Another day, another 9th Avenue lunch.
This time it was El Centro, a quirky little Mexican joint on 54th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. My friend from work and I entered around 12:45 on a Tuesday and the place was practically empty. Not usually a good sign for a Manhattan lunch.
The place is pleasant enough in decor. We sat next to a whole wall filled with small aluminum toys jutting out on metal spokes, while our table was uniquely crafted from beer bottle tops arranged under glass. Cool.
The chips and salsa were better than average, which was surprising. The homemade chips were crispy, not greasy, and the salsa was different than any I had tasted before. It was neither chunky nor entirely smooth, but had a somewhat more creamy texture, which coated the chips better than the watery types. It also had a nice spicy flavor.
For the cheapies like us looking for under $10 meals, there’s a decent amount of stuff. Unfortunately, the cheap eats are also the least interesting. My friend got a grilled chicken taco w/ red rice & mole negro, which wasn’t as small as we expected. It included an 8″ homemade corn tortilla topped w/ lettuce, queso blanco, caramelized onion and radish. For those with healthier appetites, one taco may not be enough, but my friend was well satisfied.
As for me, I also ordered a simple dish: the roasted chicken & Monterrey jack quesadilla w/ chipotle chiles & epazote. There was nothing fancy about the preparation; it tasted just as a quesadilla should. Although I could have used a bit more meat, I was satisfied if not wholly impressed.
What makes me want to come back for more, however, is the rest of the menu. The soups (pozoles) and enchiladas both look great, but I really want to try a chilaquile: homemade corn tortilla casserole topped w/ avocado, queso blanco, crema fresca and pico de gallo. While I couldn’t quite bring myself to order a casserole for lunch during the waning days of summer, I will return to try the pork version of this concoction.
But for now, El Centro gets a big, fat “decent.”