My favorite modern Mexican eatery in NYC has always been Rosa Mexicano. We frequent the upper east side location mostly, but once in a while, trek downtown to the Flatiron location. It’s bigger, brighter, louder and very hip, but the food is still delicious, and the charm is as winning as the First Avenue location. Known all over the city for their table side guacamole, creative pomegranate margaritas & chic surroundings, this particular location is also known all over the culinary world for its wonderfully unique take on mexican fare. But the interior at this location – that is a must see for locals and visitors looking to spice up a night.
And off the beaten path, in NYC is always a fun place to be. I’m always delighted to see blocks such as this one on 18th Street, retain much of their original charm. Like many streets in the area, there’s an overload of commercial space, including shops and restaurants, but this massive, space does not get in the way – especially of the FDNY, as there is a firehouse directly opposite the main entrance. The lights and sirens outside, mimic the activity inside on a really fun night and the red swirling hues of color make for a spectacular photo op. When the noise soar outside, the music gets louder inside and the self proclaimed future Annie Liebowitz’s of the downtown art scene are in rare form. Just check Rosa’s Instagram page, can you top that? It’s hard.
The comfy chairs and the roomy tables are perfectly placed with appropriate spacing – the days of conversing with a date have become so communal these days, its nice not to have to whisper. And, believe it or not, the baby carriage contingent still all haven’t nailed bedtime just yet. Baby joggers can be seen aligned at a table or two, way past curfew. The city that never sleeps takes no prisoners, or tots, thats for sure. But no one seems to mind any distraction at this pretty and unique cityscape of a restaurant. The food is what you come for, the margaritas are what you stay for and the price is what you come back for. The menus are very uncomplicated, very authentic and they change often, which I think is refreshing as long as the guac and the chicken skewers stay right where they belong. The braised chicken tinga layered with soft corn tortillas, chihuahua cheese, roasted Mexican peppers and grilled corn topped with poblano cream sauce is a new favorite and the queso fundido melted chihuahua cheese over poblano rajas topped with cilantro and served with achiote rice and black beans will be next on my go to list.
More than two decades ago, the original Rosa Mexicano restaurant opened on First Avenue near East 58th Street in Manhattan. Though this location (off Broadway) has been around for quite some time, it is certainly not a cookie-cutter design, of any of the Rosa outposts – each menu is a little different.
The 18th Street location was designed by architect David Rockwell, whose restaurant credits in Manhattan include Nobu 57, Country and Bar Americain. When tapped to design Rosa Mexicano Flatiron, he conceived the fabulous water wall, a 40-foot-high expanse of iridescent blue tiles and flowing water festooned with 240 diminutive plaster divers frozen in mid dive. To be sure, it is possibly the coolest wet wall in NYC. The design represented an art deco departure from the décor of the original Rosa, which houses a low-ceiling, hacienda-style dining area, simply and charming, but not at all splashy. (OK, that pun was intended.)
In addition to the water wall, there is a lot of color – hot oranges and reds with the accented and intense cobalt blue – its celebratory. And fun.
And so the food is good, the crowd is pretty, the drinks are colorful and potent – and as memorable as it all is, and with my deep affection for Rosa Mexicano, what is most impressive here is the design and decoration, the painstaking attention to detail and then the collaboration between the front of the house good looks with the back of the house good cooks. A perfect recipe.