Restaurant review: Rose’s Cocina

Bend eatery revives recipes of original owner

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin


Published Mar 14, 2014 at 12:11AM / Updated Mar 14, 2014 at 07:11AM

Rose’s Cocina

Location: 335 N.E. Dekalb Ave., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 5-9 p.m. Saturday

Price range: Lunch $4.50 to $9.50; dinner appetizers $5.95 to $9.95, entrees $7.95 to $16.95

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Yes

Vegetarian menu: Options include a sautéed vegetable chimichanga

Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine and margaritas

Outdoor seating: Seasonal patio

Reservations: Welcomed for large parties

Contact: www.rosescocinabend.com or 541-678-5360

Scorecard

Overall: B

Food: B. “Satisfactory but not satisfying”; carne asada is a good option.

Service: B. Welcoming but inconsistent, ranging from efficient to overwhelmed.

Atmosphere: B. Pleasant but unremarkable, without any particular Mexican ambience.

Value: B. Prices are moderate, but extra charges are irritating.

Twenty-nine years after its original opening, the restaurant that lays claim to being Bend’s first authentic Mexican eatery has come full circle.

In 1985, Rosalva (Rose) Fields, born and raised in the Mexican coastal city of Culiacán, opened El Burrito in a little house just off Third Street south of Franklin Avenue. Her original preparations of tacos, enchiladas and, of course, burritos were something new to Central Oregon, and for 21 years the restaurant was a local favorite despite its just-off-the-beaten-track location on Dekalb Avenue.

Fields sold the restaurant in 2006. Its new owners, Judy and Jason Fuentes, kept many of her recipes with their own until they sold the restaurant last October.

The buyers were Rose’s daughter, Nancy Fields Brown, and her childhood friend, Anne Sabo Birky, who were freshmen at Bend High School when El Burrito opened in 1985. The pair spent many of their teenage hours working at the restaurant, and they renamed it Rose’s Cocina to honor their predecessor.

Nothing memorable

Today, three months after its mid-December reopening, Rose’s Cocina is again a bustling restaurant. Many patrons were regulars when Rose herself was in the kitchen. As might be expected, this intimate restaurant also welcomes families.

There’s nothing corporate about Rose’s. That said, there is also nothing besides the warmth of its owners to make me want to return on a regular basis.

The food is good, but it’s not memorable. The service is inconsistent.

And while the ambience is certainly pleasant, the décor is unremarkable. I feel as if this little restaurant is intentionally trying to remain under the radar of local diners.

A single-story former residence just east of Third Street, Rose’s Cocina has a spacious off-street parking lot and a convenient ramp to a seasonal patio. It is otherwise nondescript, with simple signage and a modest front door. Inside, the room is newly painted in a sage color with dark wood trim. Its rustic appearance is accented by simple art work, mainly small photos in oversized wood frames. There is nothing particularly Mexican about it.

Service was very different on each of my two recent visits. On the first instance, the attendant appeared overwhelmed by a mere three tables; she was very slow to take orders and deliver food, leaving me and my dining companion without menus or water for a good 10 minutes. On the second occasion, our server was prompt and efficient at every turn, even though she was looking out for at least five tables.

A first meal

Diners at Rose’s Cocina are greeted with a basket of tortilla chips, thicker than the usual store-bought variety. They are served with a dish of medium-spicy red salsa that is too thin for my taste; I requested a serving of pico de gallo — minced tomato, red onion and cilantro — to mix in and thicken the blend.

I started my first meal with a cup of tortilla soup, a house-made chicken broth that was at once salty and moderately spicy. In addition to the shredded chicken, diced tomato and avocado that are standard in this soup, the savory concoction included onions and cilantro. It was topped with grated Monterey Jack cheese and strips of those thick tortilla chips, and served with a flour tortilla.

I followed with a two-item combination plate, a chicken taco and an enchilada filled with pork carnitas. Neither was exceptional, but both were tasty. They were served with rice and beans — I opted for Spanish rice, cooked in tomato sauce, and black beans — with lettuce and sliced tomatoes on the side.

My companion ordered carne asada, tender slices of beef steak marinated in lime juice and seasonings, then flame-charred and served with fresh guacamole. She chose “corn rice” (white rice with kernels of yellow corn) and refried beans as accompaniments, along with corn tortillas.

Evening return

We began our subsequent dinner with a dish of guacamole, prepared tableside. As we watched, our server coarsely mashed an avocado in a serving dish, then blended it with fresh lime juice, pico de gallo, salt and other seasonings. It was a fine complement to chips.

On this occasion, my companion ordered a carnitas burrito, with the pork folded into a medium-sized flour tortilla with beans, rice, onions and cheese. A guacamole-sour cream blend topped a salad served on the side.

“It’s satisfactory,” she said of the burrito, “but it’s not satisfying.”

I ordered a blackboard special called Three Amigos Fajitas. A trio of meats — strips of steak and chicken, and a half-dozen tail-off shrimp — were sautéed and served with slices of red and green peppers and a very modest amount of onions. The meats, though not well spiced, were perfectly cooked.

When I order fajitas, I roll my meat and vegetables into a flour tortilla and eat it like a wrap. It’s been my experience at most Mexican restaurants that a small stack of three or four tortillas is served in a special container for this purpose. So I was disappointed when my server presented me with only a single tortilla, albeit a large one wrapped in foil. When I requested additional tortillas, I was brought two more after a considerable wait. I was shocked to find a $2 surcharge tacked onto my bill for an a la carte order of tortillas!

And this was also curious: Offered the night’s drink special, my companion ordered a passion-fruit margarita. She sipped and tasted grapefruit. I sampled and tasted strawberry. Neither of us tasted passion fruit. A couple of days later, I noticed that the blackboard menu offered a “strawberry grapefruit margarita” on the list of daily specials.

I suspect there may have been a mistake here, somewhere.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

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