La Rosita: A second bouquet

La Rosita

For some time now, since a growing number of Latino immigrants has joined the tide of diversity that adds a healthy variety of ethnic accents to our region, it has become necessary for serious lovers of South-of-the-Border cuisine to subdivide this dining niche into categories.

No longer can we define “Mexican” in terms of Tumbleweed and Chi-Chi’s; not when we can choose among a delicious array of Latino eateries that range across the stylistic spectrum from upscale sit-down dining rooms to lovable “hole-in-the-wall” taquerias where English-speaking monophones are welcome but may be well advised to bring along a Spanish dictionary.

Now something new and delicious has been added: Just over the bridge in New Albany, Israel and Lidia Landin, the proud owners of La Rosita on Charlestown Road, one of the newest and best of the taquerias, have opened a second location in the Southern Indiana suburb. This one’s no mere taqueria, though. Call it “crossover” or “breakout” Mexican, it brings the Landins’ fully authentic (and delicious) native cuisine out of the taqueria category and presents it, in fluent if slightly accented English, in the bistro-style setting of a prettily renovated New Albany building that once housed a 19th century general store.

3 stars
La Rosita
1515 E. Market St.
New Albany, Ind.
(812) 944-3620

The venue was recently if briefly home to California’s Coffee House, and before that housed Seed Gallery and Workshop, a non-profit art venue. It’s a comfortable room, not overly large, with room for no more than eight or 10 simple black tables under a black-painted ceiling. A row of tall, narrow windows with arched tops across the front admit plenty of light and offer a view of the street scene; one inner wall is hoked up with a faux-Latin look, stucco broken away to reveal red brick. An inset fireplace with a working gas grate makes the back corner a cozy place on a blustery day, and only a few decor elements plus Mexican music, not turned up too loud, signal that this is indeed a Latino eatery.

Undraped tables are decorated with attractive flower vases, real carnations garnished with … fresh parsley. They’re equipped with plenty of paper napkins and four, count ’em, four salsas in plastic squeeze bottles: mild green, medium (actually rather piquant) green and red and a hellishly delicious red habañero salsa that’s best taken in discreet portions.

The menu is brief (although a bit more extended than the Charlestown Road location) and very attractively priced. Tacos (the soft, two-tortilla Puebla style) are mostly $2.50, with a simple taco mexicano dressed with only onion and cilantro marked down to $1.75. Tortas (sandwiches on Mexican torta bread) are $4.99; lunch combinations, served Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., are $5.99 and feature a variety of taco, tamal and flauta combinations with rice and beans; if you want to mix and match your own, they’ll be happy to go along, and figure up a reasonable price. A “Grande” quesadilla is $5.99, as is a pambazo, fresh grilled Mexican bread “smothered” with special sauce (but not, you can be assured, Mickey D’s) and choice of meat. burritos are $5.99, and a torta platter with beans, rice and soft drink is $6.99.

A dinner menu chalked on an overhead blackboard offered more substantial main dishes including carne asada plates, fajitas, a Veracruz-style quesadilla and more … everything seemed to be well under $10.

We popped in for lunch the other day and found the mood delightful and the food just as good as the Charlestown Road location (which remains open for business). We loaded up on tacos, including several lengua (beef tongue), which were loaded with tender, deeply flavorful meat. If you’ve worried about trying tongue because it seems, well, weird, to eat something that came out of an animal’s mouth, I can’t think of a better way to help you get past this aversion than a couple of these goodies. Carnitas (tender pork, roasted then fried) was just as toothsome, and a tamal was the real deal, shredded pork and just a little mild red-chile sauce wrapped in a roll of masa harina dough and steamed in a corn husk.
The accompanying rice and beans were fine. The rice was simple but well-prepared, gently simmered with tomato sauce and subtle spice; the frijoles were not your usual thick, creamy mass but just as good, tender pintos in a rather thin sauce made piquant with a touch of white vinegar or maybe lime.

A lunch so filling that we really needed no dinner that evening came to a more than reasonable $22.72, plus a $5 tip.


ACCESSIBILITY: A single step at the entrance bars access by wheelchair users, a barrier that it would seem should be fairly easy to correct with a short sidewalk ramp.

(February 2006)