The thing is, it doesn't have to be this good. Casa Rosa owns its neighborhood; it has its niche clearly carved. Trapped between Highland Park Village (Mi Cocina's territory), Preston Center (Mi Casa's stake) and Snider Plaza (Los Vaqueros' land), the Miracle Mile's Tex-Mex category clearly belongs to Casa Rosa. Decent nachos, margaritas, and a credible combination plate are all that are really required--the people of Northwest Park Cities are going to eat here anyway according to the Law of Taco Proximity. So the surprise is, not only is Casa Rosa one of the prettier Mexican restaurants around--with its deep heart-colored walls, heavy carved moldings and furnishings, and giant Spanish paintings--the menu is also one of the more exciting in town.
The service is excellent, according to the genre. The rhythm of the meal is different in fine Mexican restaurants than in other good restaurants. A distinct bustle is required; the good waiter moves at--no, it's not a trot when you actually look at him moving--but something about the intention of his pace makes you swear he's running with that tray of margaritas. A vortex of energetic efficiency that might be frowned on in a French restaurant moves with the best waiter in a Mexican restaurant and keeps the meal's tempo lively, as well as leisurely. Of course, tequila helps with that impression, and the margaritas at Casa Rosa have some in them, which is a stronger statement than you can make about the drinks at many establishments. Another telling detail is the quality of the salsa, which is not only warm, so the flavors expand in the mouth, but based on chipotle peppers, so it has a rich nose-filling bouquet not found in most overly acidic mixtures. It might take several baskets of the thin, nearly translucent tostados to fully appreciate this salsa.
The menu features the usual selection of combination plates and a list of grilled meats, but the prizes are to be found in the "Specialties" category, and some of these are breathtakingly daring for a restaurant that, remember, also serves bean chalupas. Blue corn enchiladas are nearly commonplace now, and good chile rellenos are to be had in nearly every joint (not true twelve years ago), but where else can you get wild mushroom enchiladas? Gentle-textured blue corn tortillas packed with earthy, brown-juiced mushrooms; soft, sweet onions; and a soft, white trickle of goat cheese--these are rare indeed. Goat cheese is used to good effect in other dishes, too--more enchiladas, these stuffed with firm shrimp and goat cheese, a chile stuffed with the tangy cream, then grilled and served with rice. And a guiso, a stew, of huge, tender chicken chunks, swimming in tomato-based sauce with chunks of pepper and onion, ladled over a black-green griddled poblano peppers--this kind of tweaked traditional fare raises the bar for Tex-Mex without transcending the genre. But don't worry--this doesn't mean you'll have to drive an extra block if you're interested in the expected--you can still get a plate with cheese enchiladas, a shredded beef taco, and a tamale at Casa Rosa.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Casa Rosa, Inwood Village, (214) 350-5227. Open Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Chicken Poblano Guiso $7.95
Wild Mushroom Enchiladas $8.95
Grilled Goat Cheese Chile Relleno $8.95
Red Snapper Fajitas $12.95
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