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Centro Cocina Mexicana Turns 20 Years Old!

Centro Cocina Mexicana is celebrating its 20 year anniversary this month! To celebrate, the restaurant is featuring a weeklong anniversary celebration Monday, August 11th through Sunday, August 17th. The week will feature a special anniversary menu, table-side guacamole preparation, $5 Centro Margaritas (the price in 1994!), and $6 Anniversary Infusion Margaritas. Former Centro bartenders, Chris Tucker of Hook & Ladder and Scott Martin of Press Bistro, will return to Centro as guest bartenders on Tuesday and Wednesday evening during the anniversary celebration.

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Photo: Centro Cocina Mexicana in 1994
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Photo: Centro Cocina Mexicana today

The Centro Story

The story of Centro Cocina Mexicana actually begins over 50 years ago when a young British woman followed her husband, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, on an assignment to Mexico. It didn’t take long for Diana Kennedy to fall in love with her new home, and to make it her life’s work to record and document the regional cuisines of Mexico.

Sometime in the mid-80s, PRG Executive Chef Kurt Spataro began studying Diana’s Cuisines of Mexico. Until then, his experience with Mexican food consisted of what was available in Sacramento; mostly Mexican/American restaurants serving combination plates of northern Mexico specialties. Diana’s books introduced Kurt to a world of Mexican flavors, ingredients and techniques which, thus far, had been unknown to him.

When Kurt read about a culinary tour of Mexico that included classes given by Diana, he jumped at the chance. His first trip was to Oaxaca, the land of seven moles. He was instantly immersed in the food, culture and gracious hospitality of the indigenous cooks. Other trips followed to Michoacan, Veracruz, Tampico, Hidalgo, Yucatan and Campeche, and all the trips began, and ended, in Mexico City, giving him an opportunity to experience cosmopolitan Mexico as well.

In 1995, a space in a historic building on J Street became available. Kurt’s partner, Randy Paragary suggested putting a Mexican restaurant in the space. Without the help of market research or focus groups, Randy and Kurt plunged headfirst into creating a Mexican restaurant that would celebrate the regional cuisines of Mexico. From the beginning, they made a commitment to make tortillas and tamales from freshly ground corn, make moles from scratch, create their own seasoning pastes for grilled and roasted meats, and to represent regional dishes as authentically as possible.

The opening became one of the most highly anticipated in years. Sacramento was ready for a new kind of Mexican restaurant and the response was overwhelming. Randy and Kurt are as committed as ever to the integrity of their food and are equally dedicated to offering one of the best selections of tequila in the region. They give a heartfelt thanks to all past and present employees, friends and neighbors for making Centro Cocina Mexicana a singular destination.