For almost 30 years, the humming blue-and-white truck of Mariscos Ruben has been a reliable presence at the corner of Calle Ocho and Quintana Roo in the Baja border town of Tijuana, Mexico. Mirta Rodriguez has manned the now world-famous rig for just as long (“except during this pandemic, which has shut down almost everything,” she says), after a temporary move from Sonora to help out with her mother’s business — a stand specializing in a Sonoran soup made with caguama, loggerhead turtle — turned out to be permanent. “Tijuana received me and our mariscos with open arms,” she says, and they never left.
(Hear more of the story behind Mariscos Ruben on the Tijuana episode of Eater’s Guide to the World, now streaming on Hulu.)
Rodriguez’s unique style of mariscos — fresh cocktails, tostadas, tacos, and soups that showcase Baja’s incredible seafood — earned her leagues of fans on both sides of the border, but she’s become just as well known for her vibrant house-made salsas, each more complex than the next, including a particularly fiery one made with small Sonoran chiltepin peppers that’s perfect for spicing up the seafood cocktails served in stone molcajetes.
Mirta won’t spill the secret behind her salsas (we asked, we begged, we pleaded), so instead, Eater staff compiled a list of our own favorite salsas from across the U.S. and Mexico. While nothing will match the feeling of biting into a fresh clam tostada splashed with one of Rodriguez’s signature sauces, a chip dipped into any of these store-bought salsas won’t disappoint.
The Hottest Salsas for Home Cooking, According to Eater:
Ruth’s No5 Salsa Tatemada, San Diego
A fixture at the Little Italy, Hillcrest, and Pacific Beach farmers markets in San Diego, Ruth’s No5 Salsa is run by Ruth Murillo, whose family recipes are influenced by the Northern Mexican state of Sonora. Her version of salsa Tatemada is a chunky, fire-roasted mix of charred tomatoes, serrano peppers, cilantro, green onion, salt, and garlic. The smoky salsa makes a great dip for chips, condiment for grilled carne asada tacos, or topping for sunny-side-up eggs in the classic breakfast dish huevos rancheros. — Candice Woo, Eater San Diego editor
El Machete 1924, Los Angeles
LA-based El Machete 1924 has a line of handcrafted salsas, and all of them are brilliant. They’re like the homemade Mexican-American version of the best supermarket salsa, and lately I’ve been picking them up at the Hollywood Farmers Market. The amazing San Marzano salsa roja is now a staple in my fridge. — Bill Esparza, Eater contributor
Honey Bee La Colmena Hot Salsa, Detroit
People from across the city visit Honey Bee La Colmena, a Mexican market in Detroit’s Hubbard-Richard neighborhood, for the sole purpose of grabbing a takeout container of its mild pico de gallo or hot salsa and fresh guacamole. The hot version is a fairly simple recipe with tomatoes and spicy peppers that’s just the right balance of chunky and thick for scooping onto a tortilla chip. — Brenna Houck, reporter for Eater.com, Eater Detroit editor
Banyan Foods Kimchi Salsa, Houston
Houston’s Banyan Foods, the self-described “oldest tofu company in Texas,” has made a name for itself locally by pairing Asian staples with Tex-Mex food, as with its tofu tamales. One of the newest additions to the lineup is kimchi salsa — a perfectly spicy sauce made from the company’s locally fermented, unpasteurized kimchi. I like to put it on my breakfast tacos. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Dallas associate editor
No. 1 Sons Salsa Verde, Washington D.C.
They’ve made a name for themselves in the D.C. area for their pickles (try the gin-spiked spears), but on a recent visit to the Falls Church farmers market, I discovered that No. 1 Sons makes an excellent salsa verde as well. I like to make salsas for myself at home, but I find that I never quite get the texture I’m looking for when I attempt salsa verde. This one has the right loose consistency, good acidity, and just enough heat. Put it on leftover tacos, eat it with chips, or use it as a sauce over grilled fish. — Missy Frederick, Eater cities director
I’m obsessed with salsa seca, a dry, crunchy mix of seeds, chiles, and spices that adds as much texture as flavor to anything you put it on. Tienda Salsita’s oil-based salsa güey originates in Vera Cruz and is like a cross between a salsa seca and Sichuan-style chile crisp, with garlic, chiles, and sesame seeds submerged in olive oil. It’s full of heat, smoke, and crunch, and I love it as a standalone sauce on fish or meat. — Lesley Suter, Eater travel editor
American Spoon Dried Chile Salsa, Michigan
Buying a $10 jar of salsa can admittedly make anyone feel foolish, but American Spoon’s dried chile salsa dances on the tongue with a robust amount of heat, supplanted by just a dash of sweet smoke. It’s quickly become a household favorite and is great with chips or a rare skirt steak. — Ashok Selvam, Eater Chicago senior editor
Arriba Foods Classic Red, Houston
Arriba labels promising “fire-roasted” salsa do not lie. The Houston-based brand sells red sauces in varying degrees of heat that all boast deep, smoky flavor, blackened bits of tomato skin, and a thin but not soupy consistency that holds its own alongside table sauces from Tex-Mex restaurants all over town. — Gabe Hiatt, Eater DC editor
La Guerrerense Salsas, Ensenada, Mexico
Whenever I head down to Ensenada to visit the famous La Guerrerense mariscos cart and restaurant, I always grab some salsas to take home. (It also has branches in Mexico City and Monterrey.) I use them with all kinds of mariscos, shellfish, seafood cocktails, and ceviches at home when I’m missing La Guerrerense. — Bill Esparza, Eater contributor