A Sit-Down with the Head Chef of One of Tucson's Best Restaurants
TUCSON -- Tucson is known for its abundance of Mexican restaurants. In a city festooned with them, how does one stand out above the rest? Rosa Ortega of Rosa's Mexican Food answers this question among others in a Q & A session.
-- ROSA'S MEXICAN FOOD --
Officially opened: Aug. 30, 1970
Address: 1750 E Fort Lowell Rd # 164
Founder: Rosa Ortega
Head Chef: Rosa Ortega
Total work force: 45 employees (12 family members, 33 employees)
Most popular dishes: Pan-fried shredded beef tacos, chicken burritos and enchiladas
Known for: Award-winning salsa and family environment
Jesus Ortega, one of the supervisors of Rosa's Mexican Food, remembers the day Johnny Cash and George Hamilton came into his restaurant.
"Shaking their hands felt like they had an energy pack strapped to the back of them," he said. "Both of them had such an incredible energy."
But Jesus himself is no stranger to fame. His mother Rosa founded the establishment almost 40 years ago and is the head chef at the restaurant. The Ortega family's decades of work has made it one of the most acclaimed Mexican restaurants in Tucson.
ONE-ON-ONE WITH ROSA ORTEGA:
Thanks for having me here, Rosa. It's great to have the opportunity to speak with you. What made you want to become a chef and how'd you get your start?
I've always loved cooking, so a culinary career just came naturally.
In terms of opening Rosa's -- After I came to the United States in 1963, I had heard the owner of the Bosom Tree, an American food restaurant, was trying to sell the business. So I showed up one day and asked him if I could put some of my food on the menu. He agreed.
By the third day, I had sold everything, so he made me an offer to buy the place. It had been my underlying intention to attract an offer from him. So I happily handed over the $10,000, and the restaurant was mine.
What's your favorite item to cook on the menu?
Red and green chili con carne
What makes Rosa's a leading Mexican restaurant in the city?
The love and pride in what we do takes us to the top.
We achieve the best quality. Our mantra is that if you start with a great product, you'll end up with great food.
Because of the poor economy, some places are taking measures to cut costs by reducing the quality. We aren't. We continue to use the highest quality ingredients -- we don't cut corners.
What does a chef like you cook when she gets home, when she's not working?
Various dishes with meat, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and green chili.
What's your favorite thing about working at Rosa's?
Getting to work with my family and the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
It's clear that cooking is a big part of the Ortega family. Is passing that skill down through generations important to you? Why or why not?
Yes, it's very important. When I pass away, I want to hand down a legacy.
What's the best part about living in Tucson?
The climate. It's not too hot, it's not too cold. I like the desert a lot, and you don't have to worry about things like floods or earthquakes -- you're protected from natural elements.
There's also a sense of safety and peace that the city has. Tucson is filled with good people.
What do you want customers to know about Rosa's?
The Ortega family is always here to take care of you.
Thanks for your time, Rosa.
Some interesting facts about the restaurant:
-All of the specialties on the menu are named after an Ortega family member
-Jesus said the salsa is so good that the restaurant attracts what he calls "Rosa's junkies," customers who show up and desperately beg for a free pint of salsa.
-All of the art on the walls has personal significance to the Ortega family
-The food is cooked 2-3 times a day to prevent storing