Photos by Mariel Weinand, Words by Ayush Kumar
The Mexican food scene in Brookline is a tough market to break into, as the established giants have accumulated quite the loyal fan base. With Anna's Taqueria, Boca Grande and Baja Betty's at the top of the pyramid, national chains such as Chipotle have been kept out of town.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see El Centro thriving a year since it opened its doors by changing the dynamic of Mexican cuisine from cheap grab-and-go to a more nuanced sit-down dining experience.
The atmosphere of the place is immediately inviting and pleasant, with murals of Frida Kahlo providing a vibrant backdrop. There is a shiny bar at the back, something that is an anomaly in Brookline restaurants.
Now, before I go into our appetizer, I have a confession. I enjoy guacamole.
Unfortunately, most guacamole in American restaurants is so generic that it all tastes the same. The chips and salsa with guacamole we ordered at Centro, however were simply brimming with flavor. For $8, we received a huge bowlful of guacamole that was the perfect texture, not too gloopy and not too chunky. The salsa was also much more authentic Mexican than I am used to, with none of the ingredients overpowering the other.
For my entrée I ordered Bistec (steak) Ranchero, which took me a while to choose. Under the "El Centro Specialties" section, there were numerous others that caught my eye– and don’t worry, I’ll be back to try them during future visits. There is "Arrachera A La Tampiquena" which is described as "charcoal grilled steak served with enchiladas in green or red sauce with refried beans, and guacamole" and "Cochinita Pibil" which is "shredded roasted pork in achiote sauce served with pickled vegetables, and refried beans.
I was not feeling adventurous enough to try "Camarones Papantla," shrimp wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese. As soon as our waitress came over with our dishes, I knew I had made the right decision. The meat was exquisite, tender and served with simmering ranchero sauce. Balancing each bite with rice and beans made for a mouth-watering combination.
My friend Sam, who had been to El Centro before, went with what he had ordered last time, "En Frijoladas Oaxaqueñas Servids Con Salsa Bandera Y Aguacate”, which is a corn tortilla stuffed with cheese, immersed in a black bean sauce topped with pico de gallo & avocado. After years of experience reviewing restaurants, I can attest that any place that leaves a patron wanting the same dish next time is a successful restaurant.
Overall, the portion sizes were perfect, and left us satisfied without being overly stuffed. A bill of over $40 between two people means that El Centro would be a much tougher place to eat at regularly for the average college student than other Mexcian restaurants in the area. However, take my word for it and check out El Centro to see (and taste) how pleasantly different a sit-down Mexican cuisine experience can be.