By Allysar Hassan
You’re hungry. No, starving—and maybe even a little faint. You find your way into a favorite local Mexican restaurant. Familiar spices and aromas fill your senses and instantly take over all rational thinking. Your stomach once again cries out in pain. You must order and consume everything—at the same time. Your waitress comes to the table and a sigh of relief sets in the second you see the basket of fried tortilla chips in her hand. It moves toward you basking in all of its fried glory and the salt glistens off its edges.
But what comes next is even better: the salsa.
After all, what is one without the other?
We talked to a few of our favorite local Mexican restaurants to bring you secrets to the spice—and discovered what makes their salsa the HOTTEST.
Heat flavor: 3
Randy Akerson, owner of Burrito Brothers, takes his salsa fresca seriously.
“It’s really spicy and really hot, and we make it fresh every single day,” he said.
But what makes it different from others? It is made up of three different fresh peppers, tomatoes, radishes, different types of onions and red wine vinegar.
Akerson said the first pepper he uses provides flavor, the second is a split between flavor and heat and the third provides a consistent and dependable amount of heat to ensure the same outcome day after day.
After the salsa is made, he takes it home to marinate and lets the heat die down a little.
Burrito Brothers tries to buy and use locally grown produce, but the ability to get some things like habanero peppers or fresh tomatillos in the volume they need is unavailable in the area. It uses all raw ingredients except for black olives.
Because fresh peppers tend to run anywhere from $3 to $5 a pound, it makes Burrito Brothers’ salsa more expensive than what you would get at other chain restaurants, he said.
But the salsa is not just for chips at Burrito Brothers. In fact, there are two other salsas that Akerson takes pride in and created to be eaten on top of food.
One is a mild, roasted green tomatillo sauce that is featured on chicken items and is not designed to be hot.
The other is made with chipotle salsa, and for obvious reasons the restaurant doesn’t call it that, he said.
“It’s almost a sweet, smoky salsa and it complements the sausage,” Akerson said. “These have started to filter their way onto other food, too. We’ll put it in your diet coke if you want.”
Heat Flavor: 3
Mexico Lindo offers the freshest produce starting with the ingredients in the first thing customers want to eat the moment it hits the table, said Luis Soto, manager.
You guessed it—it’s the salsa.
“It’s got such a rich flavor,” Soto said.
The salsa begins with the produce that they bring in and is made up of red and green tomatoes, onions, cilantro and more, he said.
Mexico Lindo purchases its produce from local companies like Rainbow produce and Fresh Pointe, which just moved its office from Gainesville to Jacksonville.
“The right produce makes a huge difference,” he said. “You don’t want to have it too ripe because it generates a different taste. You have to have the right quantity of produce or it will give you two different textures.”
The most important component is the consistency and all the ingredients.
“…The consistency is what brings out the best in our salsa every time people eat it and keeps them coming back for more,” Soto said.
Heat Flavor: 5
Boca Fiesta merges traditional Mexican food with a Southern flair.
Jacob Ihde, co-owner, said Boca Fiesta keeps its salsa as fresh as it can with corn, onions, garlic, jalapenos and habanero peppers.
He said it uses both kinds of peppers because of the two distinct flavors and heats.
“I think spiciness is key,” Ihde said.
Boca Fiesta strives to create a family-friendly atmosphere and allows people to individualize how mild or hot they want their salsa to be with homemade jalapeno or habanero hot sauces.
What goes best with salsa? Margaritas.
Boca Fiesta uses freshly squeezed lemons and limes and agave nectar instead of sugar. He said it’s the perfect combo to accompany chips and salsa and get ready for the main meal.
Mexican food is one of the only cuisines where you are expected to be served something for free, and it’s a balance to keep it free and delicious because it’s the first impression of the restaurant, Ihde said.
Boca Fiesta uses corn and jalapenos and fresh spices to try and make it taste as fresh as possible. It gets its produce from Rainbow Produce, a locally owned business that receives produce from all over.
“I love Gainesville so I try to get stuff as close as I can,” he said.