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Herdez Taqueria Street Sauce: Salsa

Salsa is a notoriously fickle friend. You can make it at home, but with a limited fridge life, who really has the time to do so regularly? Grabbing a freshly made salsa from a Mexican market is a great alternative, but if you don’t have that option, you pretty much are stuck with the grocery store selection. And as it stands, grocery stores do not carry a whole lot of quality wares.

An honorable exception is Herdez. The brand, while Mexican in origins, is now a part of MegaMex Foods, a venture it co-runs with Hormel. I do not blame you if that gives you pause. Hormel doesn’t have the reputation of anything good in and of itself, but you’d be surprised by the number of products it has its hands on.1

Image of salsa

That is neither here nor there, and I will with some confidence proclaim that Herdez’s Street Sauce is the best salsa you will find on your average grocery store shelf. That is how I feel, and I will not apologize for it.

I’m sure this salsa is wholly processed to extend its life, but it still has a fresh tinge, and it should, in most circumstances, at the very least be good enough. I personally recommend the Roja variety, which is spicy, but not to any extreme degrees. It delicately coats the tongue, and the smokiness gently caresses the palate. Not challenging yet still flavorful. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Importantly, its consistency is well suited for tacos. The Street Sauce is thick enough not to be running all over the tortilla without being molasses thick. It’s important to be able to accurately gauge how much salsa a taco needs, which Herdez gamely assists you with.

So, is the Street Sauce a competitor for something you’d get from an actual taqueria? No, but it’s closer than most anything else on the grocery shelves.

I suppose the liberal coastal elite – which, let’s face it, is a group any true tortillaphile is part of, no matter where they live – can sniff at having to get any salsa from the grocery store. For many, though, that is the hardship they have to live with, and Herdez helps make their days just a little bit brighter.

1 Including Applegate amazingly enough.

Paqui Mucho Nacho Cheese: Tortilla chips

Flavored tortilla chips do, objectively, more often than not suck. My thesis is that chips are considered second class citizens by their producers. All we need to do is create something good enough, they say, a quick and dirty accoutrement for consumers. That sort of thing.

But you, as any tortillaphile, is not just a consumer; you’re a connoisseur. You expect a chip to be as perfect as a thoughtful taco. And who better to give us just that than the creators of the hottest chip in existence, Paqui?

Image of tortilla chips

Paqui respects the chip, and their Carolina Reaper Chip is, despite its heat, also quite tasty. The Nacho Cheese, meanwhile, is mild by design. Try their Haunted Ghost Pepper for something that is reasonably hot; the Nacho Cheese is primed for a good, relaxing time.

These are solid chips, and the color is what stands out straight away. Paqui advertises 100% real ingredients, and the dusting has that distinctive cheddar look to it. That’s nigh-infinite steps beyond Doritos® right there.

Not surprisingly, they taste natural, too. The cheese is right there, like a good, sharp cheddar, backed by a zesty kick, which I attribute to the paprika and tomato powder. The freshness is refreshing in both the literal and figurative sense of the word.

Equally important, the chips have a good crunch to them. It’s not the quasi-sogginess you so often get from the mass-manufactured chips. This has an honest to whomever-you-believe in Mexican restaurant bite.

The only downside I really can think of is that the chips might be a touch too cheddar-y. Show restraint, and you’ll have a good, cheesy time, but if you’re in the mood for an all-out chip party, you might want to consider looking elsewhere.

Where that elsewhere is, I do not yet know, but I will keep investigating in the name of science.

Arriba Cantina: Taco

Large as Arriba’s locales are, there is still a possibility it can go unnoticed due to its proximity to Salare and Junebug. It makes sense, I suppose, with those two becoming destinations thanks to James Beard, an award overshadowed only by Tortillaphilia’s coveted Four Mushrooms and – be still your beating heart – the yet to be awarded Four Mushrooms and a Mario.1

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Yet, Arriba is a spot any self-respecting tortilla aficionado should try. It might not be quite up there with Barrio’s hepness or Lorena’s traditional take, but it hits a sweet spot right between them. Arriba bills itself as a Pacific Northwestern take on Mexico’s Pacific Coast cuisine, and it does so well.

The meal typically kicks off with an amuse-bouche consisting of pickles and jicama. The latter, in particular, has a fresh enough zing to prepare your palate for the main dish properly. One downer, mind you: only a single stick of jicama was served alongside the four pickles, which can be problematic unless you’re dining solo.

Arriba’s signature dish is the rotisserie Guajillo Chicken, and who are we to deny ourselves trying it for the main portion? For $18, you get half a chicken ($26 for the full), served with black beans and rice, as well as salsas roja and verde. The roja is worth savoring. It’s zesty, with just a pinch of heat, and it delicately flanks the lightly seasoned chicken. Take it as a compliment, by the way, that the chicken isn’t a full-on flavor bomb. It lets its tender meats do the talking, and the balance between flavors and char works quite well. It’s a chicken that’s not afraid to be a chicken, and I can respect that.

The plate is accompanied by four tortillas, and while I am, and always will be, a fan of double stacking, each one is easily robust enough to be stashed full of toppings. They’re flavorful, too, and pass the ever-important Could Be Consumed by Themselves test.

And with good tortillas, one can usually presume the regular tacos will be tasty, too. The chicken tinga was the winner of the trio we sampled – $15, including a generous portion of sides – though not too far ahead of short rib and carnitas.

It holds its own, Arriba. And it blends into Ravenna’s main drag where you can find a surprising amount of good restaurants. (Other than Salare and Junebug, you have spots like Crêpe Cafè & Wine Bar and Sod House Bakery, both which, while outside of the scope of this site, are recommended.) Hit Arriba up if you’re in the mood for that promised mix of the Pacific Northwest and Mexican coast, and while there, take note of other local eateries to try. It’s just what a gentleperson does.

1 To the (allegedly) many, many restaurants reading this, wanting a sticker for your window: Email us!


Remi’s rating

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2316 NE 65th St, Ste 101, Seattle, WA 98115

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