Photo by Eric Best

Centro brings agave spirits, Mexican flavors to Northeast

Updated: July 12, 2018 - 4:36 pm

Centro is bringing flavors from the markets of Mexico to Northeast, from cured cactus tacos to boozy guava-flavored slushies with mezcal.

The casual counter-service bar and restaurant recently opened across the street from Indeed Brewing Co. in the Logan Park neighborhood. It’s the first restaurant from local bartending veteran and former Lyn 65 bar manager Jami Olson, who is teaming up with executive chef Jose Alarcon to open not one, but two concepts. The second, the more upscale Popol Vuh, will open later this summer next door.

“(Centro) is our energy. This is our ‘life of the neighborhood.’ This is our fun,” Olson said. “Everything is designed to be simple, vibrant.”

Centro has brought life to a former adhesives factory that has sat vacant for several years at 15th & Quincy. The 90-seat bar, designed by Minneapolis-based Shea Design, boasts original fixtures, 25 vintage windows and several custom art pieces, from the colorful bunny murals outside — they refer to the Aztec myth of “400 Rabbits” — to a 10-foot Mexican rose cross stitch mural inside.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

CENTRO 1 webCentro is the more casual of the two concepts, with service through a counter or at the bar. There are 34 seats on the newly built patio outside.

Alarcon, a native of Axochiapan, Morelos, Mexico, has worked at Lyn 65, Eastside, Café Ena and Travail Kitchen & Amusements. He said Centro’s menu is inspired by his own upbringing and his travels throughout Mexico, whose cuisine is filled with acidity and spice.

“The food is so vibrant,” he said.

At Centro, this translates to casual and shareable dishes like tacos filled with marinated meats, from fish and lamb to chorizo sausage and beef cheeks, and a raw bar with oysters and ceviche. There are snacks to share, like frijoles borrachos with beans, beer and chorizo, and chips and salsa with salsa verde and peanut-sesame salsa with chili oil. Paletas, a frozen Mexican ice pop, are available at the counter.

Given Olson’s bartending background, much of Centro’s menu is focused on cocktails. The bar has several on tap, such as the Electric Bunny ($10), which continues the Aztec rabbit myth theme and features cachaça, a sugarcane spirit that’s popular in Brazil. A slushie machine produces the Guava Goddess Slushy ($10) with guava nectar and mezcal, a smoky agave spirit. Centro teamed up with Indeed to feature a hibiscus-infused version of the brewery’s B-Side Pils that it calls the Pink Rabbit Pils.

There’s also a selection of signature cocktails ($6–$11), Mexican and locally brewed beers and several Spanish wines. An agave flight ($18 or $22 with a sangrita, a blend of pepper and tomatillo juices, spices and sauces) features five agave spirits. Alarcon said desserts like churros are in the pipeline.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

CENTRO 8 webOlson said they are considering several takeout options, such as a taco cart at Indeed.

“We have so many options to explore with takeout and delivery, especially with tacos,” she said.

Later this summer, Popol Vuh (pronounced poh-puhl voo) will open down the hall from Centro. Alarcon said the more refined Mayan restaurant will have an a la carte menu and, later, a tasting menu option.

Olson said the more casual, cocktail-focused Centro will make the full-service restaurant financially possible.

CENTRO 3 web“They’re so contrasting, but we think it’s perfect. I think (they work) really well together,” she said.

Olson said she’s happy the two restaurants have landed in the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Northeast.

“We think there’s at least 20 years of change left to see all the way down here. I think this whole area is going to change. I feel like we got here at the right time,” Olson said.

Centro, at 1414 Quincy St. NE, is open 11 a.m.–midnight Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. It is closed Monday.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best