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Chips and Salsa That Are Worth Their Salt

These tortilla chips and salsa are a cut above the rest in the store.
These tortilla chips and salsa are a cut above the rest in the store.
Photos by John Kiely

We're so used to getting tortilla chips and salsa before every meal at a Tex-Mex restaurant that my family was taken slightly aback during a recent visit to San Antonio Tex-Mex bastion Blanco's when none appeared on the table. What we got instead were classic plates of huevos rancheros with golden fried potatoes and beans for just over $4.00, which reminded us that chips and salsa aren't free, just "complimentary".

Of course, chips and salsa for a snack or a party isn't free at all, and what we get for our money doesn't approach the just-fried warm tortilla chips and freshly-made salsa from a restaurant. I'd given up looking for great store-bought versions, and had been satisfied with Tostito's chips and salsa, which are pretty good for mass-market stuff.

I never knew the real name for tortilla chips--totopos.
I never knew the real name for tortilla chips--totopos.

That all changed in a moment at Central Market, when we noticed a small group of people jostling to buy bags of Xochitl Totopos with Sea Salt and jars of Native Texan Tex-Mex Medium Salsa. It wasn't any sort of sales event, but rather a random swarm of shoppers who'd apparently come to the same conclusion. My son, who counts tortilla chips as one of his main food groups, got the honor of grabbing a bag of Xochitls.

The shopping swarm proved to be on to something. Though the chips weren't warm, they did taste as if they'd been baked and fried that very day. They had the flavor of corn, not of cheap cooking oil. Sea salt does taste better than regular table salt, but I wouldn't know the difference with the Xochitl chips, because they are very lightly salted.

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Never leaving Texas, huh? It's a big market.
Never leaving Texas, huh? It's a big market.

The chips match up well with the Native Texan Tex-Mex Salsa. About as close to fresh as you can get, the salsa has uniformly small chunks of tomatoes, chilis, and vegetables. The tomato taste is strong, the chili burn is moderate, and apple cider vinegar gives it a feisty tang. Native Texan has no added sugars, and is not sweet. The salsa is thick, and remains on the chips.

Best of all, Native Texan salsa retains most of its flavor after it's been refrigerated. Most jarred salsas have to be consumed immediately after opening, as they will turn mushy and bland after a stint in the icebox, and are usually abandoned in the back of ours.

Native Texan does have several other salsas, such as Hatch Green Chile, Roasted, and Restaurant styles, but the Tex-Mex Medium is the one that is in short supply. Right now, I can find it only at Central Market.

Not really red hot. More like red and hot.
Not really red hot. More like red and hot.

Xochitl also makes blue corn chips, but don't be tempted to experiment. Several years of living in New Mexico taught me what a blue corn chip should taste like, and a Xochitl Blue Corn Chip isn't it. They're so bland that I abandoned the rest of the bag to the backyard crows. The birds did enjoy them after taking a day to figure out what they were.

Instead, I recommend Garden of Eatin' Blue Corn chips, which are pretty much what a blue corn chip should taste like. Better yet are the brand's Red Hot Blues. The spicy mix on the chips doesn't mix with the Native Texan salsa so well, but Red Hots are an exceptional snack on their own.


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