The Best Mexican Restaurants All Have One Appetizer In Common

Cheesy pasta, gargantuan burgers, and creamy ramen are all great examples of indulgent, delicious foods, but good Mexican food can rival them all. Ask just about any Texan what their favorite appetizer is, and they're sure to say, "queso, y'all!" And while Tex-Mex is a hangover-killer crafted by the hand of god himself, Mexican food is more than just smothered enchiladas and Torchy's Tacos.

Twisted Taco states that authentic Mexican food is inspired by ancient Mayan and Aztec culture and tends to stray from the heavy cream and mountains of cheese associated with Americanized Mexican food. The University of Notre Dame Institute for Latino Studies explains that food, in general, is a cornerstone of modern Mexican culture and plays a vital role in the country's historic, colorful, community-driven spirit.

Whether you prefer a seductively sloppy plate of Tex-Mex or authentic fish tacos on corn tortillas, there's one common denominator among the best Mexican food restaurants — salsa.

Salsa is a cornerstone of great Mexican food

Among other classic Mexican appetizers like tamales, tostadas, and guacamole, salsa is one of America's most common and widely-enjoyed Mexican hors d'oeuvres, with a market size worth over 837 million dollars as of 2023, per IBIS World. Salsa has been a touchstone in Mexican food culture for countless generations, and even the molcajete — the stone tool used to make the spicy sauce — is a "symbol of Mexican culture," according to El Pollo Noreteño.

Salsa is as versatile as it is essential to Mexican culture. It can be made extra spicy or mild, prepared with green chilis or red, and can be chunky or smooth in texture (via The New York Times). Because it's so adjustable, no one restaurant's homemade salsa is the same as the other. For Mexican people and the average Mexican food enjoyer, a restaurant's fresh, zesty salsa can indicate that the forthcoming entree will be worth every penny.

Feeling adventurous? Take a tour of our picks for the absolute best Mexican food restaurants in the U.S. to become the ultimate salsa sommelier.