Richard Sandoval made only a brief appearance on the latest season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters competition before being ousted, but he’s far from short-lived in the Washington, D.C. food scene. The chef and restaurateur’s latest D.C. restaurant is El Centro D.F. in Georgetown, the second location of the concept.
Located near the corner of Wisconsin Ave. and M. St. (1218 Wisconsin Ave NW), El Centro took over the sprawling space which formerly housed Third Edition. After a soft opening and then a grand opening party in September, the restaurant is already busy and bustling, and making a mark with both its food and drink.
El Centro’s huge layout includes multiple levels and bars, a large outdoor patio and deck, and a variety of hidden nooks and crannies throughout the establishment. You should also be on the lookout for semi-unisex bathrooms, where instead of mirrors behind the sink, there’s an open view to the adjacent men’s or women’s room. Be warned.
For diners who have already been to the original El Centro D.F. on 14th St., the menu here offers new surprises. There are several additional tacos, entrees and even guacamole flavors which are not available at the original location, ensuring this one stands out on its own accord.
For your guacamole, select from traditional, or several add-on varieties, such as bacon with chicharron and picked chile, tuna tartare, or spicy crab, and from there you’ll still need to choose your heat level.
One of the biggest draws will be the cocktail menu. Choose from half a dozen margaritas and about 10 house cocktails, or choose one of the dozen house-infused tequilas to make your own margarita, with flavors such as pineapple-habanero, strawberry-chile, tamarind, grilled pineapple, and rosemary.
Margaritas also come with an optional and addictive spicy rim, with red pepper flakes and spices. All margaritas are available by the glass, or by the carafe, and on Wednesday nights cost just $5.
Other specials include half-priced sangria on Sunday, and $2 taco Tuesdays. These aren’t your everyday Americanized tacos, though. At El Centro, you’ll find 15 different tacos with authentic Mexican flavors and ingredients.
A few of the choice selections include the Al Pastor, showcasing adobo-marinated pork shoulder and grilled pineapple; Beef Tongue with salsa verde; Duck Alambre with Cotija cheese and roasted corn; the Grilled Nopal, with cactus, veggies and queso fresco; the Kalbi, with Korean BBQ-inspired steak; and the Griego, a Greek pita-taco creation with grilled chicken and a chipotle yogurt sauce.
The menu also includes several varieties of huaraches, which are corn masa flatbread dishes, as well as iron skillet fajitas with grilled meats or veggies, enchiladas, a range of entrees, and last but certainly not least, cazuelas.
Cazuelas include braised meats such as chicken, pork or beef ribs, layered over a creamy corn puree and finished with all sorts of sauces and toppings. A must-have that you won’t find at your typical Mexican restaurant, and a testament to the authenticity behind the flavors and concepts of El Centro.
All of this and we haven’t even gotten to the 230-long tequila list, known affectionately around the restaurant as the Tequila Bible. The tequila list, which also includes a variety of mezcals, is easily sorted according to different classes of the spirit, and you’ll also be able to select from a series of different samplers when you just can’t make up your mind.
The restaurant also offers a bottomless brunch for $35 on Saturdays and Sundays, which includes an endless selection of the brunch menu as well, featuring all types of hearty Mexican hangover specialties.
El Centro manages to pull off a great combination of Mexican authenticity and unique dishes, with familiar and fun concepts. Whether it’s for a few flavorful margaritas with house-infused tequilas, a sampling of tacos, the robust, standout cazuelas, or a spiritual experience with the Tequila Bible, El Centro has something to offer just about anybody, and has hit the ground running, already standing out in the competitive Georgetown dining scene.