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WITH SIX, YOU GET CHIMI

Ah, the Fourth of July. A time to celebrate our independence, our history, our united state of ethnic diversity. What better way to commemorate the melting pot that is our nation than to visit one of the Valley's Mexican-Chinese (or Chinese-Mexican) restaurants?

No doubt you've passed one or two of these hybrids in your travels on our city's roadways. Signs advertising this odd combination of cookery stand out. Mexican and Chinese food at one restaurant? Too weird, you say. It can't possibly be good.

But think of it this way. You say Mexican. He says Chinese. You crave a green chili burrito. He wants moo shu pork. Now, instead of calling the whole thing off, your conflicting culinary desires can be satisfied in one location--and I don't mean the food court at the mall.

La Rosa Mexican, Chinese and American Restaurant doesn't look polyglot. Instead, it looks like a typical Mexican restaurant. Wall decorations range from sombreros and serapes to black velvet paintings of conquistadors. The lattice-back chairs are made of dark, carved wood. Chips and hot sauce are promptly brought to the table.

But wait a minute. Our waiter looks Asian. And our menu is split into two sections: "Chinese" and "Mexican and American." In the kitchen we learn there are two chefs: one who cooks Chinese and one who cooks Mexican. It's anyone's guess who cooks the American offerings--a hamburger, cheeseburger, club sandwich and BLT. Maybe the Mexican chef cooks them; after all, they are on his side of the menu.

What we do know for certain is this: Mexican food is served all day at La Rosa, but if you want won tons, be sure to come during weekday lunch or any night after five o'clock. Apparently, the Chinese chef has a contract stipulation for afternoons off. Smart guy.

It is lunchtime when my dining accomplice and I pull into La Rosa's parking lot. We decide to tackle our assignment in this manner: One of us will order Mexican, the other, Chinese. Gracious host that I am, I give my accomplice first choice. He picks Chinese, selecting something from the luncheon combination specials. I order a regular Mexican combination. We munch on chips and spicy-tart hot sauce and sip our sarsaparillas.

Both of our combinations come with soup. Well, let me amend that. I should say, both of our combinations are supposed to come with soup of the day. My albondigas arrives promptly, but my accomplice receives nada.

Forget what I said about being gracious. After reminding our young waiter about my accomplice's absent soup, I begin spooning mine. My accomplice understands. We both agree there's nothing worse than tepid soup. The albondigas contains two pink meatballs in a chicken broth loaded with chopped celery and carrot. I like it.

I'm scraping the last of it from the cup when our waiter swoops out of the kitchen with our entrees. I remind him again about the missing soup. He gives me a quizzical look, nods and walks away. I am sure he will bring the soup in a minute.

I am wrong.
When it is clear that no soup is forthcoming, I motion our waiter over. It is still early. The lunch rush hasn't begun. There are only two or three other tables of diners in the restaurant, some in shorts and tank tops, some in long-sleeve shirts with pocket protectors and beepers. "Excuse me," I say. "Isn't he supposed to get soup with his meal?"

"I'm sorry," our waiter apologizes. "I'm new at this. Let me check for you." He disappears into the kitchen. Moments later, he is back at our table with a cup of steaming egg drop soup. I'm glad I persisted. The egg drop is very good, thick and hot and topped with chopped green scallions.

My combination platter, which is not a luncheon special, is hungry-man size. It consists of a fluffy beef tamale in red sauce, a cheese and onion enchilada, a shredded beef hard-shell taco, overly moist Spanish rice and average beans. I prefer my tamales dense and low to the plate, served in the husk or with the husk imprint clearly visible. La Rosa's tamale is quite meaty and too cloying for my tastes. The best thing on the plate is the enchilada. The rolled tortilla has texture; the cheese filling is nice and sour.

My accomplice's Chinese luncheon special is not nearly as daunting in size. On a regular round plate are two fried won tons, an egg roll, fried rice and garlic chicken. The egg roll is decent--not too greasy, not too hard. I like the spicy, yet vaguely sweet, garlic chicken enough to order it again. The fried rice and fried won tons are strictly standard fare.

