Image for Rosa MexicanoRosa Mexicano

(1st Ave & 58th St)

New York City is not noted for its Mexican food. While the cuisines of Latin America are well represented, much "Mexican" food served in the city well deserved the quotes around the word "Mexican". Rosa Mexicana serves real Mexican food, not Tex-Mex or Cal-Tex or Mexican "Swiss" Grill, and it does a great job of it.

Rosa is one of the few places you can safely order a margarita without providing a long list of instructions. We like ours "up with salt", but without that horrid lime-oid juice that tastes like used brake fluid. We do not want our margaritas colored blue, frozen into interesting shapes or extruded under extreme pressure.

You have to start your meal with the guacamole. Rosa Mexicana makes the best guacamole in New York City and everywhere else we have tried it. They make it at your table in a big stone pestle with avocadoes (presumably from their avocado cellar), jalapeñoes, tomatoes, onions and other good things. [It can be fun having food prepared at one's table, as long as the end product doesn't suffer at the expense of the show. This was a big thing back in the 1950s with all sorts of food served flambé with this style being mandatory for crepes suzette. Has anyone even found a restaurant with a decent crepes suzette lately? We also liked the at your table Caesar salad at the Camelback Marriott in Phoenix and the soups finally mixed in your bowl at John Louis at the Watergate. In France, the show is usually limited to the synchronized raising of the plate lids and we could even imagine the waiter roping in some poor passerby to assist and uphold the honor of French cuisine. Not everyone is as happy about food at the table as we are. Some friends of ours were fond of sizzling rice at their favorite Chinese restaurant but hated the attention that pouring the hot soup on the rice evoked. They called the dish Embarrassing Rice and finally asked the waiter to prepare the dish at someone else's table and then bring it over to theirs already cooked.] You can also try the taquitos or any of the other wonderful appetizers including jalapeño peppers stuffed with pickled sardines.

The two best dishes are the beef shank cooked in beer and the beef short ribs, tablas. The former is cooked in a chile beer sauce wrapped in parchment until the meet is ready to dissolve. The latter is braised until tender, but is often unavailable, supposedly for lack of demand. Either of these is served with spicy salsa type things and fresh hot tortillas so they can make for messy eating. Another great and often messy dish is the cuitlacoche (bother the cob?) which is a murkily flavored black fungus that infests corn cobs and is served in crepes with rich molten cheese. They also have a great corn meal dish, sort of a protean tamale, delicious duck, mole poblano and other crowd pleasers, but we have only tried a few of them because we keep going back for our favorites.

Rosa Mexicana is a regular contributor to Saveur magazine and for good reason, but if you don't feel like finding the back issues, the ingredients and cooking for yourself, give the restaurant a try.

cover UPDATE 2003 - Rosa is as good as ever. The tortillas are fresh from the griddle. Also, they now have a cookbook. We've made the mixiote and several other recipes and loved everything.

UPDATE 2004 - Not sure of your Passover plans? Want to try some new fusion cuisine? Check out Rosa Mexicano's Passover Seder.

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