Restaurant: El Rancho de Tia Rosa
Location: Mesa, AZ, Stripmall
Day & time visited: Friday Night, 5:55pm
El Rancho de Tia Rosa’s – “where Mexican Cuisine becomes a work of art.” Well, give me the name of the artist and remind me to NEVER buy from them! EVER.
Let me give you a little background on why we chose to try Tia Rosas (as I’ve always heard it called). This is a place that has come highly recommended to me by coworkers and out of town visitors. More than once over the last 3 years, I’ve heard this place come up in discussion…and so I put it on my list of places to try. I was told most recently by a woman I work with – don’t go there if you want good food. That raised a flag for me so I started to remember why it came recommended from others – the atmosphere. Well, let’s go see for ourselves.
We had gotten home from work on a Friday night and were excited for ‘date night’ because we hadn’t done one in a while. It’s always nice to go out. Plus, it was early so we figured we can go and have an early dinner before the crowds arrive. I quickly changed my clothes and freshened up my make up while Caveman changed his shirt and grabbed a jacket.
El Rancho de Tia Rosa is located in Mesa, AZ not far from where we live. Maybe 6 or 7 miles north of where we’re located. It was easy to find the corner location, but not as easy to see which building was the restaurant. Tucked away in a rather large corner filled with strip malls and workout places, we finally see the neon red, blue and green sign that spells out Tia Rosas. Honestly – the neon sign was a little tacky…but that’s just my first impression.
It’s 5:55pm and the lobby is already jam packed with people. My initial thoughts are – Really? This early and this many people?? We put our names in and were told we‘d have a 15-20 minute wait. We decided to go to the bar because we saw 2 openings at the bar top and I could tell Caveman needed a drink. We aren’t big fans of huge crowds of people, so we quickly grabbed the 2 seats at the bar. The biggest plus we have going for us at this point in our experience is – the food must be really darn good! First impression of the bar? It’s really small. Only about 5 seats at the bar top and probably 5-6 tables in a dark room. It’s a rather cramped bar compared to the rest of the restaurant and gave off an airport vibe. I can say that because I spend half of my adult life in airports across the US! Caveman ordered a greyhound (vodka & grapefruit juice) but the busy bartenders told him they didn’t have grapefruit juice. They also didn’t look him in the eye and laughed when he ordered it. Hmmmm…..is this something they get all the time? Not really feeling a friendly vibe. So, Caveman ordered some cranberry juice with his vodka instead. He’s not a huge tequila guy on the whole…so no margaritas for him. I let the bartender know that I wanted a tequila drink that wasn’t “too sweet” because I don’t care for super sweet girly drinks. I like my drinks to have some substance.
He suggested I get a margarita without the sweet and sour but with grand marnier instead. He was really nice to me and asked if I had a tequila preference? “Umm…..Don Julio?” I suggested. You betcha!! Almost as quickly as he poured this tasty concoction, our names were called to be seated. Holy 7 minute wait! We were expecting longer! I sent Caveman to go get our seats as the bartender told me I had to pay now. Sure – what do I owe ya? The damage was $16.86…which means Tia Rosas is charging a good $8 a drink. Okay. So I threw a $20 his way and went on my mission to find my man!
I followed my Caveman through a very crowded, very loud dining area to a “backroom” in the corner. This room was small and had only about 5 tables, but the amount of echoing noise blaring from these walls could be compared to that of a parade! One table had about 20 or so people and the other 2 tables had small children. Oh the yelling, the screaming laughter, and the annoying echo in my ears! I have a naturally loud voice (or so I’ve been told) and this was a challenge even for me! Minus all the uproar in that back room, I must say that there was a nice fireplace with a real fire burning. I am always a fan of “homey environments”
We were immediately brought chips and 2 different kinds of salsa, one was red and the other was green. Our waiter greeted us and noticed that we had drinks that we carried from the bar, so he stepped away and gave us some time to look. At this point – I’m hungry! I would describe the red salsa as a liquid with very salty flavor & lacking chunks of goodness. It contained a lot of pepper seeds but it’s flavor was unauthentic. The chips were nothing special…possibly even store bought and warmed up, but I’m not sure. I enjoyed the taste of the green salsa much more. Though it was also a very fine liquid, it was sweet in essence and tasted much better than the red. Caveman kept saying it was too sweet…and toward the end, I could really see his point. But I’m hungry, so keep the green salsa coming!
The menu had several odd choices for a Mexican place. The most noticeable mistake on the menu was, No combination dinners! What Mexican place doesn’t offer food combos like enchilada and burrito, or tacos and a tamale? We continued to look and tried to be fair, but the menu seemed confused. What’s up with the clam chowder and peach blossom soup? Where am I again? In addition, there was pineapple and mangos in almost every item. No combos + odd choices = MENU IDENTITY CRISIS!!! This is going to be a tough night. Stay optimistic.
