Our waitress recommended the nachos and, after informing us the ceviche was sadly off the menu, offered the "Playa Brighton" as the fishy alternative. I immediately ignored this and headed back to the menu, but Rosie, the little pickle, took her up despite sounding the least authentic options on the menu.
The tamale was the standout dish of the night for me. Traditional, yet something I've not seen on many Mexican menus in these parts (but then Brighton is hardly blessed with options). I'm no stranger to polenta as an Italian, but as much as it pains me to say, this was the best way I've tried it. Mexicans 1 - Italy 0. Stuffed with roast jalapenos and Sussex High Wield Ricotta (a local nod to queso fresca I imagine), this was topped with hot jalapenos and fresh coriander and wrapped in a corn husk before being steamed. Cornmeal is such a vehicle for flavour and this had it all, as well as being supremely light. It certainly gave me a taste for more typical dishes than the ones that have been tailored to the UK market. You must to order this.
Nachos - everyone's favourite. I can give or take them and can't help feeling they were an American invention or something. Huge globs of congealed cheese commonly on top is never something I want to eat. The fact that that the tortillas here were different flavours and therefore attractively mixed colours was a bonus, and the topping was fresh with a pico de gallo salsa, guacamole and sour cream. They're fine, I'd eat them, but I put them in the stadium food bracket as an overall concept.
Back to tradition were the empanadas, stuffed with a potato and pea filling. Nicely seasoned, crisp and not too heavy or stodgy on either filling or pastry. Really enjoyable and the coriander and lime yogurt added a needed zing.
Pork Pibil Tacos were smoky, aromatic and the pulled meat tender, clearly benefiting from a decent marinade imparting both sweetness and heat. There was enough contrast between the meat and the fresher flavours from the coriander, lime and khol rabi which made the dish interesting from start to finish. The extra tortillas tucked under the tacos were both appreciated and needed. Making the whole meal substantial was a side of coriander rice and salsa.
Saying that, a Mexican option does feel a little brave but there are plenty of diners in the area that these neighbourhood restaurants can thrive on if done well, which Zona Rosa certainly does. Meeting the owner later clearly highlighted a real passion for what they are doing and it's these independent restaurants that need supporting. Even if you don't live in this area, I think it's well worth a journey across town for. Order that tamale though, yeah.
I dined as a guest of Zona Rosa. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.