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Rosa Mexicano: Crowd Pleaser

The new Rosa Mexicano restaurant in Friendship Heights is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

When Rosa Mexicano—with its festive signage and signature margaritas—, the neighborhood responded with open arms.

At 5225 Wisconsin Ave., across from the south entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro station, the Chevy Chase Rosa Mexicano is the newest of three locations in the Washington, DC, area—the other two are at National Place and Penn Quarter.

The company has restaurants in New York, California, Florida, Minneapolis and Atlanta, but each one has its own menu variations and interiors. The Chevy Chase location is sleek with a vibrant, modern decor and an enclosed patio.

The Chef Behind the DC-area Rosa Mexicano Restaurants

Steven Lukis started out at Rosa Mexicano as the executive chef at the National Place location, and was promoted to regional chef. Today, he's working behind the scenes at all three locations, but he's hoping to make this Rosa Mexicano the next Chevy Chase “Cheers.” He loves this area “because you have the best of both worlds. It’s a neighborhood that feels like a city. You get the businesses, but you get families as well.” 

Lukis oversees all aspects of the operation, including ordering, staffing, designing new specials and providing the face behind this popular eatery. He’s cooked on television with his son and local celebrities like JC Hayward and Fox DC anchor Allison Seymour.

His cooking career was inspired by his childhood, during which, Lukis said, “food was an important part of our family life. My mom is an excellent cook. I chose ... the hospitality industry, because I’m happiest making others happy. It was the perfect career choice for me.”

Lukis grew up in Chicago. After high school, he “worked around the world.” He spent two years teaching English and apprenticing at restaurants in Spain. “I loved the Spanish food, culture and language,” he said. 

He spent several years as a chef at restaurants in his hometown before moving to the DC area to be executive chef at Wildfire Restaurant in Tyson’s Corner.

One strategy Lukis developed for Rosa’s Chevy Chase location was offering small plates and weekday happy-hour specials designed to bring in regulars. The restaurant offers a variety of menu options with different prices, “so guests can afford to come multiple times during the month.” He adds, “We want to become the local neighborhood place.”

One way Rosa draws in crowds is with “Noche Caliente"—half-price appetizers, margaritas and sangria from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. I’ve heard from local folks that Lukis’ strategy is working, and Rosa Mexicano has been busy since its opening day. 

The Food

If you’ve been to Rosa, you know about its table-side preparation of guacamole en molcajete (mixing together guacamole ingredients with a traditional lava rock mortar and pestle). This cilantro-laden avocado mixture is as fresh as it gets. Diners decide how spicy they want their guacamole, and then the ingredients—avocado, onion, jalapenos—are mixed and presented. Another standout is the restaurant's signature drink, the blissful pomegranate margarita, known for being fruity-sweet yet powerful.  

Although there are many enjoyable savory dishes on the menu, my two favorites are the pato confitado and the lamb tacos. Pato confitado is roasted, shredded duck served in a creamy poblano pepper mole sauce with braised brussels sprouts, black mushrooms and butternut squash dumplings. Peppers, onions and salsa picante accompany the lamb tacos, which are flavored with hints of cumin and cinnamon. The tacos are a feast, and come with red-beanchorizo chili, warm corn tortillas, rice and beans.

They also have a "Young Amigos" (kids’) menu, with upscale versions of Mexican favorites. (I’ve heard a few kids complain about the sweet potato fries that come with their dishes, but I’m a fan.)

The Dessert

If you have room, try the chorros en bolsa for dessert. They are hot Mexican doughnuts dusted with sugar, cinnamon and served with three delicious dipping sauces—caramel, chocolate and raspberry guajillo. For $7.50, everyone can share this satisfying sweet treat to end the meal. Rosa Mexicano also serves several sorbets and ice creams, including sweet potato and rum raisin, prickly pear with blueberries and Mexican chocolate mole sorbet.

Welcome, Rosa—Chevy Chase is glad to have you in town.


Mary Smith March 13, 2012 at 01:02 PM
We are big fans of the Rosa Mexicano downtown and so looked forward to visiting the new one near us in NW D.C. The guacamole is the same, but most of what we ordered was different, and not for the better. The "beans" they serve you is some pureed mush, the rice is very tough, and the "enchaladas" is one round disk buried in sauce. None of these are like the dishes served downtown. Even the margarita had an odd taste. Quite a disappointment.
Renee Sklarew March 13, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Thanks for sharing your experiences. Hopefully the Rosa staff will read this and improve some of these dishes.

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