Restaurants in The InTowner
The InTowner
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Restaurant Review ~ El Centro D.F. / 1819 14th St., NW

By recent count, about 50 Mex or Tex-Mex restaurants and food trucks in DC whip up native goodies, from overstuffed burritos and eccentric tacos to Oaxacan-style sautéed grasshoppers. That should tell the average DC foodie that some restaurateurs have tapped into our hidden craving for spicy, well-wrapped food. We love it.

But one of the local faves is Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F., so popular that it even opens at lunchtime along the 14th Street corridor, where few of its many competitors risk noontime empty houses. These places prefer to wait until the young and hungry emerge from offices and flood the bar scene.

Lucky for us, El Centro’s food is both delicious and totally affordable — for example, a beef barbacoa burrito costs only $11, and comes with beans, rice, pico de gallo, and lettuce. That’s a bargain in anyone’s budget, especially because the cooking is so over the top that even native Mexicans swear by the restaurant’s authenticity.

But what to order? With so many choices, even a dedicated foodie must draw straws or toss coins to see what to eat. You may want to add on a tequila drink or a Tecate beer with a lime wedge to start, and that might forestall wrong decisions.

For certain, one right decision is starting with the guacamole, made at the table and served with hot chips—you will already have finished the chips that come with your opening salsa, so you will welcome more. And as you scroll through the menu, consider the following:

Chicken flautas, an appetizer with crema fresca and morita salsa, are light and delicate, hardly filling at all, which will leave you ample room to expand on your entrée choices. Many people will select a familiar dish, such as one of the two burritos or one of the five tacos. The waitstaffer suggested as her favorite the fish tacos, which elsewhere can be soggy and tasteless. Here, the kitchen crisps small fillets and wraps them neatly in soft corn tortillas. Alongside these 3 come scoops of black beans and Mexican rice, a tasty combo.

And if you adore the Mexican carnitas — slow-cooked and well-seasoned pork shoulder cut into shreds and chunks — skip the carnitas tacos and go for the main carnitas dish with a mound of succulent pork served with beans, rice, and a scoop of guacamole. Of course, you will have tortillas for wrapping up the meat, and will likely find this serving too much for a single sitting. Take it home, chico!! That’s breakfast.

Dessert choices are very limited, and the clever foodie who has already overeaten will select the churros, very delicate curls of fried dough served with a caramel and a chocolate dipping sauce. Wow! is about all one can say after such a meal. Just wow!

El Centro D.F. / Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11 am-4pm.; Dinner, 4-11pm; Brunch, Sat. & Sun., 10am-3pm; Dinner, 5-11pm. Lunch entrée prices: $9-$16. (202) 328-3131. Note: A second El Centro D.F. recently opened in Georgetown.