When you arrive at Centro Collective in Lake Forest, you have a choice to walk through the pizzeria entrance or the taqueria entrance. Two distinctly different cuisines in one restaurant — what gives?
But rest assured, it totally works.
On one side, you’ll find Chef Owner Chad Urata and a gorgeous array of Italian-style pizzas in long rectangular trays that will immediately twist your senses as you struggle to decide how many pieces you can consume for lunch just to sample all the amazing flavors.
On the other side, Chef Owner Brent Omeste is scrambling happily from grill to kitchen, serving up handcrafted, tasty tacos made to order and greeting eager new customers and fiercely loyal regulars from his open kitchen.
A popular order, the Throwdown, is an elevated interpretation of a good ol’ sausage pizza. Flavorful sausage chunks and the perfect layer of roasted peppers and onions underneath a draping of mozzarella and fontina cheeses are combined with Chef Urata’s delectable crust that is thin, crisp and pillowy all at the same time.
The Frenchie marvelously matches caramelized onions and melted swiss cheese, and is accompanied by a side of French onion soup that you dip into with each bite. It’s an experience in itself and the flavors are swoon-worthy!
On Chef Omeste’s side, you can’t leave without ordering the Chips & Guacamole which, much like the Frenchie, is given the most creative and interactive presentation. Atop a generous bed of freshly mashed avocado are sectioned dices of fresh veggies and cheese which you then mix yourself to finish your own custom prep. My kids love this dish and fight over who gets to mix the dip time and time again.
My favorite taco is the Mushroom & Zucchini, which is so delightful, the words are hard to come by. Sautéed mushrooms are nestled between a corn tortilla on the bottom and a thinly fried cheese pancake embedded with a zucchini blossom and a strip of green onion on top. Once you bite into it, you can’t believe the explosion of textures and flavors that dance around in your mouth.
Centro Collective is run by two talented and unpretentious chefs who know great, honest food. I love it because I can come with my finicky kids who will be happy and healthful with the Margherita Pizza and Chips & Guac, and my husband and I will be ecstatic not having to share our good fare – for once. Most of all, the tapas-like portions of Brent and Chad’s dishes allow you to dive into an incredible spectrum of flavors in one sitting. It’s easy after your first visit to see that Brent and Chad truly love their craft and that explains why they are beloved by their peers and clientele who appreciate delicious, high-quality ingredients presented creatively and executed artfully without pomp and circumstance.
Pizzeria and taqueria. You’ll wonder why no one ever thought to create a Centro Collective before.
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Lisa Hu Chen
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