Restaurateur Richard Sandoval has opened 28 Latin-inspired eateries as far apart as Denver and Dubai (including Zengo in DC’s Penn Quarter and La Sandía in Tysons), but his latest venture, El Centro D.F. on DC’s 14th Street, is just three doors down from sister restaurant Masa 14. There are similarities, including a large tequila selection—Centro will have close to 300 bottles, and Masa has about half that—and a buzzy vibe that’ll appeal to Masa’s fashionable crowd. Centro boasts an open-air rooftop deck as well as a basement tequileria that feels cave-like with wood tables and barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Where Centro departs most from Masa and Zengo is its food. There’s no Asian influence here—even though Kaz Sushi Bistro chef Kaz Okochi is a co-owner—and as the name suggests (D.F. stands for distrito federal, a common naming convention in Mexico), it’s centered around Mexican fare such as pork carnitas tacos, crab empanadas, and beef barbacoa enchiladas. There are some innovations in the dishes, such as bacon in the shrimp tacos and grilled chayote salad with fava beans and piloncillo-pasilla dressing (see the full menu below). For the most part, though, Centro is the most straightforward of Sandoval’s Washington menus.
But that’s not to say it isn’t an ambitious venture. The place has two sit-down dining rooms, a takeout area in front with communal tables (expect to see bargoers grabbing a post- or pre-drink bite), and two roof-deck bars. In total, there are 260 seats. Chances are Sandoval won’t have any trouble filling them.
El Centro D.F., 1819 14th St., NW; 202-328-3131; elcentrodf.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday and Sunday for dinner. There’s a late-night menu Sunday through Thursday 11 PM to 2 AM, Friday and Saturday 11 PM to 3 AM.ElCentro