything it was over attentive – after all, it wasn’t crowded. Certainly a bit too dark, but with a cool vibe – the tequileria was a fun place to eat a small meal. All in all, the restaurant has over 200 seats – it’s massive.

We ordered two taco platters – me the baja tacos ($14 – grilled fish, Mexican slaw, corn, avocado, chipotle aioli) my companion the al pastor ($13 – adobo marinade pork belly, grilled pineapple, cilantro,  onion, salsa verde) with a side of the habanero salsa. Food came out fast (perhaps a bit too fast) and the servings were huge. The tacos, filled to the brim with fillings, burst open – but tasted quite good. The side of rice and beans could have easily filled me up alone. Coming recently from a trip in San Fransisco where I had the best tacos of my life – these weren’t equal but didn’t pale in comparison to the SF tacos.

Roofdeck at El Centro DF

We each had a drink – me the Poloma (grapefruit soda, tequila, with lime) and my companion a mojito, both nothing to write home about. The Poloma tasted mostly of tequila and little of the acidity of grapefruit or lime. My companion’s mojito tasted overwhelmingly minty – there must have been some mint syrup in there because the mint leaves in the drink couldn’t have added that much flavor.

We ended the night (or early evening) with an order of churros – something I can never resist. They were overly sweet – rolled in too much sugar – but hot out of the fryer. I’ve certainly had better in Spain, but these weren’t half bad.

A last stop at the roof before we left showed us perhaps why the line was out the door – it was already getting crowded before 7 pm. The beer menu is unexciting, but the huge selection of tequila will draw in some. Word from the restaurant is they will start serving brunch soon.

The verdict: as is often true in life, when you have low expectations you might be surprised.  I found that if you go early you’ll have a better experience – the tacos were pretty good, the servings ample, and the bill was pretty small, considering how much I’d heard about the high prices. It’s not a hole in the wall taco joint where you can walk out with 3 tacos for 5 dollars – but you should know that given its reputation.