Did you get invited to a corporate holiday party at Rosa Mexicano this year? It seems like the second the East Coast chain opened in Minneapolis’s too-long-neglected City Center this fall, business-oriented downtown workers leapt as one into Rosa’s margarita-bejeweled arms. Tables of 20 are common at lunch, and private parties routinely close down parts of the bar. For business gatherings, what’s not to like?
The restaurant has the sexy, splashy feel of a nightclub (courtesy of the design firm, Shea). The guacamole is as fresh as an ocean breeze, the salsas are as snappy as castanets, and the service is as flattering and attentive as any.
If you’re given the pick of the menu, don’t miss the decadent scallop-and-pork-belly tacos. Well-seared scallops lend a tender ocean flavor to the rich pork, and the intense composition is given definition by a lime-green perky citrus-habañero salsa. Suggest the tartar de serviola (a hamachi ceviche) to the person next to you, then sweet-talk your way into a few bites. It’s light and intense in the best way, made with fresh Pacific yellowtail tuna, sweet watermelon, and a dollop of jalapeño-flavored ice.
Entreés are hit and miss. Some are Plain Jane—the grilled salmon fillet I tried could have been served in any Brainerd country club without garnering either praise or scorn. Some are very flavorful, like the excellent mole xico: chipotle beef topped with a wonderfully inky mole sauce. Desserts are mostly misses, the tres leches cake crowned with a Dairy Queen-esque twirl of whipped cream tasted like nothing but sugar; the espresso flan left me unmoved.
But who cares? Ideally, by the time dessert rolls around you’re three pitchers of (excellent) sangria into the evening with your team leader and you’re team-building like there’s no tomorrow. That said, if you’re not billing the meal to a business expense account, Rosa Mexicano can seem a little spendy. At dinner, half the appetizers cost more than $12 and many entrées top $25. Add in a $14 guacamole (to share!) and a $15 glass of organic sangria, and you’re paying what you would for dinner at La Belle Vie, Lucia’s, or Restaurant Alma—and the quality is not what it is at those chef-driven places.
Which is to say nothing of local chef-driven spots specializing in Latin American food, such as Barrio and Masa, where the food is at once more delicate, more earthy, and more delicious—not to mention more affordable and accompanied by more artful cocktails. Even so, would I go back to Rosa Mexicano? In a heartbeat. It’s chic and eventful, a destination-delight made sumptuous by those restaurant intangibles like lighting, décor, and well-trained service that make you feel like you’re someplace—and someone—special. We’ve never had a high-roller Mexican business-dining spot in the Twin Cities before: it’s nice to get a little spice in the local expense-account scene.
Sexy and eventful, Rosa Mexicano serves up terrific margaritas and magnificent mole—at premium prices.
Ideal Meal: Scallop-and-pork-belly tacos, mole xico, carne asada tacos. Tip: The restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu, at both lunch and dinner. Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m. Monday–Friday, and noon Saturday–Sunday; closing at 11 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday, when they close at midnight. Prices: Lunch, $7–$23; dinner, $7–$28. Address: Rosa Mexicano, 609 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-656-7144, rosamexicano.com