There have been quite few positively-reviewed restaurants that have died in Altoona's Prairie Cove Shopping Center (3160 8th Street Southwest). One of Des Moines' best barbecue places, Kin Folk's Texas Style BBQ, couldn't survive there, and neither could their spin-off pasta place Kin Noodles. Jasmine Thai Cuisine, Yanni's Grill & Vineyard, Rich's Bar & Grill, and El Torrito Mexican Restaurant all flamed out quickly there as well. Other than the two bookending businesses, a laundromat/coffee shop and a veterinary clinic, most of the other businesses have come and gone, too. There are currently three restaurants trying their luck at Prairie Cove: Sam's Bar & Grill, a Pizza Hut delco (delivery/carry-out), and the newest restaurant to challenge the Curse of Prairie Cove, Centinela Mexican Restaurant.
Centinela offers your standard Mexican fare: tacos, burritos, salads, soups, enchiladas, fajitas, shrimp cocktail, etc. However, during my visits two dishes stood out. The Fish Tacos ($8.99) were the best that I have had in the Metro. The fish was unbattered, grilled, and flaked, not just one big battered, fried fish stick on a tortilla. The flavor was extraordinary for tilapia, which is normally a fairly bland fish. Likewise, the flavor of the Casuelon (grilled ribeye, smoked pork chop, and grilled chicken breast with onions and jalapeños, served with rice, beans, and tortillas for $12.25) was exceptional. The thin grilled meats on this platter were not dried out like they are at many Mexican places. (Check out the slideshow to see more menu options.)
Centinela also offered excellent service during my visits. Servers were friendly, accurate, and attentive. In fact, the restaurant's Facebook page is full of similar accountings by patrons touting the service and cuisine since Centinela opened last fall. The restaurant is clean and well-spaced so that noise between tables is not as bad as some of the previous restaurants that have filled the space.
There were a couple negatives during my visits, though. I was a little disappointed that, after enjoying some delicious flan during my first stop, my second visit ended with some chewy Turtle Cheesecake that had obviously been shipped frozen and not stored/thawed well. I was also a little disappointed in Centinela's choice to serve California mix with cheese as a side with some of their entrées. While it tasted alright, it just seemed out of place next to quality Mexican cuisine.
Overall though, my impressions of the restaurant were very positive. Centinela offers above average Mexican fare at very reasonable prices for both lunch and dinner. I will definitely return for more fish tacos and to explore more of their rather large menu. Will Centinela fight off the Prairie Cove Curse? —Only time will tell, but they are off to a good start.