El Centro

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El Centro
Hell's Kitchen

A restaurant owner sends a certain message when he crafts chandeliers out of Corona bottles and paints the walls green, yellow and orange. The message is “let’s have a fiesta” at El Centro, an upbeat Mexican restaurant in the western netherworld of midtown near Hell’s Kitchen. Owner John Dempsey moved Vynl Diner three and a half blocks south to make room for this eatery, which features traditional Mexican fare and a few specialty dishes, like posole (a white hominy stew) and chilaquiles (a homemade corn-tortilla casserole), native to southern Mexico, where executive chef Jorge Pareja was born and raised. To start the party right, indulge in one of the frozen margaritas, available in various flavors including guava and raspberry. Other cocktails play with sangria or one of the eight premium tequilas offered in blanco, reposado and añejo forms (teetotalers can suck down a few Jarritos sodas). The menu’s tried-and-true offerings—tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and so on—are all solid: We especially liked a quesadilla with fat chunks of shrimp and melted Monterey Jack cheese, and a tostada appetizer with black beans, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and thick, juicy slices of grilled skirt steak. The chicken fajitas came with plenty of chicken, sautéed peppers and onions, but oddly, only one tortilla (they ponied up more when we asked about it). The space is somewhat cramped and the music is loud—all of which is a blessing or a curse depending on your mood. Reservations aren’t taken either, so be prepared for a wait.

Venue name: El Centro
Address: 824 Ninth Ave
New York

Cross street: at 54th St
Opening hours: Mon, Tue, Sun 5–11pm; Wed–Sat 5pm–midnight
Transport: Subway: C, E to 50th St
Price: Average main course: $12. AmEx, MC, V
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