I have been to La Zona Rosa a great many times. Well, that should be qualified somewhat. Yes, I have had a ton of meals there — but only lunches. I can’t speak to what the supper experience is like at all. So this review may not have full bearing on whether it is the second best Mexican restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama.
Lunch at La Zona Rosa (2838 Zelda Rd) is one of those experiences where you can tell they are making a ton of money simply by being efficient. It is a well-practiced martial exercise is bringing vast quantities of food to huge crowds in a short amount of time. At noon, they are slammed. By 1:30, the place really clears out.
The service is fast and efficient. The wait staff really works hard for the notoriously bad Montgomery tips. Mexican places have a particular burden in this regard because not only are business lunch crowds impatient, there is the whole business of chips (leading to chip crumbs and salsa spills) and the higher propensity for alcohol to be served.
La Zona Rosa likely draws these huge lunch crowds not just because they are efficient at serving, but also because they have a specialized lunch menu touting low prices and maximum flexibility. There is an a la carte section of the menu, where 15 or 20 items are listed and prices range from $4.95 for two of the items up to a bit more if you want three or four things. Each item is a reasonable size, but not each is meal-worthy on its own. For example, sure, there is a burrito listed, but one of the items is “sauteed onions and mushrooms” and one is “refried beans.”
The entire menu can be seen here. People like making choices and likely feel quite empowered by their ability to pick and choose from the available options. Today tamale. Tomorrow flauta. Maybe both. Wheee!
My problem with this La Zone lunch experience is that it seems like you are going to get in and out for a fairly cheap and efficient meal of decent-enough Mexican food. Even if you aren’t ordering off of the “create your own lunch” menu, you can grab some tasty huevos rancheros for $6. Seems reasonable, right?
If you’re ordering a mere two items from the “create your own” or a cheap item like the huevos, you might think you can get out of there for cheap. Maybe not as cheap as I remember from living in Texas, but pretty good by Montgomery standards. However, once you add in a soft drink ($1.35) (because my last attempt to order horchata there resulting in them telling me that they don’t have it) plus tax and tip, you are looking at $12 or so.
The way I explained this experience is this: Every single time I have been there for lunch, I end up feeling like the pricetag is greater than the sum of the meal parts. A guac taco and a meatless chalupa should not cost $5. Plus a drink and a tip and you are left wondering what happened. You pretty much ordered two sides and a drink and you’re dropping double digits for a quick lunch. This is particularly galling when you consider that it would have been easier, faster and probably tastier to have just brought some beans, tortillas and cheese and zapped them in the office microwave. Total cost: $0.70.
Again, the service is great. The atmosphere is decent (not a huge fan of flat screen TVs, but since they are catering to a news-addicted work lunch crowd and probably do some soccer and stuff at night, I understand). There is a balcony patio, which seems good until you remember that it’s 100 degrees outside and it really just overlooks a strip mall parking lot.
But my bottom line on this place is that it very simply isn’t worth the money. I’d go back since it’s popular with people at my office and that requires putting aside some prejudices (unless we are talking about the wretched Marina). But if I’m picking lunch joints, there are better options than La Zona Rosa.