Straight-Up, No-Nonsense, Restaurant-Style Salsa

salsa ingredients

I don’t even want to talk about how many kinds of salsa there are or what’s authentic or whatever. There are too many kinds and too many opinions. I want to talk about the ubiquitous red condiment that, with chips, graces the tables of Mexican restaurants across America.

My version of restaurant style salsa is focused on practicality, real ingredients, and especially flavor. It doesn’t make enough to feed a freaking army (though it doubles and triples beautifully) and it doesn’t have any weird “secret” ingredients, but it’s still adaptable enough for personalization – as salsa should be.

making the salsa base

There are three tastes that need to be balanced in any good salsa: heat, acid, and bite. Bite is the word I’m using for the kind of heat that hits your sinuses but doesn’t linger on your tongue. In this recipe, jalapeno brings heat, lime brings acid, and raw onion and raw garlic bring bite.

Pulse together a quarter of a raw onion, half of a seeded jalapeno, and one small clove of garlic until minced. If you know you like things hot, go for a whole jalapeno or leave the seeds in. If you know you like onion, or if your onion is very mild, use a third to half of it.

finished salsa base

Once the base of onion, garlic, and jalapeno is thoroughly mulched, squeeze in about half a lime, throw in a small handful of cilantro, and a pinch or two of salt with one standard 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained. If tomatoes are abundant, ripe, and in season (which they will be soon!), use fresh, but if they are anything but perfectly ripe, stick with canned. Canned tomatoes will taste better than grey, mealy, unripe tomatoes any day. I’m actually partial to canned tomatoes in salsa because they are more restaurant-like.

adding tomatoes to salsa base

Mix everything together in the food processor and taste it.

salsa in the food-processor

This is the time to make adjustments. If you want more salt or lime, or cilantro, add it now. If you want more heat or bite, make sure you give your jalapeno or onion a little dice before you add them, or you’ll end up with big nasty chunks floating in a near-puree, which would be bad.

restaurant style salsa in food processor

If you want to be fancy, fry some tortillas and make your own chips. If you want to hack it, warm some nice, thin store-bought chips in the oven. If you have no patience for such nonsense, by all means crack a bag and eat.

restaurant style salsa with chips

I don’t need to tell you how this was made for cold coke and hot sun.

restaurant style salsa

Here’s a break-down for your convenience:

In a food processor, pulse together until minced:

1/4 – 1/2 raw onion (closer to 1/4 if it’s strong, more if it’s sweet)

1/2 jalapeno, seeded (more if you like it hot, or leave the seeds)

1 small clove of garlic



1 standard 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained (I’m partial to Del Monte petite cut with Jalapeno)

1 small handful cilantro

Juice of 1/2 lime

A few pinches of salt


Adjust to your liking by adding jalapeno for more heat, lime for more acid, and onion for more bite. Don’t forget the flavors will develop as the salsa sits, so try to make it a few minutes before it’s time to eat. If you can’t though, it’s not exactly going to break it, so just eat.


Need more chips and dips? How ’bout:

The Ideal Guacamole
Asian Guacamole
Basic Crostini
Baked Ricotta with Honey and Almonds

  1. You're such a genius. I wanna make this right now. I never really thought about using canned tomatoes. Just seems like sacrilege but I think you're totally right-way more flavor than under ripened tomatoes. Turned out beautifully.

    Miranda — July 9, 2013
    1. reply
  2. NOM NOM NOM. I could eat this for every meal. I like the way you broke it down I terms of bite and such. What a talent. Now lets make a double batch and eat the whole thing while watching a crappy chick flick that our husbands won't.

    Caroline — July 10, 2013
    1. reply
  3. Yum, this looks amazing! I definitely will be making this soon. I needed a new salsa recipe!

    Ashlee Harrison — July 10, 2013
    1. reply
  4. This is--no joke--one of my favorite salsas ever.

    Jordan Woods — July 21, 2013
    1. reply
  5. […] homemade salsa […]

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