Admit it, you look forward more to a restaurant’s chips and salsa than its actual menu items sometimes. That’s okay, because complimentary or otherwise, a good order of chips and salsa can be poetry. It's crunchy, salty, sometimes warm tortilla chips — flour, corn, whichever. It’s spicy salsa, chunky and vegetal or thin and extra hot. They’re all a winner.
No matter your favorite pair, here are 11 restaurants doing the combo right.
Vecina3433 North 56th Street
It’s no secret we are fans of Vecina, a new restaurant in Arcadia serving some top-notch ceviche and cocktails. So, it’s no surprise to share this: It also has great chips and salsa, and they’re $5 during happy hour. While we like the roasted tomato salsa, the creamy habanero salsa is incredible. The secret ingredient is butter … and maybe love? Chef-owner James Fox has been making this salsa for more than 10 years and served a version of it at his wedding.
Carolina’s Mexican Food1202 East Mohave Street
Though this Carolina’s location in south Phoenix may look scrappy, in the best possible way, the food churning away from that pickup counter is truly next level. That includes an order of chips and salsa. The corn tortilla chips paired with a four-ounce hot sauce, or just a handful of sauce-filled Solo dip cups, are less than $2. One bite into that ultra-crunchy chip, coated in that extra-hot salsa, and you’ll be hooked, joining the other lunchers in line at the 1986-established location of Carolina’s on a daily basis.
Aunt Chilada’s7330 North Dreamy Draw Drive
The original Aunt Chilada's sits pretty just off 16th Street north of Glendale Avenue, back-dropped by Piestewa Peak. The best way to enjoy that view is on the patio, with a frosty margarita (or water, whatever) and the family-owned restaurant’s chips and salsa. The special detail here is: The chips are made of flour. Each piece is soft, crumbly, and delicious, and holds the thick salsa full on to the lips and mouth. Pro tip: Don’t expect these chips at the Tempe location. The flour treatment is only at the Dreamy Draw spot.
Asadero Norte De Sonora122 North 16th Street
The salsa at Asadero Norte De Sonora is a little more thin, a little more hot, and overall, just a little more vivid red. Okay, full disclosure, this salsa is hot. The chile de arbol blends well with the fruity peppers, making the thin, rectangular tortilla chips mere sauce vessels. An order of the chips and salsa is complimentary — a server brings them over once you have a seat in the bright, petite, ultra-homelike dining room. Munching on salsa-coated chips, knowing your beef head taco and Mexican Coke is on the way, there’s no better place in town.
Gallo Blanco928 East Pierce Street
Executive Chef Doug Robson runs both Gallo Blanco and Otro Café, and both have excellent chips and salsa, so this is somewhat of a double entry. Walking into Gallo in the historic Garfield District (or Otro in uptown), know you’re about to have an experience. Try an order of La Charola, the centerpiece of which is Gallo Blanco Guacamole. La Charola also comes with thick corn tortilla chips, pico de gallo, fire-roasted salsa, and the always great salsa of the day.
Cocina 10308 North Second Avenue
Confess. You have tickets in hand for an act at Crescent Ballroom, but you’re more excited about the opportunity for ordering the chips and salsa. Cocina 10, the Crescent Ballroom kitchen, turns out all kinds of “Arizona road food,” and the chips are a major part of this. The warm tortilla chips are served with two squeeze bottles of salsa — chile de arbol (the red) and tomatillo (the green). To take it one step further, try the chips and spicy molcajete salsa. Debates still rage on which of these three salsa options is best.
Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant3347 North Seventh Avenue
The family-owned Mi Patio has been around since 1984, the dining room aesthetic classically kitschy and open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. During that window, you can be served with as many bowls of chips and dishes of salsa as you can handle. Mi Patio is known, far and wide, for super-fast chip service. Warm bowls of tortilla chips come right away, and to make them somehow better, give them an extra dusting of salt. The ultimate salsa? Ask for a side of the seafoam-green baja sauce. You’re welcome in advance.
Taco Guild546 East Osborn Road
Taco Guild definitely has an atmosphere as an 1893-built former chapel. And while there’s no perfect seat, it’s just a little more fun to sit at the bar. Why? A piping hot bowl of tortilla chips comes spinning out at you once you’re seated — complete with four sauces. And they just keep coming. All are best enjoyed during happy hour (all day Monday, and 3 to 6:30 p.m., then 9 to close, Tuesday through Sunday).
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Jalapeño Bucks3434 North Val Vista Drive, Mesa
This place self identifies as “New Wave Mexican Soul Food & BuzzSaw Brand BBQ,” meaning there are barbecue plates, plus quesadillas, burritos, and yes, chips and salsa. Jalapeño Bucks in northeast Mesa fries its own tortilla chips in increments of small, medium, and extra large. And that’s not even the best part. Diners may choose from five signature salsas — mild, mango, and sweet green, followed by Hot Mexican Red and Hot Gringo Green. They have fun.
The Dirty Drummer2303 North 44th Street
Sports bar, burger palace … chip shack? Many of the starters at The Dirty Drummer are good, made with care on the grill behind the bar, but the chips and salsa are quick and easy. Crunchy, deep-yellow tortilla chips come with a chunky salsa, or Navarro’s Hot Sauce. But pro tip: Ask for a side of the house Buffalo sauce. Dip those salted chips and scoop up the sauce for a yummy-sound reaction. You won’t regret it.
Arriba Mexican GrillMultiple Locations
Arrive at Arriba Mexican Grill, or just Arriba’s if you’re a frequent guest, and some complimentary chips and salsa comes soon after the menus are slapped down. The chips are perfect restaurant style, ultra-thin, salty, pretty warm at first. Served right alongside them is a dish of chunky, mild to medium salsa, and a creamy bean dip. But here’s you're last pro tip: Ask for a side of the hot salsa, and a server will bring you a cup of bright red sauce with an extra kick.