Margarita dreaming

Centerville’s Las Piramides: a summer destination

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Las Piramides’ La Cazuelada

I’ve often driven by the attractive white building in Centerville Las Piramides occupies and thought how charming the patio looks. I imagined myself having a margarita there, and when the torrential rains of late finally passed, PIP (Palate In Progress) and I set out to do just that. The building itself used to be a high school more than 100 years ago, as we found out while waiting to be seated at the front door hostess stand. Photos of the original structure decorate the walls along with various brightly colored Mexican artifacts and typical Mexican decor.

 The Real Deal?

The menu at La Piramides proudly proclaims “Finest Mexican Food in Ohio.” This prompts a brief primer on what Mexican food actually is, or more accurately, the difference between what people actually eat in Mexico and what we eat here in the U.S. Our version is a Tex Mex hybrid of that cuisine. But the distinction that has been evolving for years and is starting to blur.

Let’s taco bout it

Here are a few differences between what’s more typically Mexican and what’s Tex Mex: Mexican tacos only have a little onion, cilantro and lime juice, no tomatoes or lettuce. Tortillas are corn, not flour. Beef is rare, and ground beef is almost never used. Cheese is sprinkled on and used sparingly, not in a sauce. Cumin is used somewhat sparingly in the northern part of Mexico and even less so in the southern region. The takeaway is that the food doesn’t have to be strictly authentic to be tasty!

The Tex-Mex that most of us think of, full of Velveeta cheese and pre-made taco shells, was shaped by the development of convenience foods in the 1950s. That time period left Tex-Mex, and even Mexican food in general, with a reputation as “just a cheap cuisine, full of sour cream and processed cheese, and that everything is greasy,” says chef and restaurant owner Iliana de la Vega. That isn’t true any more in a lot of contemporary Tex Mex cuisine.

The sizzle, fo shizzle

Now that Mexican Food 101 has been covered, how did Las Piramides stack up? The sound of sizzling and savory smells wafted around us as we made our way through the interior dining area to the patio where most of the other diners also chose to be. The patio, while relaxing, was surprisingly a little heavy on traffic noise, but still very pleasant.

We found the salsa to be average, and we prefer chips that are a little saltier than these. While munching we ordered two appetizers, the first called a Mexican Speedy $5.99), a mild white cheese dip with chorizo, the Mexican sausage made with vinegar and native chili peppers (distinguishing it from Spanish chorizo which uses wine and smoked paprika for flavoring). The second was Stuffed Jalapenos ($4.50), a platter of six batter-dipped deep fried peppers filled with cheese accompanied by an enchilada dipping sauce. The cheese dip was tasty with plenty of chorizo. While the coating on the peppers was a little too thick, these little pepper bites make a good bar snack item.

For my entrée I went for another type of stuffed pepper, Las Piramides’ Chiles Poblanos ($11.50). A soft spongy layer of egg white coating wrapped around a spicy roasted deep green poblano filled with molten mild cheese makes a great vegetarian choice. Indeed satisfying even if you aren’t a vegetarian. These two delicious peppers were accompanied by a standard issue of beans and rice. No surprises and no complaints about either.

Grill skill

PIP’s La Cazuelada ($13.99) won the day. Essentially a fajita (an American invention btw), it arrived smoky sizzling cracking and hissing on an atomically hot platter. The rich taste of the large chunks of roasted tomatoes charred on the edges with onions, green peppers, and  crispy crumbles of chorizo was delicious. The highlight was the rich beefy grilled taste of skirt steak, which is the typical cut used for fajitas. It’s pleasantly chewy without being tough, sliced against the grain for tenderness

Getting down with brown

Why are grilled foods so darned delicious? Two words: Maillard Reaction. It’s that chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned foods their desirable flavor. It’s also called the browning reaction but should really be called the flavor reaction. It’s what makes grilling anything so very satisfying.

A note on our service: Unfortunately it was a little inattentive. While the servers were pleasant, PIP was never offered a refill on his iced tea, and I had to ask for more ice and water, which we ended up sharing. Hopefully this will improve on our next visit.

Las Piramides Mexican Restaurant is located at 101 W. Franklin St. in Centerville. For more information, please call 937.291.0900.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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