Fresh chips, guacamole, and a tub of Sonia Campos’s chipotle salsa
3035 Cedar Street, San Diego
My friends have gotten used to the kinds of questions I ask and the photos I take when we go out for a meal together. They might be embarrassed by it — even in this Instagram era — but they understand it’s the job.
But they often request that I don’t give away our favorite neighborhood spots, our best-kept secrets. I do keep a couple close to my chest, but with apologies to my friends, I need to reveal what I consider the city’s best source of salsa.
Food Bowl Market, home of the best salsa in town
The Food Bowl is a modest grocery store in South Park. It’s got decidedly Mexican leanings, with a great assortment of bottled hot sauce, giant cans of hominy for making pozole, and a carniceria in the back that butchers budget-friendly meats and marinades beef for carne asada.
It’s also where you’ll find Sonia Campos, a native of Acapulco, busy making fresh tortilla chips and an array of salsas.
First of all, the chips. At $1.99 a bag, they might not be as impressive as the lightly spiced chips of El Indio, but at less than half the price they’re a steal.
And you’ll need them for the guacamole. I’m a fine guac-maker myself and have long turned up my nose at any pre-made, packaged version. But not this. It’s a simple mix of avocados, lemon, garlic, salt, and cilantro with some pico de gallo laid across the top. Okay, there’s a little mayo in it too, but I swear you won’t notice. At $3.99, it serves me well when guests are coming over and I don’t have time to mash my own before a football game kicks off. I usually eat most of it myself.
But Campos’s real brilliance comes through in her salsas. These too are simple, blended with chili peppers, garlic, salt, and tomatoes or tomatillos. I’ve tried six kinds including verde, borracho, chipotle, and habanero. Some are available in mild, medium, or hot versions.
Since these are made in-house, what you get may run a little hotter or milder, a little chunkier, or a little saucier day to day. Usually around $2.99, they’re cheaper than most tubs of salsa you’ll find, and they’re never bad. Sometimes I really do feel the burn and need to crack an extra beer to compensate. Other times they’re outright amazing.
My favorites are the verde and chipotle, but whenever I spot a new one I’m happy to grab it and try something new. My friends have their own opinions, but mostly they worry that, by revealing this, the Food Bowl’s tiny parking lot will become even more difficult to navigate.