Rosa Mexicano: Station Break
The guacamole, made tableside in the traditional Mexican lava stone bowl, is the number one reason to visit this Atlantic Station favorite.
Atlanta’s newest mega-glitzy development, Atlantic Station, has plenty of virtues: The live-work-play “smart growth” concept that reclaims an urban brownfield, the latest shops, the pedestrian-friendly environment. But for all its careful planning, the “village” design lacks two essential ingredients: Mom and Pop. You’ll find few homegrown stores and restaurants here, and of those, fewer still unique to Atlantic Station.
On paper, at least, you have a number of dining choices. For me, however, it usually boils down to just one: Rosa Mexicano.
While far from perfect, or a dining destination, Rosa Mexicano’s strengths dovetail with my Atlantic Station needs, which are simple and few: The friends who are meeting you need to be able to find the place easily; there must be a good cocktail; and while you may not want a full-scale, two-hour dinner, you want some tasty snacks with the option of a real meal in a fun environment – without blowing your credit limit.
Smack in the middle of it all, Rosa’s invites the parking-weary, movie-mad and shopping-savvy. Its staff briskly moves diners into its big dining rooms and expansive patio – and there’s a large bar, too. Scores of small gold figures diving from a wall of cascading water (meant to represent Acapulco’s cliff divers) dominate a relaxed, airy environment.
And you have to like a place with three beverage menus. By far, the most popular drink is the frozen pomegranate margarita – festively pink, and refreshingly tart. But if you’re up for something a little more dry and adventurous, try the crisp-bitter grapefruit and Campari mashup, La Pomelo. (Most drinks hover around $10; most entrees range in the mid-teens.)
Rosa Mexicano certainly isn’t a mom-and-pop shop – it’s a well-established chain that began in New York in 1984. (Atlantic Station’s location is the first in the South.) But its handmade, quirky qualities shine – especially in the number one reason to go: The guacamole, made tableside in the traditional Mexican lava stone bowl, called a molcajete. Yes, it’s $12, but with the warm, house-made chips, serves two or three or even four easily, and you can’t beat the unctuous, freshly smashed avocado, with cilantro, onion, lime and as much jalapeno heat as you like.
Not everything is slavishly traditional here – ceviche (traditionally a dish of raw fish “cooked” in citrusy marinade) is made either with grilled fish, or with the too-cute addition of sweet mango. The cream of avocado soup is simple, filling, and nothing to write home about. But the sides are great for doctoring up just about any entree – if the lamb cooked in parchment is overwhelming and short of stellar, it peaks when tender bits are piled into fresh, soft corn tortillas with chopped onion, cilantro and salsa verde.
Starting out with something really good – like the slow-cooked cochinita pibil (moist pork shoulder, reddened with achiote) – just gets better. And just about anything improves with a dribble of the smoky, pasilla-pepper Oaxacan salsa. An order of the guacamole, plus one entrée and perhaps another side, is usually plenty for two hungry people after a movie, or three nibbling noshers between shops. Traditional desserts include tres leches cake and coconut flan with pineapple-vanilla sabayon.
If the drinks and side dishes are the best things about Rosa Mexicano, that still serves my purposes just fine.
245 18th Street NW (in Atlantic Station)
Hours: Lunch and dinner, daily. Brunch, Saturday and Sunday.
Credit cards: All major.
Dress code: Mallwear (anything goes).