Review: Zona Rosa, San Jose, CA

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As soon as we walked into Zona Rosa in San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood, I was in love. It is so intimate, so welcoming and full of charm and character. We had called ahead and made a reservation — just in case it was a busy place for weekday lunches, which it proved to be — and the smiling front of house staff knew who we were as soon as we walked in and we were given a choice of where to sit. There can’t be more than eight tables in the small rectangular room, but there is also a lovely patio area with umbrellas to keep you out of the midday sun. As it was nearly 95°F we elected to sit inside and were made very comfortable in a really cute little table for two in the window.

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We had only eaten breakfast a few hours earlier, so we were not ravenous and decided to share guacamole and chips and ($8) the crab ceviche starter ($12) (pictured above) with a glass of the Sangria Clara ($9) and a mimosa ($9) made with prosecco, orange, mango and pomegranate juice. The sangria was very fresh and clean and had a great hit of cinnamon which gave it a really cool Mexican vibe. The mimosa was to die for — fruity and fresh with a lovely fizz from the prosecco (I admit, we had to order seconds of those). Both were great to have on a hot spring day in California and they paired beautifully with the fresh crab and avocado. The crab was in good size chunks so you definitely weren’t searching for it amidst the salad accompaniments and it was sweet and delicate and not overpowered by any of the other ingredients. The avocado added a luxury and creaminess that complemented the crisp tortilla underneath and the crab itself really well. If you’ve never had Californian avocados, you have never lived.

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For main course we decided to share again and ordered two different types of tacos and then swapped. We chose the scallop with mango and jalapeño ($12) which came on a blue corn tortilla (definitely hand made from the looks of them) and shrimp with apple and fennel ($12) which came on a white corn tortilla and both were out of this world. I keep coming back to the same word: fresh— after an English winter, maybe it’s standing out to me a bit more than it normally would. The vegetables were crunchy, the meat was cooked perfectly and maintained all its delicate sweetness and its juiciness and the different cremas that came with each brought everything together.

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Having eaten breakfast not long before — this lunch turned out to be a sort of last minute decision — we were stuffed at this point, but we couldn’t resist the offer of pumpkin fritters with horchata ice cream. Mexican horchata is typically made from rice with vanilla and cinnamon, so you can imagine how delicious this ice cream was, especially with the pumpkin fritters coated in cinnamon sugar — they tasted like pumpkin pie, but better. I’m not sure how much the dessert was — we didn’t bother to ask because it sounded so delicious — but I think it was roughly $8.

I can’t recommend this place enough. My husband read about it in the San Jose Mercury News months ago and we decided, as we were getting ready to drive him to the airport, that we better fit it in before he headed back to the UK and we are so glad we did. If you’re in the area, just go. I’m going to try and get my family to go there with me again while I’m home in California because this is not your typical Mexican restaurant. This is not rice and beans, this is not so heavy you have to be carted out the door on a dolly. This is fresh, modern and well presented food which will make your taste buds dance. I promise you won’t be able to get the smile off your face, especially if you indulge in a few mimosas.

Bon appetit!

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