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El Centro Brings Mexican Flavor to Shawmut

Shawmut Avenue’s El Centro is garnering attention among South End diners, as evidenced by the positively packed dinner hour on a Thursday night.

Shawmut Avenue’s has been open a matter of weeks, but “soft opening” limitations aside, it’s garnering attention among South End diners, as evidenced by the positively packed dinner hour on a Thursday night.

An Inviting Setting for a Mexican Meal

Though I was initially dismayed when I learned that El Centro lacked a hard liquor license (and therefore margaritas), a pitcher of blanca sangria satisfied the table with its refreshing peachy punch and readied us for a night of classic Mexican cuisine. Chef and owner Allan Rodriguez helmed the restaurant from behind a small but bustling bar, watching over the dining area – a mix of overstuffed leather armchairs, raised stool-and-table combos, and more traditional seating. Iron lighting fixtures and ceramic tiles overhead provide a beautiful patina while brick walls and a bright mural complete the cozy feel.

Short on Guac, and Space

El Centro’s “Centro” guac is served up in a conservative portion for a party of four, but had a subtle citrus flavor that elevated a Mexican standard to something downright yummy. Modestly sized starters aside, we had more than enough food on our hands when our main dishes were served up. About this time, the volume of El Centro was cranked up to 11, with patrons (families and young friend groups alike) filling every seat and even the standing room. With conversation less convenient, we started in on our plates.

Plates and Flavor A-Plenty

My pork in achiote sauce, a traditional Mexican mix of spices, was tender and perfectly seasoned. Achiote was a first for me, and something I would definitely return for – El Centro incorporates the spices into several of their traditional and specialty dishes. Another favorite at the table was the beautifully plated chicken in mole sauce, served with the ever-present rice and beans. It’s hard to go wrong with mole sauce, but the chicken was also well cooked and succulent. Just across the table, the sparser, lackluster plating of El Centro’s skirt steak chimicanga dish did it no favors, and the flavor came up short; it was the only real “miss” for our party. If you’re looking for a bit of moo with your meal, opt instead for the beef enchiladas in verde sauce, which were tangy and satisfying.

A Saucy End

Our group likes to end with something sweet, and the churros were right up our alley. Again, the proportions of the plate were a bit off – after finishing the fried mini-churros, we were left with a sea of chocolate dipping sauce. Which, really, we wouldn’t have minded if only there’d been a way to pack it up and take it home.

El Centro is still working out its very minor kinks, and should be a well-oiled local favorite in no time – at the center of it all, as its name suggests. Now if only there were margaritas….

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