When I heard that Rosa Mexicano (609 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis) was establishing an outpost in downtown Minneapolis, I just had to call my mom in New York. “Remember how we’d always go down to Rosa for their guacamole?” I asked, my eyes flicking toward the copy of the official Rosa Mexicano cookbook on my bookshelf.
“Yeah! It was so expensive, but so worth it!” For my mom, a woman who is perfectly content to pay $75 for a Peking duck at Philippe Chow, complaining that something is “expensive” is a rare, Halley’s Comet-type of thing.
When I checked out Rosa Mexicano’s menu online, I was taken aback. Granted, it has been a few years since I’ve been there, and my Taqueria La Hacienda-based lifestyle has set up certain expectations of Mexican restaurants that definitely don’t translate to the high-end. But $14 for a “2-3 person” guacamole?
To make some sense of the sticker shock, I decided to review the restaurant as a Value Check.
Rosa Mexicano’s guacamole is their crown jewel — made tableside on a specially outfitted cart, its presentation is truly a spectacle. They claim that they’ve been serving it that way since 1984, and in many ways it does seem like a relic of fine dining’s flair-ridden past. As cheesy as tableside guacamole may seem, I honestly remember getting a thrill out of it as a kid. On some outings, we would hail the cart back again for seconds. (And Mom paid $28 dollars for our total guac consumption! Good Lord.)
The mise en place is attractively arranged on the cart’s copper top, with all of the ingredients in plain view. A server grinds tomatoes, chile paste, onion, salt, cilantro, and avocados together in a pig-shaped molcajete. In addition to fried tortilla chips, every order comes with a steaming plate of freshly pressed corn tortillas, Oaxacan salsa, and salsa verde.
And the guacamole itself? It was as delicious as I remembered. With all of the house-made accoutrements and service included, I would say that the list price is only a smidgen above the dish’s perceived value. But one caveat: Splitting this between three people is definitely asking for trouble.
List price: $14
Perceived value: $12
Reposado Tequila Flight
Torn between the restaurant’s massive selection of tequila and tequila accessories, we opted for a flight of Reposado, or short-aged, tequilas. One can pick from the list or leave it up to the server, and we opted for the latter. The three tequilas and their chaser, a chili-citrus Sangrita, are served in hand-blown glass shooters. Their uneven appearance, our server explained, is due to the imperfections of the glass-blowing process.
The tequilas in our flight were toasty, smooth, and fruity in turns, and just a sip of the chaser was a welcome slap in the face after each one.
Subtracting the Sangrita ($2) from the list price, the selection of tequilas averaged to $5 each. Though the flight was split between two people, we each had enough to enjoy. The flight satisfied our two requirements: It was diverse and it gave us a happy buzz.
List price: $17
Perceived value: $17
Carne Asada Tacos
For our entree, we consciously ordered the item that inspired the most moral indignation: a $23.50 order of tacos. As a matter of course, the tacos here come deconstructed: You build your own from the meat / vegetables, salsas, house rice, refried beans, red bean-chorizo chili, creamy corn esquites, and fresh tortillas. All of the sides are presented in separate dishes to facilitate sharing. Including our leftover guacamole, Oaxacan salsa, and salsa verde, infinite and glorious taco-building possibilities opened up before us. God bless America.
We ordered our skirt steak rare, and it came in the standard 5-ounce portion in a miniature skillet with melted Chihuahua cheese at its base. It was really, really good, and not impossibly chewy like so many steak tacos we’ve had. The rice and beans were also great in their own right: The rice is herbaceous and seasoned well, and the beans are wonderfully creamy and savory.
Conceiving of this meal in taco terms might not be the most helpful way to think about it, actually. Though a carne asada taco platter with rice and beans would average out at $7 on Lake Street, a grass-fed steak dinner at my workplace would be $25-$30, depending on the cut. Skirt steak is a cheaper cut, but the plethora of sides were worth the difference.
List price: $23.50
Perceived value: $23.50
So to sum it all up:
Total price of meal (before tax and tip): $54.50
Total perceived value of meal (before tax and tip): $52.50
Perhaps I’m biased in evaluating a restaurant’s menu prices: Having been in the industry for a few years now, I know the general percentages and costs that chefs need to consider when pricing their dishes. When you go to a place like Rosa Mexicano, it’s with an entirely different set of expectations than when you go down to Taqueria La Hacienda at bar close on a Saturday. You’re there for the service, for the handmade, Pottery Barn-ish accent pieces, for the pastel-clad, buttoned-up company. It’s just a different scene.
But most importantly, after sharing one appetizer and one entree, our party of two was prolifically stuffed. We practically floated out of our seats and into the streets, feeling like we’d been treated well.