Tortillas and roses

Photo By David Robert

I may have driven by El Rosal a hundred times and never known I could eat there. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my assumption that this tortilla factory was just about the manufacture of the most basic of Mexican food foundations. In fact, there are plenty of things to eat and see at this modest establishment.

The first thing you see as you enter El Rosal is a bakery case filled to overflowing with a myriad of Mexican pastries and confections. Even with my culinary school education, some of these items appear exotic and surreal. I must have stared for a full minute into the whorls on the top of a pink frosted bun, transfixed by the beauty of its simplicity. Cookies easily as large as a blue-collar palm and studded with sugar tempted me to ruin my supper.

A long, open counter is where we ponder the facile, straightforward menu. It doesn’t take long to come up with choices, as there are actually quite few, but the place smells so good we figured we couldn’t go wrong. We both ordered combinations with rice and beans (an unbelievable steal at $4.75). We were given a bowl of fresh and crunchy mixed corn and flour tortilla chips and a generous bowl of bright red salsa. The salsa was the thin variety, with an intense, singular flavor of fresh ground chilies and a fiery but clean finish. It was an authentic forerunner to the course that followed.

While we waited for our food to be prepared, I took a closer look around. In addition to the restaurant, this is also a Quonset hut of Mexican ingredients and specialty items. Screaming red chorizo and fresh cheeses, mysterious canned goods and spices line the back wall. I was particularly taken with the different types of masa, or ground corn flour, used in the process of making tortillas, tamales and sopes (a kind of thin tortilla-like base that can be topped with just about anything). Large bins of different kinds of dried peppers invite the cook in me to experiment with the inky, shiny crinkles. I fantasized about taking home half the store and making enough food to feed the ravenous horde I call my family.

There’s menudo available daily, for when tripe once a week just isn’t enough. Shrimp and octopus cocktails and cooling ceviche are also on the bill of fare. Of course, there is an abundance of the star ingredient, El Rosal’s killer fresh tortillas, all warm and flexible and surely loaded with fat, as they should be.

Tony had the combo with beef. Basically, this consisted of fluffy Spanish rice, savory refried beans and marinated grilled meat topped with a pile of pungent raw onions, with tortillas on the side. It was simple and rib-sticking, even if the meat was a little bit on the dry side.

I had a very soul-satisfying plate. Next to the same rice and beans was one incredible tamale, with luscious pork filling and masa that melted in the mouth. Many places you go, the tamales will be hard enough to bounce against the wall, but not this one. The color was even different—a lustrous copper. I also had a chile relleno that was par excellence. The egg batter surrounding the cheese-stuffed pepper was so thin as to be translucent and utterly weightless. This was then stuffed inside two fresh tortillas with hot sauce and onions.

Oh, my. Bueno!