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.

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Fish and chips (not from Codmother) courtesy of David Ascher

The British pub serving classics like fish and chips, Codmother, is set to open very soon on U Street, in the former Cafe Nema space. The soft open was Monday – which means the restaurant should be open for good in a few days. Check out a preview of the menu – very minimalist.

El Centro D.F.

Metrocurean has the details on the taco place from Masa 14 opening on the same block on 14th street. First, a name: El Centro D.F. and second, an opening date: by Cinco de Mayo. The D.F. stands for Distrito Federal, the naming convention in chef Richard Sandoval’s home town, Mexico City. Metrocurean reminds us that El Centro D.F. will offer take-out tacos, a sit-down restaurant, and a bar or lounge in the basement.

Kind of sounds like a rehash of what was there previously, minus the African food: a new restaurant and sports bar are coming to the old Cafe Nema/MoMo’s spot at 1334 U Street. Touchdown, a sports bar will open on the top level with the Codmother, a fish joint to be on the bottom level. Rumors are that the brothers behind Tabaq Bistro next door are opening this new joint. Well Michael Fonseca, a D.C. attorney, is the name on the permits so that doesn’t tell us much. I’ll keep an eye out on progress and keep you updated.

I see many of you are googling options of New Years Eve parties on U Street and coming along my post for last year. I meant to write this up earlier but, time, it gets away. Here is what the bars and restaurants are doing this year to ring in the new year:

  • Champagne, courtesy of Dplanet::

    The Black Cat is throwing their New Year’s Eve Ball with Peaches O’Dell & Her Orchestra performing stuff form 1920s to the 1950s, tickets are $25.

  • U Street Music Hall is having a no-nonsense dance party: performances by DJs Tittsworth, Nadastrom, and Nouveau Riche, no champagne, tickets are $10.
  • BYT is hosting a DJs and beer night at Bohemian Caverns, with open bar for $55.
  • Churchkey is hosting a New Year’s Eve Beer Bash with an open bar, a lot hors do’oeuvres, a DJ and “some surprises.”  Tickets are $150.
  • The Gibson is having their New Year’s Eve Gala, a black tie preferred event featuring an open bar, catered food, and champagne. I went last year and had a ball – the Gibson knows how to throw a party. Tickets are $130
  • Eatonville is having A New Orleans New Year’s Eve with a four-course dinner, live jazz, party favors and champagne. the dinner is $59 (not including drinks).
  • Marvin is hosting a 4-course meal for $75/person, not including alcohol. They have two seatings at 7 pm and 9:30 pm.
  • Masa 14 is offering two dinner options:  an early seating at $55/person that includes three dinner selections, a dessert, and a glass of champagne and a late seating at $80/person that includes – Six dinner selections, an amuse bouche, a dessert, and a glass of champagne.
  • Local 16 is having an open bar from 8-10, appetizers, a champagne toast and music from DJ Okun. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the door.
  • Duffy’s is having an open bar, appetizers from 9 to 11 pm, champagne toast and party favors. Tickets are $60 in advance, $75 at the door.
  • DC9  is hosting a Liberation Dance Party with your first drink free. Tickets are $15.

Know of any other special New Year’s events on U street? Let me know in the comments.

Bar Pilar

Well this is great news. Prince of Petworth reports this morning that Bar Pilar has a liquor license application to expand to the second floor of their building. I love Bar Pilar, but tend to go there on weekdays for dinner and drinks because it tends to get insufferably crowded on weekends – this will make the bar/restaurant much more tolerable when busy. Great news!

Building in 2008, courtesy of las.photographs

Color me skeptical on this one. The Feast is reporting that a restaurant/lounge from the people of Local 16 will open in the long vacant building at the corner of 14th and U in late January. The owner, Aman Ayoubi, has confirmed this information. The concept doesn’t have a name as of yet.

However, I’ve not seen much work on the building and kind of doubt it will be ready to open in a month or so. According to the owners, the building will feature a restaurant and lounge on the second and third floors. There will also be a  basement club, very similar to Eighteenth Street Lounge,  that will open in March. And if that weren’t enough: a roof deck will open in the spring.

Sommer Mathis of TBD reports that the January meeting of ANC 1B had some more information about the concept, albeit a year old. Another partner for the restaurant, Doug Whipple, categorized the place as “a very relaxed steak house, one that people could afford to go to and had very good food: good burgers, good steaks, good sides… They are planning for 139 seats. There will be a small summer garden on the third floor with a roof that can be opened over it.”