I was really struggling with what to order but wanted to stay true to the local favorites. Caveman decided to order the Nuevo Chile Relleno. It was described as a roasted poblano chili pepper stuffed with pork picadillo, and topped with pinon nuts, sour cream and cheese. It was to be served with Spanish Rice. It has been a while since he ordered a chile relleno…and it sounded delicious. I was torn between Fajitas, Burro or tacos mariscos (seafood). I went out on a limb since we never order seafood in Arizona and went with the Shrimp Taco and a Salmon Taco. They came highly recommended by our server, so I decided to try it. The shrimp taco is covered in a pineapple salsa while the salmon taco gets an orange mango salsa. A little sweet and savory combination sounded good to me.
As we waited on our food to come, we had trouble ordering more chips and salsa because our server was very busy. I was finally able to nab the attention of a waitress passing-by and asked if there was any HOT salsa available. Seeing as the red and green salsa was not doing it for us – she had no problem bringing us a cup of hot salsa. Not only was it heated up hot, but its essence was chipotle based with smoky, peppery heat emulating as it hit your mouth. It sure was HOT!!! But I’m not a huge chipotle lover, so the flavor was limiting for me. I decided to look around at the large dining area adjacent to our corner room and that area had high ceilings and was very well lit, offering a mix of colors to the eye. From yellows, reds, greens and purples, the décor was all over the place. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t ring Mama’s Mexican to us. My headache starts to set in and I realize it’s from the loud voices echoing in our back corner room. It’s so loud in there, we can’t think and now we’re starting to have a hard time enjoying ourselves. And our drinks are empty. They stayed that way for about 10 minutes until our waiter brought the food. No refills for us during our wait. The service is getting questionable…
Our food comes out and we reorder our adult beverages and disappointment starts to sink in. The appearance of our food was unexceptional at best. Caveman’s Nuevo chile relleno looks like it’s covered in spaghetti sauce, and it’s very small in size. Stay open minded….he takes a bite or two and all we can say is the sauce on this poblano chile is unsophisticated. As you take a bite, you get a rush of sweetness that enters your mouth, followed by this unwelcomed burnt flavor. The sauce tasted like bottled pepper juice and did nothing for the meal. The sweetness I described was coming from the mysterious pork inside the pepper. It was served with what they are calling Spanish rice, but quite honestly – the rice mirrored the flavor of a white onion. Little did we know, that’s the best tasting thing on both of our plates! For $15, this meal really lags in every possible area. We’re going to need those drink refills now…
My tacos mariscos. The presentation was inviting and I couldn’t wait to eat! Heck – after seeing Caveman’s Chile Relleno, I was certain mine had to be better…
Um…I was wrong. My first bite was into the rice which was bland, unseasoned, and tasted like an onion. Did I mention it was barely warm in temperature? The salmon from my salmon taco was not only cold, but EXTREMELY dry and substandard. There was no flakiness and the salmon was lacking any seasoning; including salt and pepper. How long was it sitting under a heat lamp back there? The mango salsa was forced to do damage control, but when you put cold salsa on cold salmon – it does not result in good. So I quickly moved onto my Shrimp taco. The shrimp had better seasoning and good texture, but it was also cold. What an unimpressive display that I have to pay for! Not a lot of things dishearten me as much as a restaurant serving cold food! The one item I ordered that was served hot was the beans. Deemed frijoles, I expected these to be good. I mean – they are my first warm food all night! But to my grave dissatisfaction, the beans had an overwhelming BBQ flavor that finished with that same burnt taste from the relleno sauce. Where is this burnt flavor coming from?? El Rancho de Tia Rosa – you can keep it! Take it back to the artist that created it. We don’t want it!!
I left almost all my food on my plate and Caveman ate as much as he could handle of the small portioned pepper. In my experience, men will eat anything, but this cavewoman wasn’t about to waste her calories on this crap. Tia Rosa’s can best be described as “overpriced Americanized mexican food” and we will never go back.
Want to hear something totally random?? As we are unhappily waiting to pay our $46.21 bill (that’s without the first round of $20 drinks) – a man dressed as a clown comes up and proceeds to do magic tricks at our table. **This is not a typo! A man dressed as a clown performed magic for me. I think he saw the look of regret on my face and was trying to cheer me up. I have nothing negative to say about a man going table to table performing magic tricks; but I will bundle this final straw into my earlier comment – unauthentic identity crisis!!!!
Needless to say – we will never go back to El Rancho de Tia Rosa.
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being poor, 5 being mediocre, and 10 being the best experience I can describe, here is how I rate the following for El Rancho de Tia Rosa:
Atmosphere – 3 Service -4 Appetizers- 3 Food-1 Drin