Ok. I must start by saying, I have been watching way too much day time TV this winter, being holed up in the house with a newborn. The chef from Rojo Mexican Grill has been doing mouth-watering cooking demonstrations on almost every local news show so I have been wanting to go there for months. The location was appealing to me since I have never been to the Shops at the West End in St. Louis Park, so when it was my turn to pick the location for Ladies’ Night Out, I had my mind made up in a flash.
Opened in August 2010, the restaurant is co-owned by Jason Merritt and Michael McDermott whose father founded Chi-Chi’s (which, by the way, is slang for a ladies “twins” – my hubby just about died laughing when he saw his first Chi-Chi’s sign – he thought it was a topless bar).
The cuisine is described as ‘”Traditional dishes… but with bold new flavors or in unique presentations.” The website also uses “traditional but with modern influence” to describe the decor. The restaurant is beautiful with the rich, red booths (Rojo means red), dark wood, stone, and shiny, silver steel blending together to create an inviting place to spend a few hours. There are display stations where you can see guacamole, salsa and tortillas being prepared. Though the concept of this appealed to me when choosing the restaurant, I actually was not a fan. I love tableside guac prep but as we were leaving the salsa table cook had on elbow length gloves and was reaching in to stir a big vat of salsa (which is more like pico de gallo in my opinion). Something about those gloves just threw me back to being on a dairy farm and seeing my dad pull on shoulder high gloves to “reach in” help the cow give birth. No fault of the restaurant, but I couldn’t shake that image and decided the idea of seeing my salsa prepped fresh is much better than the execution.
Our waiter was very friendly and helpful with recommendations for both drinks and food. I ordered the El Guapo which is Hornito tequila shaken with lemon and lime and then mixed with Ginger Ale. Sadly, though I expected the ginger ale to give it a crisp bite, the tequila taste dominated the glass. I often will enjoy a Paloma at home, which is tequila and Squirt or Fresca, with a salted rim. Divine! This makes me think that either the Ginger Ale isn’t a strong enough soda or the bartender was a little heavy on the liquor. At a hefty $7 for a short glass filled with ice, this was a costly disappointment.
Normally, I would gobble up my favorite Mexican street food – Cotija corn – which is on the appetizer menu. However, on an evening out with friends I didn’t want to get my cheeks smeared with cream and cheese which inevitable happens when eating this delectable treat. The tortilla soup ($3.50 for a cup) was served with less flair then expected for a restaurant that touts presentation of dishes, it was served in a simple cup with a sprinkle of crispy tortilla strips on top. Although the flavor was a satisfying blend of tomato and chile, the texture was grainy and unappealing.
For a main course, I ordered fish tacos and traded one of the two for a veggie taco. Served on corn tortillas, similar to a Mexican taco stand, both fillings were unusual. Expecting a more typical light atter on my fish, the sautéed version was refreshing but the cabbage slaw was a little sweet and carraway seeds seemed like a misplaced flavor. The vege taco was a combination of corn, sweet potato, squash, and black beans, giving it a very earthy, fall taste. Satisfying but I wanted it to have some kind of sauce to add moisture. Serving refried beans in a dish was a nice way to keep them from invading the space of other food (I despise when my food touches) they were very typical. Sticky rice? Am I at an Asian restaurant or a Mexican one? It was tasty but, in my opinion, sweet rice will never belong at a Mexican table. The flavor is all wrong, contrary to traditional rice that has a nice tomato flavor which compliments typical dishes.
Now I’ll say upfront that I’m a sucker for churros. How can a deep-fried doughy pastry covered in cinnamon sugar not tempt the taste buds? I’ll be blunt on this one. Though the presentation was brilliantly perfect for sharing, over a dozen two-inch churros mounded on the plate with chocolate and cream dippers… they were TERRIBLE. Saturated in grease, with almost no cinnamon and sugar, and chocolate sauce so bitter that it couldn’t even be enjoyed on its own. A big heartbreak for me on that one.
Overall, great atmosphere, and a beautiful modern design (although I don’t really see a lot of “Mexican influence”) to the restaurant that makes it a comfortable place to sit and sip, chat and nibble. Food was ok but overall impression of it was more on the disappointed side. And pricey too. The bill for just me was $29. I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much at a Mexican restaurant.
Rojo Mexican Grill
1602 West End Boulevard
St. Louis Park, MN 55416
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11 am – 11 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am – 12 am, Sun 11 am – 10 pm
Reservations: Highly recommended, especially on weekends
Rating: A+ for atmosphere, average food (with exception of very below average churros)