You’re lucky I got through,” my server at Centro Latin Kitchen says as he squeezed through the crowded patio and put a chili relleno platter down in front of me. “Everyone I passed wanted this for themselves.”
On visuals alone, it was easy to understand. It was easily the most visually appealing chili relleno I’ve ever seen, with a large pepper fried not in a sprawling, soggy blanket of egg, but a light, crisp looking batter, and perched atop roasted, cubed sweet potatoes and plantains and drizzled with a ranchero sauce. It wasn’t hard to imagine myself scooping it up and running for the hills like a relleno version of the Hamburglar, had I ordered something else.
For some that might seem, well, let’s say, kooky. But I take my chili rellenos seriously. More than just a delish dish, a chili relleno is a barometer for a restaurant’s quality as a whole. Fried until soggy? Expect heartburn. Drowning in mysterious red sauce? Check to see how many cats still live in the neighborhood. Is it filled with queso instead of cojita? Then run for the hills like Iron Maiden is in a pace car egging you on. But when done proper, with a frothy batter and a good pepper, there’s nothing finer.
Part of what made the chili relleno ($14) stand out to me from the Pan- Latin menu at Centro was that it was also stuffed with spinach and mushrooms. They didn’t really pop in the flavor as much as I’d hope for, overridden by the light bitterness of the pepper, but it was still a solid relleno that spoke of other delights to come.
For example, the sweet potato and banana hash on the side. Had the relleno actually been a rock fried in poop batter, it still would have been worth it for that hash. Sweet and savory and tangy and yum. With an added portion of chicken on top, it was practically a meal on its own, and is available from the side menu as a standalone item for $7, or on the weekend brunch menu for $5 dressed up with green chili and an egg.
Another banana delight on the brunch menu is the coconut fried bananas ($3) from the brunch happy hour menu, served from 9:30-11:30 a.m. A chopped banana is served fried in light coconut batter with a side of vanilla anglaise for a hot, sweet and crunchy mouth orgasm.
Another item on the brunch menu fills the same barometrical role as the chili relleno: the Benedicto. Eggs Benedict is a universally available but mildly tweakable dish that is the perfect opportunity for a chef to strut their stuff.
Centro’s benedict has a chipotle hollandaise, swaps the ham for chopped bacon, and the English muffin for one made from pressed masa corn flour. Served with a side of home fries and pico, it’s a tasty benny, but not as tasty as I’d hoped. The hollandaise could have been a bit more chipotleey, and the masa muffin did a truly stellar job of not tasting very distinctly like masa.
On the whole, Centro’s menu is a little more flash than substance. But that doesn’t mean it lacks substance, just its flash is a little flashier than its substance is substantial.
But that’s still plenty of substance to go around, and served in the brightlycolored and bustling atmosphere of Centro’s central location, anything that’s broke and in need of fixing can easily be repaired with an order of coconut fried bananas. Just make sure no one snags them from the server mid-delivery.