There is no gentle way to put this: From the moment it was announced, Rosa Mexicano has been a blaring red flag hoisted over the L.A. Live complex, a symbol of the tone-deafness of the tax-sucking developers and zillionaire contractors behind the enormous pop culture mall. Because, while it is plausible, if barely, that what downtown needed was one more chain steakhouse, a tiki-theme restaurant and an ESPN Zone big enough to create its own gravitational field, Rosa Mexicano is a Mexican restaurant brought into our overwhelmingly Mexican city from New York, a city as famously bereft of Mexican cooking as L.A. is of red-sauce Italian joints. Even seen in its best light, the NYC Rosa Mexicano was most famous for its guacamole, a dish that most native Angelenos have mastered before their 8th birthday. Its presence in the complex is not just an insult to L.A. but a taxpayer-subsidized insult to L.A.
But as an actual restaurant, stripped of the rhetoric and bolstered with a chelada or two, Rosa Mexicano turns out to be fairly likable, as massive and impersonal as every other L.A. Live restaurant but furnished with the occasional whimsical touch — a tiled back wall features trickling water and a flock of boys in free fall in homage to the cliff divers of Acapulco — and a decent-sized tequila list. The famous tableside guacamole may be kind of a bust — one hint: Out here, people generally like their guacamole to contain more than a hint of avocado. But the tortillas are handmade, the grilled shrimp are the size of golf balls, and the cuitlacoche quesadillas err on the side of cheesy crispness rather than the usual inky funk. And while the main courses are expensive — $16.50 for chicken enchiladas; $26.50 for pan-roasted snapper — servings are enormous. One order of the short ribs with rajas may be enough to feed two people at dinner, provide the basis of a midnight snack and stuff three sandwiches at lunch the next day.
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Rosa Mexicano, L.A. Live, 800 W. Olympic, dwntn. (213) 746-0001; rosamexicano.com. Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner, Sun.-Wed., 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking.