Restaurante La Salsa
For years, the vacant shell of Taqueria Azteca has beleaguered hungry Pick ’n Save-bound Bay Viewers with notions of “What if?” But now, with Piggly Wiggly usurping Sentry and bringing along with it an El Rey-level bounty of Mexican foodstuffs (including a confection-killing bakery and more than a handful of chile peppers we’ve never heard of), along with the opening of Restaurante La Salsa in Azteca’s skeleton, Oklahoma and Chase has begun flirting with the realm of destination dining. Especially for those of us who stop for tacos on the way home from purchasing taco supplies.
A recent Friday found us in the newest outpost of La Salsa, elbow-deep in queso and parrilladas, exploring the mini-renaissance of an intersection where the only choice used to be “Wendy’s or Arby’s?”
The space: Universal Mexican: dark red paint, warm wood, sombreros, blankets, neon Mexican flag lights, plastic plants, and figurines (religious and otherwise). All this we’ll take, and then some. Even the Shakira booty-popping on TV—not only visible but with volume—seemed shoulders-shrugging, “Ahh, let’s get some tacos” appropriate. What we could have done without was the odd mural adorning our table. Under the plastic matting: two grown cattle, one shamelessly nursing a calf, one just grazing, his junk hanging prominently like so many Magic Mike bozos. Actually, we’ll take our queso fundido ($5.25) sans balls and teets, thank you very much. As we averted our gaze, we noticed the ceiling, painted in billows of sky blue. So, we get it, almost: We’re outdoors, BBQ-ing, nature is great, cuisine emerges from the landscape, cows are beautiful. Still, we’d rather only see them on our table after a thorough grilling.
The service: Simple, friendly, down-home. Our waitress was far more interested in being buds, getting us Pacifico’s ($3.75) and delivering the frijoles promptly than she was in waxing poetic on what type of wood was firing the grill. It would have been nice had she known, but given the current winds of overly fetishistic foodie-ism, her “Aww, schucks” approach was as refreshing as the margarita ($3.95).
The A.V. Club’s Food: Even mediocre homemade salsa whets our whistle, but if the product is in your restaurant’s name, and you’re within two miles of the tongue-singeing pop of Guanajuato, you best know how to crush some chiles. La Salsa has the kick and scorch, to an extent, but the wateriness left us wanting, as did a lack of cilantro.
The aforementioned queso fundido led things off. Stringy and goopy, the addition of poblano peppers with a side of beans seemed a nice alternative to the typical, sometimes overly greasy chorizo option. (Not to say that we’re not ordering chorizo next time.) A Burrito Suizo ($5.75) came plastered with a shiny, greasy outside skin of queso. Something we’ve never understood: Why segregate meat and cheese? Not only does cheese on the inside marry with the meat and birth perfect melty, combo bites, but the linkage between the two actually helps maintain structural integrity, offering a sounder, more hands-on vessel. Either way, the cubed carne asada was solid, tasty enough on its own autonomous feet, and filled our mouth enough to momentarily quell such weighty socio-political debates.
Call it a “barbecue”-inspired smorgasbord or call it a scorching mess of protein, but the Parrillada ($13.95 for 1 person, $24.95 for 2) is the true domain of La Salsa. A mix of grilled steak, chicken, sausage, potatoes, onions, banana peppers, and a cheese quesadilla served with rice beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole, it’s a heaping all-American overload of Mexican meat.
Was it delicious? Sure. Filling? Gas-inducingly so. Were we the envy of everyone else at the restaurant, including the staff, when the waitress sauntered to our table with the metal-boxed, Bunsen-burnered wok? Of course. Was it all worth it? By our math, we could have ordered six tacos ($1.50), a side of rice and beans ($1.50 each), tried more meat (are we American or what?), and we still would have come out ahead financially. Sure, we would have missed out on the grilled jalapeno, big roasty onions, and greasy chip-like cooked potatoes, but we could have let the pros in the kitchen handle assembly. And we also wouldn’t have been pushing food around our plates until they started turning out lights and putting up chairs.
The verdict: While easier than jotting down a Rick Bayless recipe and shopping the Pig, the proper noun of our favorite food is still no match for Bay View king Guanajuato. Yet it’s a happy sweet spot of sabor for La Salsa: solid, authentic, and bueno enough for returning appetites.