Hell's Kitchen or Rosa Mexicana
I'd call this one a draw, with all my apologies going to the many people who like Hell's Kitchen. Rosa Mexicana is a chain, but it does have some decent dishes-- it's the kind of place I'd go to if someone else insisted, and I'd be fine there. Hell's Kitchen isn't a chain, but the food really suffers from inconsistency and the service can be abrupt and snippy. We wrote about it a few months ago and have been back since, but with no better results sadly. My bet is that people on this board will convince you to go to Hell's Kitchen, and if you do, that's fine; get the mushroom rolls.
We love Hell's Kitchen and Rosa Mexicano -- they are great for people like me who don't really like Mexican food. But they are very different environments. Hell's Kitchen is MUCH more intimate than Rosa Mexicano. It's also much slower, but sometimes you don't want/need to be in and out in 15 minutes.
In my book, Hell's Kitchen is also a better "value" for the money. We eat at Hell's Kitchen when we're going to dinner for the sake of going to dinner. We eat at Rosa Mexicano when we're seeing something at Lincoln Center. I haven't tried out the new location in Union Square, but I doubt that will change our approach to choosing between the two.
Rosa Mexicana is just a normal (dare I call a chain traditional?) Mexican restaurant... Hell's Kitchen is a great restaurant (that is influenced by Mexican dishes and flavors). They can't be compared. I think Hell's Kitchen is an awesome awesome meal... big fan.
eGustibus Food Blog: http://www.egustibus.com
I so agree with Nosher about the inconsistency of Hell's Kitchen. I think the staff changes quite frequently and therefore service can be rough. But, I have always had a good meal here. It is more intimate, but still good for groups. I think you'd be good with either place, but if I had to pick one it would be Hell's Kitchen.
I've never been to Hell's Kitchen but was just at Rosa Mexicano a few nights ago. I had frankly gotten tired of it (we used to go a lot for Lincoln Ctr. events) but my daughter wanted to go for her birthday. SO anyways, I was surprised by a quite good meal - better than my last couple of meals. It's always nice if you can get a table facing the dramatic fountain. It is definitely a cut above your usual Mexican fare - in the ingredients used and in the presentation. The menu however is fairly traditional; not really "creative" Mexican.
For four of us, 3 margaritas, 2 sodas, 2 appetizers, and 4 entrees, $150 - not bad. The service was very friendly and attentive, and we also left with a couple of doggie bags because the servings are fairly large.