There's food too?

Reconnect with your inner Jimmy Buffett-lovin' soul.

I don't remember the first time I went to Rosita's. In fact, I'm not sure I remember it at all. The problem is, Rosita's is such a family kind of place it puts you off your guard. Nearly every night, the place is crawling with kids, all sizes, sling-bound to fully auto-operational. One obstreperous kid can ruin a night out for everybody, but a restaurant full of them is disarming. Then, as you enter the brightly tiled interior, an old lady (Josefina weekdays, Carmen on the weekend) hands out fresh tortillas (which you eat sitting on the rim of the foyer fountain, getting your butt wet while waiting to be seated); two girls whisper and giggle behind the reservation stand; and the menu, with pictures of chiles and burros and campesinos in sombreros, is printed in the Mexican national colors. Rosita's

9747 Fourth NW, 784-4132; also 7210 Woodlawn NE, 523-3031 Mon-Thu 11:30-10, Fri-Sat 11:30-10:30, Sun 1-9 AE, MC, V; full bar; no smoking It's all so innocent, so Holman Road Latino. Who would suspect danger lurking round the corner? Certainly not I. So when I opened the beverage menu and discovered that Rosita's, which does not even boast a bar, offers no fewer than 20 tequilas and margaritas—both traditional and festive in 11 flavors and seven special versions— I was delighted. The little corner of my soul that has never outgrown singing along with Jimmy Buffett on the car radio opened. I rolled the exotic brand names on my tongue: Sauza, Herradura, el Jimador, Don Julio, Porfidio Anejo. Soon I was rolling the real thing on my tongue. Fascinating—I had no idea tequila was such various, subtle, delicious stuff. . . . Order? Order what? Oh, yes, dinner. I'll have the Mexican Super Special combo platter ("for those with a BIG appetite! . . . $9.95") and while you're at it, bring me another Cabo Wabo ($9.75), wouldja? I regretted my excess the next day, of course—bitterly. But the door to that little corner of my soul that is forever Puerto Vallarta has remained wedged open. On subsequent visits to Rosita's, I have learned moderation, and to appreciate the variety of food as well as drink on offer. Rosita's fare is not purist Diana Kennedy Mexican cooking; it is straight-ahead, no-apologies Mexican restaurant cooking, of a wholeheartedly generous kind. The combination plates ($8.95-$9.95) offer all the usual items—tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chile rellenos, tamales—with the usual "Spanish" rice and refried beans, but in down-home, authentically accented versions, thanks to Magdalena Laythe's hand in the kitchen. Of the individual main dishes, I'm particularly partial to the chile verde ($9.95), with its tender chunks of pork in fragrant tomatillo-laced sauce, and the gallina en mole ($10.75), its moist chicken breast meat not overwhelmed by the smoky, dark red sauce. If you're partial to beef, I can recommend the carne azada ($12.25), the broiled sirloin complemented by sides of guacamole and "pico de gallo" sauce. Apart from the vegetarian (but not vegan) chiles rellenos ($9.95), the "platos vegetarianos" I've sampled seem a little dispirited compared to the rest of the menu. I mean, what is Mexican cooking without lard or its moral equivalent? Nevertheless, for the faint of heart, the menu does offer stewed pinto beans and black beans as well as the usual succulent frijoles refritos, and the staff will be happy to make a substitution. The seafood platters, too, give at least the illusion of lighter eating. A preparation of tortilla-rolled cod dressed in yogurt-cilantro sauce ($9.25) is curious but agreeable. The prawns and vegetables saut饤 in garlic and brandy ($13.25) and crab-stuffed enchiladas ($13.50) are, for Rosita's, pricey but pleasant alternatives to more conventional items. However, it is with conventional items that the place really shines. So good are the freshly cooked taco chips that you can easily spoil your appetite on them before your dinner arrives. The guacamole (side order $3.75) is a little timidly seasoned to my taste, but a tablespoon or so of the fiery salsas served with your taco chips will fix that. I'm not a nacho-eater myself, but I'm told that Rosita's version ($5.95) is first-rate. Old-timers may remember that the Holman Road Rosita's was once called El Toreador, and the restaurant is still partly owned by the founding family (which also has an interest in another Rosita's off East Green Lake). But for the last seven-plus years, Rosita's on Holman has been run by Scott Sellers, who's responsible for most of the more exotic (and frequently off-the-menu) daily specials, the traditional desserts (flan, sopaipillas, churros, and a kind of south-of-the-border cr譥 brl饩, and the tequila lineup. The latter in particular is quite an accomplishment, considering how hard it is to import unusual liquor items into Washington, and a tribute to both Sellers and the willingness of his suppliers at the Greenwood WSLCB store to experiment. A vos salud!

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