With 12,000 square feet of swanky space, Rosa Mexicano is looking to make an immediate impact on Hennepin Avenue.

With 12,000 square feet of swanky space, Rosa Mexicano is looking to make an immediate impact on Hennepin Avenue.

The corner of Hennepin and 6th in downtown Minneapolis isn't looking so drab anymore. The swanky 12,000-square-foot Rosa Mexicano is set to open Thursday with a big splash in City Center. It joins the recently-opened Cowles Center and Thom Pham's Wondrous Azian Kitchen at the once-dreary intersection. (Now if only Block E could get its act together...)

Rosa Mexicano is a New  York-based chain of upscale Mexican restaurants famous for its table-side guacamole, frozen pomegranate margaritas and its dramatic look. I took a recent hard-hat tour of the giant space and it appears the Minneapolis location will bring the same excitement. In fact, CEO Howard Greenstone said the City Center restaurant will be the company's largest yet.

I've been to the Lincoln Center location in Manhattan, which features a David Rockwell-designed 30-foot iridescent blue-tile water wall that covers two floors. Cascading down the wall are 240 miniature cliff divers -- a signature of the restaurant chain. With only one floor in Minneapolis, the restaurant's design team came up with a pool that sits in the middle of the dining room (complete with mini-divers).

The multi-room layout is flush with Rosa Mexicano's usual color scheme of pinks, reds and deep purples. It's very nightclub-ish. But the food takes center stage at Rosa. Greenstone seemed particularly proud of their moles. The menu is filled with items you'd expect, such as hearty plates of steak tacos and enchiladas. But Rosa is also well known for its short ribs and seafood (I'm excited for the pork belly and diver scallop tacos). As for the popular guac, Greenstone said the chain goes through 1.2 million avocados a year at its 12 restaurants. Entree prices range from about $15 to $27. Beyond the famous pomegranate margarita, there's a list of high-end tequilas and some adventurous cocktails. Check out the El Mezcalito (fresh strawberry, jalapeno-infused silver tequila, Del Maguey-Vida mezcal, lemon and organic agave).

The weather might be cooling, but the street-side patio sounds like it should be good to go for at least a couple more months. Greenstone had his architects cut back the building line from the street, allowing the 100-seat patio to fit snugly against to the restaurant's glass interior. They've added large "super heaters" to keep diners warm out there -- a sure way to any Minnesotan's heart.

  • Details: 609 Hennepin Av., Mpls
  • 612-656-7144
  • www.rosamexicano.com
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Thu. and 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.