Mexican Cuban Lunch at Salsa

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Anyone who’s ever made a burger knows that just about anyone can pull it off, but once you’ve had a good burger, not just any old schmucks grilled meat will do.

The same perhaps could be said of tacos, though the further north you travel, I suppose that rings a little less true. Luckily, the folks over at Salsa, a Mexican Caribbean restaurant across from Pack Square Park, have it down.

We’re on our way to another engagement and already running a little late, so I’m on edge already imagining myself unable to enjoy this meal while thinking about the eventual tardiness it will create. The place is about half full, your usual Ashevillian crowd which is hard to describe other than to describe it as all possible shapes, sizes and flavors of vanilla, I suppose. Though their are plenty of open tables, our hostess seats us at a two top half-a-sandwiched between two other tables. Now, it’s my personal belief that being a hostess is just about one of the easiest jobs in the known universe. You count how many people come through the door, and sit them at the best available spot in the house that reasonably accommodates that number. So when they screw this up, I really think there ought to be some type of server’s union that immediately bans them from any type of work in the food service industry, forever. So needless to say, I’m anxious about our timeframe, I’m bumping elbows with two women seated at the table next to us who are chatting up some mundane nothing that seems to be getting right up and underneath my fingernails, and I haven’t even read the menu yet.

Like kicking back with a good book though, the menu begins to calm me down. They’ve got local beers, which really everywhere in all of Buncombe County does, but they’ve got the kinds I like: Kashmir IPA in particular. A starter shouting something about chorizo and mango salsa catches my lady’s eye, and I order something called a Cuban Mojo Steak, which is a thin piece of meat, the type of beef that comes in a steak burrito, with mushrooms, rice and BBQ goodness all mixed throughout. We grab a plate of nachos, not some thrown on the plate, grabbed out of a bag nachos, but some big, baked, substantial nachos that I can’t imagine saw anymore processing than it takes for my tongue to register the heat that the tomatillo sauce is packing. Our waiter brings us some hot sauce, the lady having specifically requested the hottest salsa they have, and though my eyes are already welling up he mentions, “Here you go, if that’s not hot enough, this is the really …” he makes a sort of ping motion with his fingers, “stuff.”

I rain a few drops over a nacho and my stomach is convulsing in pain before I can even think to reach for my water. That’s not a complaint, mind you. When someone tells you that the contents of a bottle of hot sauce are precisely that, and you choose to take on the challenge, well, didn’t your mother tell you something about their being consequences in life?

We ended up mostly eating off of one another’s plates: she’s in love with the steak and BBQ mushrooms, I can’t seem to get enough of the mango salsa chorizo concoction. Both of those situations are unlike either of us, but this place is a bit like that. You expect certain things when you go Mexican, and Salsa delivers precisely that, but then something else, too.

Take, for example, the paintings of a cartoon futuristic world hung all over the walls. Riddled with zeppelins, joysticks and 30th century skyscrapers, it doesn’t exactly scream sombrero. There’s an alley outside as well, where you can get your outdoor fiesta on, but my favorite spot in the house are two stools that look through a small, open window into the kitchen. I’m not sure how one finds themselves lucky enough to grab such a close view of the inner workings of the place, but I want to be on that list.

We finish our plates, our server brings the check, and we’re still 18 minutes early for our next appointment. The next morning I’ll still be stuffed from the previous day’s lunch. Not a bad experience all around.