If you are looking for margaritas, micheladas, tacos, tortas, or other Mexican deliciousness with a great atmosphere, then you probably already know that El Centro DF is a good bet. I’ve visited several times and have always really enjoyed myself whether for happy hour or late night (bring back the pork carnitas tortas late night!)
What you may not know, however, is that Chef Richard Sandoval (of El Centro, Zengo, Masa 14 fame) and his corporate chefs visit a different region of Mexico every year to research the culinary heritage of the area, and then come back and incorporate dishes into the menu at El Centro to showcase the diversity and flavors of Mexico.
Latest in the series is Destination: Oaxaca, which is now running through Jan 31, 2016. Oaxaca is in the Southwestern part of Mexico, and is well known for its indigenous people and cultures and this diversity is reflected in Oaxacan cuisine as well. Moles, grasshoppers, tamales in banana leaves, and mescal are all distinctly Oaxacan.
How else to start an Oaxacan dinner than with mezcal? Mezcal, which is definitely getting its time in the limelight now, is the smoky counterpart to tequila. El centro has 2 specialty mezcal cocktails on their Destination Oaxaca menu. The Moni"K"a made with El Silencio mezcal, lime, agave nectar, kiwi and ginger, and the El Chapo is made with El Silencio mezcal, Ancho Reyes, Southern Comfort, pineapple, Serrano and lime. Both had nice smoky and spicy finishes that balanced the sweetness from the fruit, but the Moni’K’a was my favorite. If you have not tried mezcal before, these cocktails are a great way to ease in to the flavors of the liquor.
Next up: freshly made guacamole with cherry tomatoes, cotija cheese, and crispy grasshoppers. I was a bit disappointed that the grasshoppers are dried and crushed almost into a powder, so you can’t tell there are any, but again a good way to ease into grasshopper eating. And the chunky guac is freshly made at the table, which is always a good way to start the meal (for you avocado lovers).
Other new additions on the menu are a shrimp ceviche in a citrus habanero broth – sweet shrimp, fiery habanero, and citrus made for a delectable combination. The potatoes with chorizo and crispy garlic are another easy and tasty dish, served with pickled onions. Both dishes are sized well and were a good accompaniment to our cocktails.
Another standout dish was the pork belly tacos. Charred pork belly with pipian sauce and pickled vegetables in a corn tortilla. With a ton of pork belly in each taco (Seriously, it was overflowing!) and 3 tacos to an order, this is an indulgence, but definitely a shareable dish.
The piece de resistance of my meal was the braised short ribs in mole sauce, which came with sautéed vegetables, pinto beans, tortillas, and smoked lime salt. This is a very hearty dish, but the meat falling off the bone meant I kept wanting more. So good!
We are too full at this point for anything else, but the shrimp tamal looks like a fantastic choice too – it’s definitely something I will be going back for!
The flavors are fantastic, and the food is delicious, but I think it is really great that the chefs get to learn more about the food they are making, and to give diners a chance to experience such variety irrespective of whether we get to travel to Mexico or not!
The Destination Oaxaca menu is available at both lunch and dinner in both the El Centro DF locations and will be available till Jan 31, 2016. Look for items marked with a “*” on the menu for the specials.