OGDEN — There’s no shortage of Mexican eateries in Ogden that offer tacos.
In launching Rosa’s Cafe on Washington Boulevard in downtown Ogden four years ago, though, Rosa Hernandez and her family took a different approach. There, in the small white locale that years ago housed a place called the Snappy Service Cafe, she puts the focus on burritos. Big, spicy burritos, smothered in either red sauce or green sauce.
Growing up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas, it’s one of the dishes she used to watch her grandma prepare.
“It’s typical of Juárez … El Paso, too,” she said.
The family lived in nearby New Mexico before coming to Ogden in the early 2000s, and red chile peppers imported from the border state serve as the basis for the red sauce. Jalapeños with cilantro and onions are the basis of the green sauce.
“I really like spicy things,” Hernandez said.
Though hot, the sauces aren’t necessarily overwhelming, depending on your tolerance level. Still, signage in the small, bright location — served by just a handful of tables and two counters — advises customers what to expect. “When we say ‘spicy’ we mean it!!!! Ask for a sample if you must!” one message reads.
The burrito-filling options include shredded pork or ground beef and potatoes, among other selections. Quesadillas, melted cheese in a tortilla with a meat of your choice, are also on the menu. Breakfast items include huevos rancheros, fried eggs topped with salsa, and breakfast burritos. The rotating daily specials include chicken enchiladas as well as chile rellenos, green chiles cooked in an egg batter and filled with cheese.
“We don’t have your typical Mexican menu,” Hernandez said. Indeed, when customers ask for tacos, Hernandez has to diplomatically tell them they aren’t on the menu.
Whatever the case, the food has its believers and followers. For the month of June, Hernandez’s green sauce is the core of a special pizza offering called Green with Envy at Lucky Slice, the Ogden-based pizzeria.
Ida Hernandez, Rosa’s daughter and the main face behind the counter to customers, said the Lucky Slice operators are regulars. A Lucky Slice Facebook post dubs the pizza creation “a true Ogden collaboration.”
Hernandez’s training as a cook dates to the days of her childhood, sitting in the kitchen watching her grandma at work. It stuck, and over the years, serving guests at her home, preparing food for others, she’d always get compliments — notably from her husband, Luis Hernandez.
“Truthfully, I love to cook. To me, it’s simple food, but people love it,” she said.
The family talked and talked about opening up a restaurant. Luis Hernandez even pinpointed a location — the vacant cafe building with a curved glass block window attached to Tanner Transmissions at the southeast corner of Washington Boulevard and Binford Street.
Things didn’t really start moving, though, until Luis Hernandez was laid off from his job with an Ogden-area auto parts maker. That spurred him to act, and he came home one day with a surprise for his family — a lease for the for the ex-Snappy Service Cafe space.
“He just came home with a signed contract and said, ‘You guys better get ready,’” Ida Hernandez said.
Rosa Hernandez, with a measure of trepidation, traded the kitchen at her home for the space at the new restaurant now featuring her name.
“I was really afraid. But I had to do it or I’d never know if it would work or not,” she said.
That was 2015, and the business is holding its own. Rosa’s Cafe focuses on the breakfast and lunch crowd, and on a recent weekday afternoon, a steady stream of customers came in. Given the compact size of the interior, some eat their food and move on, making way for others, Ida Hernandez said, while others get their food to go.
One of the points of debate at the restaurant centers on the merits of the green and red sauces. Customers are split; they also debate which is hotter.
Ida Hernandez said the growing conditions of a particular batch of peppers can affect the heat it emits. Sometimes the green sauce seems spicier, sometimes the red sauce. Either way, she maintains that her mom has a special touch with food that others could never match, even if they were given the same ingredients. That’s what helps create the restaurant’s niche.
“I feel she just has her way of cooking. She has a way of making things really good,” Ida Hernandez said.