Mild Mexican in a Mirthful Setting
"A collection of milagros, brightly colored cut aluminum decorations in a seemingly endless range of shapes, from hearts to cactuses, cover one wall at El Centro, a new Mexican spot on Ninth Avenue and 54th Street. The Corona bottles have been repurposed as arts of the lighting fixtures and as salt and pepper shakers. Glossy and gaily colored Mexican tablecloth material is employed as upholstery. The effect is cheery... and more "this is a really fun place to drink margaritas."
The restaurant, one of the many Mexican places that have opened in the city since last spring, is worth a visit just for the dishes and the drinks that it gets right.
The dishes that kept me going back for more were the posole and any version of chilaquiles with meat. The menu describes chilaquiles ($11 to $14) as a casserole, which is as good an English word as any for this dish centered around day-old tortilla chips that are cooked to an appetizingly tough-and-tender texture in a sauce like El Centro's salsa roja or the mole, and topped with avocado, cheese and more.
For appetizers, opt for tamales, preferably those with chicken tinga ($5), shredded chicken in a tomato and chipotle sauce, or a generous amount of huitlacoche ($5), a prized fungus with an earthy flavor that grows, in the right conditions, between an ear of corn and its husk. If you are offended by the idea of corn fungus, think about truffle as dirt fungus, then reconsider.
As for those margaritas, El Centro has classic and frozen at the ready, as well as a few other Mexican drinks that have been making inroads on Manhattan's Mexican drink menus: sangritas, micheladas and the like.
The frozen margaritas are available in two sizes ($8 and $11), and you can add a flavor like strawberry to one for a dollar more. There are as softly slushy and syrupy sweet as anything you would get out of a Slurpee machine, and while they are not my cup of tequila, they made my companions happy.
Herradura blanco, a top-shelf tequila, is standard in the ample house margaritas ($8). It was a conscientious decision on the restaurant's part, and it means the servers will not have to spend their first few moments at your table trying to sell you and upgrade from rotgut cactus juice.