I know the tradition for Jews is to eat Chinese food on Christmas, and I’ve done that before, but this year I didn’t have any plans. My friend Jeff and I were trying to find out what restaurants were open and had tables available, so we used Open Table to find out. There were only a few dozen restaurants with tables available, and most were restaurants we had never heard of. Only one appealed to me — Rosa Mexicano. I know it’s a chain, and that they overcharge for what is, at heart, Tex-Mex food, but I had heard great things about the pomegranate margaritas and the guacamole made table-side. Jeff agreed — margaritas seemed just right for Christmas dinner.
The restaurant was packed and noisy, so it seems we weren’t the only ones with the idea. We ordered the aforementioned margaritas and the guacamole, spicy. The margaritas came out almost immediately, and to our surprise they were the frozen variety. They were fine, nothing to write home about. Jeff and I decided that when we finished them that we would specify the non-frozen variety for our next round. Then one of the servers wheeled by with the guacamole cart and started making our guacamole for us.
This was what we had come for, and it was great. The guacamole was creamy but still with chucnks of avocado, slightly spicy and crunchy with onions. The guacamole was served with both tortilla chips and a small pile of warm, soft tortillas, so we could make small little guacamole wraps. There were also two salsas, a thin green one and a thick, reddish-brown one that was sweeter. It was a little pricey, but more than enough for the two of us. They even brought out an extra pile of tortillas for us.
Of course we ordered entrees as well. I got the chiles rellenos, and look how beautiful they are. This was actually a surprising dish — while most places batter and deep fry fresh chiles for chiles rellenos, Rosa Mexicano uses dried ancho chiles and don’t batter them. This means that you can actually taste the chile, which was slightly sweet and chewy, providing a nice contrast to the goat cheese and mushrooms inside. The mushrooms actually tasted like mushrooms, which is a good thing; too often, fillings are kind of a homogenous, cheesy mush.
Sometime in between the guacamole and the chiles we tried to order the non-frozen pomegranate margaritas, but we were informed they were only available frozen. If we wanted a margarita with fresh fruit, our server said, she recommended the pineapple. I do love pineapple, so I figured I’d try it. It arrived about the same time as our entrees, and I sipped it just as Jeff was tucking into his food.
“This is amazing,” I said.
“Yeah, my food is good too,” said Jeff.
“My food is good,” I replied, “but I was talking about the margarita.”
Not only was the pineapple margarita delicious, the glass was rimmed not with salt but with cinnamon and sugar. This made no sense but was delicious anyway. Or, as Jeff put it, it was “so wrong that it’s right.”
They also brought out bowls or rice and beans on the side. These were excellent as well, but at this point we were both hitting the wall. I think I had no more than a spoonful of these, but I was way too full to eat more than that.
Rosa Mexicano surprised me that night. Sure, our bill was astronomical, but we had really good food, much better food than I expected of them. The pomegranate margarita was a disappointment, but the pineapple one more than made up for it. I find myself in the curious position of recommending a chain restaurant, and for special occasions to boot. Maybe it was the two margaritas, but this was one of the most memorable Christmas dinners I’ve ever had.
Rosa Mexicano (Union Square) — 9 East 18th St