Hotshot VIPs like we are here at FDC HQ get some pretty sweet perks sometimes. First perk: we’re only barely a real journalism outfit, so we don’t have to worry about “grammar” or “sentence structure.” Second, we know people. Well really, we meet people. At their restaurants. When we give them money to feed us. Then we see them again at their restaurants, giving them more money. Then at a certain point we just… know them.
One Them we know is Jami Olson. Along with her ragtag bunch of merry… humans (#2018), they’ve got a new spot opening TOMORROW in Northeast. Right now it’s just Centro, a counter service joint serving up tacos, a raw bar, and margs by the pitcher. Soon they’ll open Popol Vuh next door — what we in the biz call a “sit down restaurant,” serving up more refined Mexican fare. We got to visit Centro on Tuesday for a preview — and get excited — but a quick word about Popol Vuh. It’s going to be great. We first got a taste of Chef Jose Alarcon’s food at a popup at Lyn 65 almost two years ago and it left us speechless. Chris said it was the best meal he’d ever had, and, well, this is how I felt:
But back to Centro for now. The space is beautiful. Tons of windows provide primo natural lighting for all those insta posts, and they opted for the popular “unfinished” look that literally everyone has copied from Chipotle. But it works — all the natural light and unfinished wood give the place a warm feel. And there’s enough deep turquoise and pink accents sprinkled throughout to give the room some pop.
Unrelated, please come see my new band, Deep Turquoise? We’re playing our hit song, “Pink Accents Sprinkled” at the vacated Triple Rock space. 2:30am. Saturday, but not that Saturday, the other Saturday. Anyway…
Back to Centro again. Between the six of us who dined, we consumed the entirety of the robust food menu (except the salad, for obvious reasons, and the raw bar for the less obvious “not yet operational” reason), and performed admirably on the drink menu. I will now commence to rank the tacos via a mix of personal experience and general impressions, because why write paragraphs when the people demand lists?
- Nopales. Stole the show! The person at the register recommended it, everyone who ordered it raved, I got to try it a few weeks ago at Centro’s Art-a-Whirl popup, and… I definitely don’t remember it. It’s their vegetarian taco. I am clearly not a vegetarian, but if the best thing on the menu is the veg offering, then you know an equal amount of thought and care went into the rest of it.
- Papas con Chorizo. You know what can’t be bad? Potatoes and sausage in a taco. Throw on some salsa verde and you get this instant classic.
- Pescado. Put me right in baja.
- Carnitas en adobo. I had this at cold, cloudy Art-a-Whirl and remember the hearty carnitas warming me up, while the pineapple got me daydreaming of sunnier days. Incredibly satisfying taco.
- Pollo a la Plancha. This was a lot of people’s second-favorite (after the Nopales), and it’s fifth on this subjective list. Get here now/tomorrow.
- Cachetas. Means beef cheek (presumably). The meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, AND melt-your-heart tender. It gave me a little kiss on my cheek, too!
There were two more tacos, the barbacoa and chicken tinga, but not only did the above picture mess up my list formatting, none of those tacos deserves to be last, so I’m . . . ing the rest of the list.
To accompany the tacos, we had our pick of sides. The Frijoles Borrachos (drunken beans) had a surprising amount of hearty complexity, and are a steal at $5. We also loved the papas chingonas, and honestly, the chips. Clearly scratch made, they had a great flavor, and, more importantly, a great crunch. Plus, Centro doesn’t mess around — if you order the guac or salsa trio and run out of chips before your dip, they will give you more chips, no questions asked. (Other than, “Do you want more chips?”)
I think I speak for the group that our favorite drink was the White Dagger. Chris ordered it because it had yogurt, which intrigued him, and the yogurt did not disappoint. So good, in fact, that I actually suspect it’s not yogurt, it’s Djoghurt.
However, if Djoghurt isn’t your thing, may I suggest Massachusetts? (I WILL SHOEHORN YLVIS VIDEOS INTO THESE REVEWS UNTIL THE DAY I DIE.)
But if you want more drink recs, go with the beautiful tap cocktail, the Electric Bunny, Centro’s take on a caipirinha, or the fruity Pink Rabbit Pils that Centro’s neighbor, Indeed Brewing, brewed special for Centro. Normally I’m not a fruit beer guy, but with the really strong, deep flavors coming out of Jose’s kitchen, the light, fruity ale hit the spot in a way I didn’t know I needed.
Finally, a few of us are (laughably small) investors in the Popol Vuh/Centro project, so… your accusations of bias are well-founded. But it’s more the kind of investment that lets us pretend we’re big shots, rather than actually be big shots. All we really get is the chance to maybe recoup all the money we’ll inevitably spend as customers here in the months and years ahead. Trust me, that’ll be a lot. This place is the real deal.