Salsa has come a long way since its rapid popularization in the 1980s. In fact, this spicy condiment has ancient roots dating back to Aztec, Mayan and Incan civilizations, where variations were made from ground tomatoes, chiles, beans and seeds. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the Spaniards gave it the name “salsa”, which stuck throughout the centuries until it had its big break stateside just a few decades ago. The complimentary bowls of chips and salsa that we’ve come to love at our local Mexican restaurant were introduced here in the States, which then helped catapult these sauces to staple food status.
Taquerías and restaurants today still make most of their delicious salsas from scratch, but the majority of us still find ourselves wandering the condiment aisle at the grocery store for our favorite jar. If you’re a fan of salsa and enjoy treating yourself to a bowl every once in a while, there’s a good chance you’ve tried a few different brands. You’ll likely have tons of options to choose from at the grocery store, many of which range in flavor profiles, spice level, price range, and organic status. But when it comes to salsa, your favorite really depends on your spice tolerance and several other factors that ultimately make it your preferred dip. Nevertheless, we’ve created a ranking based on versatility, authenticity, and price to ensure that your fridge is stocked with the right jar for you.
We’ll be upfront when it comes to Chi-Chi’s Medium Thick and Chunky Salsa: there’s not much going on. This sauce is very watery and doesn’t really do much for us as a dip or condiment. There isn’t much heat either, whether at first or in the aftertaste. There’s genuinely nothing special about this relatively expensive salsa, leaving us to label it as forgettable at best.
Frontera’s Red Tomato Salsa Mexicana (medium heat) is on the chunky side and luckily not overly mushy. The most noticeable flavor in the sauce is its recipe’s cilantro, with the tomatoes and onions failing to make a major impact. Overall it’s just okay, and we like the subtle heat that lingers. We choose not to rank this salsas higher because it’s on the pricier side at $4.19, but fails to excite us like some of its more affordable competitors.
If you’re not much of a cilantro fan, La Mexicana’s Hot Salsa is probably not your cup of tea. While this chunky salsa isn’t technically a pico de gallo, it does carry a similar taste because of the recipe’s cilantro-forward notes. But our main issue with La Mexicana is its tartness that tastes more like citric acid rather than natural lime juice. This gives the salsa that artificial jarred sauce taste that we’re not fans of, but it’s not a huge deal-breaker. This is an acceptable dip for a chip and salsa situation, but it’s not a condiment we would use in our cooking. In fact, there are probably better salsas out there for dips too. La Mexicana’s biggest pro is honestly its price point.
Does this Trader Joe’s salsa live up to its name? We’d argue not really, but it’s still a tasty option. This ultra-thin salsa doesn’t pack much of a kick, but rather a smoky burn that we find addicting. It’s also very affordable at just $1.99, so we tend to pick up a bottle every time we make a Trader Joe’s run. This salsa autentica is good with salty corn chips but also sunnyside eggs, hash browns, and a cheesy quesadilla that calls for a subtle drop of heat.
As one of the more popular thick salsas, Tostitos Medium Chunky Salsa Dip has attracted both critics and loyal fans. One of the first things we notice when we take a bite of this dip is its noticeable jalapeño flavor. The dip gets most of its heat from the mild chili that also brings notes of freshness that we really enjoy. Its tomatoes are a bit on the soggy side and we find the jar’s liquid to be a bit on the watery side. We’d also argue that the one thing this salsa is missing is salt, but that’s not a problem if you buy its corresponding Tostitos chips. The two products really balance each other out, so we understand the loyal following. Coming at about $3.50, this is certainly an affordable option for those looking to enjoy a bowl of salsa on the couch.
Fans of chunky salsa will defend their go-to bottle at all costs, but a lot can go wrong with a textured sauce. For starters, the vegetables can be on the soggy side, the cilantro can come overly bitter, and then there’s the whole question of what type of acid is used in the recipe? Pace’s Mild Chunky Salsa is a popular option that gets our seal of approval. As the label states, it’s (very) mild, but nicely tart from the distilled vinegar and tomato juice. The bites of onion and tomato aren’t overly soft but not crisp enough to call it a pico de gallo. It’s also not necessarily the most exciting salsa on this list, even though we enjoy its versatility. Pace’s Mild Chunky is certainly a solid option for your next breakfast burrito, eggs, or upcoming Super Bowl party for just $2.50.
Casa Sanchez’s Mild Tomate Verde Salsa is a bit of a toss-up with its various pros and cons. For example, this salsa is very tart from its recipe’s vinegar and lemon juice. Tomatillo salsas call for some acid to complement the green tomatoes, but this one teeters on the verge of sour. If you’re into that, great, but it can certainly be divisive. This mild salsa doesn’t have the subtle burn in the background that we look for, but we still find its fresh vegetable flavor to be tasty. Its consistency is also nice by not being overly watery, and it’s perfect for chips. This is definitely a dip salsa that could possibly be repurposed in some breakfast chilaquiles too. However, $6.99 is a high price to pay for somewhat of a one-dimensional condiment.
La Victoria’s Salsa Ranchera is arguably the hottest salsa on this list, with lots of jalapeño and onion flavors coming through. This is an excellent pairing for chips if you or your friends can handle the extra heat, but most of us might steer towards using the sauce as a condiment. More importantly, this hot salsa doesn’t carry that jarred taste that some spicy sauces have from their recipe’s high quantities of citric acid. There’s a decent amount of texture in this bottle too, with the vegetables feeling not too mushy either. Overall, this is a great salsa for sandwiches, wraps, or anything that could use some heat. If you plan on using it sparingly, this $5 bottle should last you a while.
A salsa casera typically has a rustic quality to it, with plenty of chunky tomatoes and roasted chilies in every spoonful. Herdez’s Salsa Casera is not that, but it does have a similarly strong tomato flavor that we really enjoy. This salsa is on the runnier side and thankfully doesn’t have an overpowering vinegar aftertaste that we associate with thinner sauces. We always pick this bottle for a chips and salsa appetizer, mainly because it reminds us of the salsa roja we’re used to munching on at Mexican restaurants. Available in stores for under $2 a bottle, it’s fresh, tangy and packs some nice heat, making it the ideal pairing for salty tortilla chips.
La Costeña’s Salsa Ranchera is a quick way to pack tons of chili flavor into any dish, and it’s easily one of the tastiest salsas you can buy on the market today. This sauce has tons of nuanced flavors from its recipe’s dried chilis, bringing a great smokiness that lingers after you take a bite. There is also a natural sweetness that appears from the roasted peppers that rounds out the salsa’s flavor profile. While we know it’s easy to finish the entire bottle with chips, we strongly recommend incorporating this sauce into your recipes. This rich salsa is on the pricier side, but tastes great in stews, carnitas, and your morning eggs by bringing plenty of bold flavors.
One of the main perks of having salsa at home is that you can use it in various ways besides just a dip. Herdez’s salsa verde is a perfect example of a versatile sauce that comes at a great price point. The green salsa’s tomatillo flavor is bright, nicely acidic, and not too spicy. It also comes in a consistency that’s neither too thick nor too runny, which is ideal for cooking. You can use this salsa verde on tacos, or as a sauce to rehydrate chicharrones, make chilaquiles, or marinate meat.
Sylvio Martins is a freelance writer and actor based in Los Angeles. He specializes in Latinx cuisine and food culture, and has been previously featured in Eater and The Infatuation.