If you visit before it gets too cold, the first thing you’ll notice about Céntrico Taqueria & Tequila Bar in Bethel is the outdoor space. It’s a beer garden-like area replete with tables, a wooden bar, fire pit and powerful but non-intrusive PA system playing old-school hip-hop. It’s the type of well-thought-out, non-afterthought outdoor dining space that is too rare in the area and it’s one of the many things I like about this new restaurant from the owner and creative team behind Lucas Local in Newtown.
Céntrico occupies the building that was long home to Old Heidelberg, a German bar and restaurant. It features an assortment of dishes from Mexico and the Americas as well as inspired cocktails, a good selection of beer, and, oh yeah, tequila in more than 30 varieties with sampling flights available. Executive chef Brett Mitchell, who is also executive chef at Lucas Local, brings the same skill and creativity that has helped make his Newtown eatery a beloved spot.
The guacamole, “Da Guac” on the menu, is a must-order and comes with housemade tortilla chips. “It’s a very simple thing,” owner Vince Cappelletti says of the secret behind the dish. It’s using the “proper amount of lime juice, the proper amount of salt and the way the peppers are finely, finely diced.” He adds that they use serrano peppers to spice their guac because they find it has “a better flavor than the jalapeño.”
Other standouts include the pork belly, served with grilled yellow watermelon — a perfect mix of fruit and meat — and the Holy Mole, pan-seared chicken served over a rich mole sauce that is slow cooked for days with unsweetened Mexican chocolate, creating a rich, savory flavor.
Then there are the cocktails, which include fun options like the Mexican rum and Coke, served in a Mexican Coke bottle, and on-tap margaritas. I opt for the blood orange jalapeño margarita, a strong drink with an excellent kick of spiciness made with hand-squeezed lime and raw blue agave. Also excellent was the Borderline Fashion, the restaurant’s tequila-powered take on an old fashioned.
Céntrico grew out of Latin-inspired specials offered at Lucas Local. Cappelletti says the thinking behind the restaurant is to offer dishes that are “inspired by Latin food but sourced using world ingredients.” You’ll find kimchi in one taco and Japanese plums in another.
A focus of the menu is the tacos, which feature a variety of housemade tortillas. While there are more traditional options like the al pastor and carnitas, my table chooses the Mainer, featuring hot buttered Maine lobster, and the Tinga, a chicken taco with pineapple-flavored crema. The tacos are designed to be elevated and that goal is met, but they can also come with elevated price tags — the Mainer is $16.50 for two, while the Tinga is $10.50 for three — though the tacos are larger than normal offerings. Our order is enjoyable, but the tacos we tried may leave some visitors longing for a simpler, more traditional version of the dish.
The desserts will leave you with no such longings. Both the flan and chocolate plantain tart are well-executed dishes that provide a nice exclamation point to the meal. All told, the restaurant is a wonderful new addition to the area’s dining scene.
Céntrico Taqueria & Tequila Bar
55 Stony Hill Road, Bethel
HOURS: Tue.-Thu. 4-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4-10:30 p.m., Sun. 4-9:30 p.m., Closed Mon.