 

Which is how I would summarize La Rosa. No matter which side of the menu you choose, you won't be disappointed--or wowed. The Mexican food here is basic meat-and-cheese-heavy Arizona-Sonoran style. In this regard, the Chinese menu might have an edge. Though it's hard to be conclusive after sampling a lunch special, I think the garlic chicken has potential.

Give La Rosa a try next time you and your eating partner contemplate coin-flipping.

Prince Fine Chinese and Mexican Food is not quite as integrated as La Rosa. The first thing you're asked when you walk in the door is: Chinese or Mexican? If you haven't yet decided, that's no problem. It's just that the restaurant has two separate menus--one Chinese, one Mexican. In his own way, the host is trying to solve a logistical problem, namely, which menu to give you. We, of course, tell the host we want to see both. He seats us with two Chinese menus and one Mexican. Is it mere coincidence that he himself is Chinese?

Perhaps not. This location used to be a Mexican restaurant called Tang's Cara Mia. Six months ago, it was reorganized and renamed Prince. Our waitress is a true veteran. I overhear her telling the host-manager that she has been waiting tables for 45 years. This doesn't seem possible--she doesn't look old enough. Later, when I ask her how long Cara Mia was around, she tells me she waitressed there for seventeen years. Talk about loyal!

At Prince, we decide to mix things up. After our complimentary warm-up of chips and salsa, we decide to go Chinese with a big family-size bowl of hot and sour soup. "I should try this sometime," says our waitress as she serves us. "We sell the heck out of it." She should try it. It's good: spicy and filled with shrimp, pork and tofu.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, the restaurant is empty. It certainly isn't much to look at. Dark-colored carpet and brown booths are the most memorable part of its decor. A strange dialogue ensues as the staff sets up for dinner.

"Bul-LO."
"No. BUR-rro."
"BUL-ro."
"BUR-rro."

The Chinese manager and a Hispanic busboy come into view. The manager gives us a shrug and a smile. "I'm teaching him Chinese. He's teaching me Spanish." The lesson continues.

Our waitress emerges from the kitchen bearing our kung pao chicken and shrimp. "Where should I put this?" she asks. When I tell her we're going to share, she sets the platter down and goes to fetch plates. Here comes a second waitress carrying two large plates of Mexican food. "Who's got the chile relleno?" I indicate myself. She sets one plate in front of each of us. "You guys have a lot to eat," she kids. I tell her we'll probably be taking some home with us. (Probably? I've never been more sure of anything in my life.)

Now comes the hard part, telling you about the food. Well, it isn't terrible. It just isn't fantastic, either. The Mexican food at Prince is your standard, average, grated-cheese-and-shredded-lettuce- topped, traditional Arizona-style Mexican food. The relleno and a green chili enchilada I sample are decent. So is a cheese and onion enchilada, thanks to chopped white onion and what tastes like long-horn cheese.

In fact, I like the Mexican portion of our meal better than our Chinese entree. The kung pao consists of large chunks of white chicken and pieces of big shrimp, but it doesn't wow me. It has peanuts, but no red chile pods. The steamed rice is disappointing low-quality long grain.

Another couple enters and sits in a booth. They peruse their menus and eat some chips and salsa. A waitress comes to take their order. The young woman points to some hot mustard and sweet and sour sauce on the table. "Should this be here?" she asks.

Happy birthday, America. It's a brave new world.

La Rosa Mexican, Chinese and American Restaurant, 4416 West Peoria Avenue, Glendale, 934-5289. Mexican hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday; noon to 9 p.m., Sunday. Chinese hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m., Sunday.

Prince Fine Chinese and Mexican Food, 4431 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale, 937-9329. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

MDBUanywhere

Mexican and Chinese food at one restaurant? Too weird, you say. MDBUla rosa

Chips and hot sauce are promptly brought to the table. But wait a minute. Our waiter looks Asian.

MDBUprince

The manager gives us a shrug and a smile. "I'm teaching him Chinese. He's teaching me Spanish."

 

"I should try this sometime," says our waitress, as she serves us the hot and sour soup. "We sell the heck out of it.


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