Relaxed, upscale Mexican

While the Penn Quarter site is always busy, Seznec said it will be nice to have a location so close to the Chevy Chase Metro station, as the restaurant will be able to cater to the residents and business people there. And in addition to providing delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine, the new location will provide jobs — it just began its hiring process for 80 new workers.

Rosa Mexicano is a rare find, in that it manages to be both upscale and relaxed. 

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“We love being in that place, that place between fine dining and casual dining,” Seznec said. 

He explained that because of Rosa Mexicano’s feel, the restaurant easily accommodates business people, couples on first dates, weddings and family dinners alike. The vibrant colors on the walls — adorned with tile figures and Mexican masks — combine with orange and purple chairs to make the atmosphere fun, while the white tablecloths and waiters in button-up shirts and aprons make it more elegant. It also manages the tricky balance between sit-down restaurant and carry-out and catering service.

The restaurant chain, which began in 1984 in New York, boasts a large and diverse Mexican menu, but is known for a few signature items. Those who want a drink with their meal are likely to start off with the frozen Pomegranate margarita, which is a favorite of many. Rosa Mexicano also offers a large variety of beers, wines, tequila, cocktails and mezcal, which comes directly from Oaxaca state in Mexico. 

Without a doubt, the most popular appetizer is the Guacamole de Molcajete. A waiter comes and prepares it to your preference — mild or spicy — right by your table, using fresh ingredients imported from Mexico, including avocado, jalapeño, tomato, onion and cilantro. Served with tortilla chips and two different types of salsa, nearly every group in the restaurant had ordered the traditional treat on a recent visit. 

The “Puebla,” an option on the lunch menu, did not disappoint. True to its inspiration, it is a chicken sandwich native to the south-central state of Puebla, famous for the “Battle of Puebla” in 1862 on Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated every year. The sandwich came out on a crispy roll with orange- and garlic-scented pulled chicken, as well as chipotle dressing and house slaw. Sweet potato fries were served on the side, providing an interesting accompanying flavor.

Dessert is a satisfying way to conclude any meal, and the treats offered at Rosa Mexicano end your experience on a high note. If you order churros, you are greeted with three sticks of fried dough that are brushed in cinnamon and sugar and filled with either caramel or raspberry filling. A Oaxacan chocolate sauce sits on the side to dip them in. While the menu is authentic Mexican, free of any “Tex-Mex” impersonations, it does incorporate little touches here and there from the United States. The flan dessert, for example, is infused with espresso and served on top of a thin ancho chile brownie with Mexican cinnamon whipped cream on top. It is a common dessert south of the border with an unexpected twist, a combination that Seznec said really brings out the flavor.

The staff are welcoming and knowledgeable, having gone through nearly two weeks of training prior to starting their jobs and trying every item on the menu so they can offer personal suggestions to those who ask. The festive décor and music have the fun-yet-relaxed feel Mexico is associated with, and the food is no exception. With many of its ingredients imported from Mexico, and a menu that is constantly being added to, you can’t go wrong here. As Seznec said, “We like D.C., and D.C. likes us.” 

Rosa Mexicano offers brunch on the weekends starting at 11:30 a.m., lunch all week starting at 11:30 a.m. and dinner starting at 4 p.m.

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