You might not expect a white boy from the New York City suburbs to be a chips-and-salsa connoisseur, but then, life is full of surprises, isn't it? Love the stuff, just love it. When I moved here five months ago, I figured chip-and-salsa heaven was mine.
Before the search began, I had to go over the mental checklist of goodness: Tortilla chips must be strong enough to handle a good scoop of dip. They should be fried, not baked (baked chips are a waste of corn). And they should be salted. Salsa must balance the key flavors with a proper tomatoiness, and should be smooth with a little bit of chunkiness. This is a dip, not a vegetable plate. And it has to be spicy. After a few of them, I better be reaching for the agua, or they've failed.
I checked out a few Mexican joints close to where I live. Woe was me! Store-bought chips! Costco salsa! The chips broke in mid salsa-scoop. The so-called “hot” salsa would make my old grandmother scoff. I expanded my horizons. To Old Town! The chips were homemade, but under-salted. They offered no excitement. The salsa could at least lay claim to igniting small sparks across my palate, but hardly the fiery, serotonin-releasing burn I craved. I tried chips and salsa from a farmers' market. Quality chips-nice and greasy-but a flop on the salsa. Too much garlic, of all things. Garlic for bread, yes. But for chips?
A colleague sent me down Washington Street to El Indio. Nirvana! I finally can join the thousands of San Diegans who have been partaking of El Indio tortillas for more than 60 years. Properly fried and thick enough to scoop cement, if required. The flavor has the warmth and earthiness of bread in the hard crispness of a chip. Instead of meekly playing in the background, the El Indio tortilla provides a harmonious accompaniment for the salsa. And they're properly greasy-expect a pleasant film of salt on your fingers.
Oh, and the salsa: perfect. The proper balance of tomato, cilantro and salt, and with the level of flame I demand. No sissy from the East am I, and this stuff had me reaching for my beer after just a couple of chips. After the sacrifice of the requisite number of taste buds, the experience settled into a fine groove, the heat settling to the level of hot embers, enough to warm the mouth for bite after bite of fine chips and magnificent salsa.
And best of all, you can get the whole shebang to go. A big bag of chips, some salsa, a beer and football. That's my authentic Sunday in San Diego. --Eric Wolff