Popular Mexican chain facing two subpar inspection grades
For three decades, Rosa Mexicano has served up sizzling Mexican food to hungry New Yorkers. Famous for tableside guacamole and pomegranate margaritas, Rosa has expanded beyond downtown and Lincoln Center to restaurants in over a dozen cities, including two new locations in Dubai.
But despite perpetual crowds and critical acclaim, there's one thing Rosa Mexicano still hasn't conquered: food safety regulators. The restaurant's Lincoln Center location has been hit hard by two recent visits from the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
During the first visit, on September 12, the restaurant racked up 24 points on four violations, including the mishandling of hot food and inadequate personal cleanliness of employees. Then, on September 24, Rosa's score more than doubled, to 61, thanks to seven violations, including the presence of filth flies, issues with plumbing maintenance, and conditions conducive to vermin. According to the inspection report, food workers didn't wash hands thoroughly after contaminating hands and skirted other sanitation rules, and hot food was dangerously kept below 140 degrees
The increase in violations from one visit to the next is especially dramatic because the process is designed to give restaurants at least two chances to improve their grade. If the initial score is more than 13 (the cutoff for an "A" grade), the establishment goes ungraded, and is allowed to improve conditions before being graded during the next inspection, usually within 30 days and always unannounced.
A score of 61 should earn Rosa Mexicano a grade of "C"-in fact, it's more than twice the necessary violations, and a higher score than almost any other restaurant received during recent inspections.
For the moment, however, Rosa can postpone the subpar mark. According to a DOHMH pamphlet on grading procedures, after officially receiving a grade of "B" or "C", a restaurant is still entitled to hang a "Grade Pending" sign on its door, pending an opportunity to be heard at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) Health Tribunal. OATH statistics show that initial DOHMH decisions are sustained in less than two-thirds of these tribunals, and even in those cases, an appeals process can take up to four months to resolve.
That means it could be months before diners at Rosa are even aware of what's going on behind its doors.
A Rosa Mexicano official didn't return repeated telephone calls for comment.
The recent inspections aren't the first time that Rosa Mexicano has had trouble with restaurant regulators. Last October, The New York Observer reported that the U.S. Attorney's office filed suit against the restaurant group as part of a focus on the Zagat Guide's "most popular" restaurants in Manhattan. The lawsuit alleged that all three New York locations violated several aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires restaurants to provide wheelchair access at entrances, restrooms, and dining tables; the suit was settled in January of this year after owners agreed to remedy the violations and pay a $30,000 penalty.
Large fines or not, Rosa Mexicano at Lincoln Center might soon have to contend with frequent visits from the inspectors -- once a month, until it's able to limit violations to 27 points or less.