When is a Chain Restaurant not Like a Chain? Rosa’s Cafe

In the Dark Ages when I was in high school, a local businessman opened a restaurant called “Rosa’s Café” in Odessa. Since Mexican restaurants are ubiquitous (indeed, sometimes it’s difficult to find anything that is neither a chain nor Tex-Mex), it was just another place to get the same, although located in an old Bonanza Steakhouse building. Are those even around anymore?

The original menu at Rosa’s was pretty simple. Their specialty was mesquite-grilled beef fajitas, put on flour tortillas that were made fresh on site. Everything was very fresh, and very lean. They had queso, guacamole, rice and refried beans, maybe enchiladas. Rosa’s served a grilled chicken dish, but at the time they would not make chicken fajitas for you. Freshly fried chips, nicely hot salsa, soft drinks. A fajitawrapped in a fresh tortilla makes a great hand meal – getting off work, running errands at lunch – one could drive through Rosa’s and grab a single fajita for under a dollar. The other ultimate drive-through, hamburgers, are usually drippy and/or greasy, and not safe to eat while driving. And with the mesquite smoked taste, it was original. (As a note, when the chain Taco Bell first opened in Odessa, they went out of business. I notice that they have one location in town now.)

Fresh tortillas roll off the flames

Rosa’s was popular enough that Mr. Cox opened another, and then another location, and now has them scattered throughout Texas, mostly to the west side of the state. What I like about Rosa’s is that it’s a fresh Tex-Mex style food without being greasy. They serve chicken fajitas, now, and have added all sorts of tacos, nachos, salads, and other items to the menu. I’d say the beans and rice are average, but the tortillas are made constantly and are wonderful. You can get beer, fake margaritas (the kind made with ‘neutral spirits’ rather than real tequila, since Rosa’s doesn’t have a full bar), and sopapillas.

Part of the salsa bar

When I moved to Colorado, I missed the mesquite taste so much that I would sometimes get my parents to bring me a family pack when they visited. One of my cousins lived in Baltimore for a few years, and was so hungry for Mexican/REAL Tex-Mex/mesquite smoking that he would visit home and devour two entire plates in one sitting. And he’s a skinny guy.

After the lunch rush hour

Even now, when I visit Odessa on business, I will pick up a fajita or two for my lunch before I head out to the job site. I guess Rosa’s can be considered a chain restaurant since there are a couple dozen locations in Texas (and one in Temecula, California for some reason), but they’ve kept the quality of the first local-owned store. If you pass one by, give it a try. Most people who eat here become fans.

Categories: Food, Travel

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4 replies

  1. Thanks for linking my article to this well done blog post! :0)

  2. Rosa’s has a good corn or flour burrito with beans & rice on “Taco Tuesday”. Two dinners but the drink for $7.99 w/ tax. Every location in Odessa is always busy on that day. My favorite is the meat taco salad in the big shell. My son said they opened a Rosa’s in San Angelo and people were lined up around the building.

  3. I’m pretty sure the original Rosa’s was in San Angelo, TX. A whole in the wall place then.

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