Cititour: The New York Guide to Events, Restaurants, Music, and Nightlife

El Centro

El Centro

Cuisine: Mexican

Cititour Review:

Festive is definitely the first word that comes to mind when entering El Centro, the Mexican cantina now housed in the former home of Vynl (which has moved to a much larger space a few blocks south on Ninth Avenue). One wall is chock full of milagros, the colorful Mexican tin ornaments that signify miracles, the floor is bedecked in brightly colored tiles, and the chandeliers are made, in part, out of Corona beer bottles. It would seem impossible not to have a great time. Or maybe not. Provided you order enough margaritas or order all the right dishes, you will leave just as happy as when you walked in. But the kitchen can disappoint, even with a dish as seemingly simple as guacamole. It was so uninspired that we didn’t feel compelled to finish even a small side order. The menu is also a tad complicated for such a simple place, divided into a dozen categories – half on the appetizer and half on the entrée side. (Plus there’s another menu devoted to desserts!) I have one strong recommendation, however: sample the roasted pork pozole. It even impressed my dining companion, an expert on this South of the Border stew. The pork was expertly shredded, the hominy grits remained firm, and the chipotle chile broth had just the right amount of kick. A half-order works perfectly as a hearty appetizer, while a whole order would make a supremely satisfying dinner. Speaking of appetizers, the rajas and Oaxacan cheese tamale – one of four variations -- was flavorful if not overly filling. Meanwhile, our helpful waiter pointed out that the quesadillas here actually only consist of two largish pieces instead of a whole tortilla. But the problem with the grilled chicken and Monterey Jack version wasn’t the size; it was that it was all a bit dry. If you want to fill up, the enchiladas (which we saw at another table) seemed enormous, and the salmon chilaquiles -- a casserole of shredded tortillas topped with avocado and queso blanco and accompanied by a decent size filet of the fish -- was pretty hefty and quite tasty. (By the way, rice and beans are an extra $4). Still, with so few Mexican options in midtown, El Centro is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and with such a fun vibe, it won’t even need a miracle to survive.

Review By: Brian Scott Lipton

Neighborhood: West 50s

El Centro
824 9th Ave (54th St)
New York, NY
(212) 763-6585

Entree Price: $10-15