Arizona's Salsa Hot Spots

Salsa

Celebrate the spicy side of life at festivals and local shops.

Whether tame or thermonuclear, traditional or unconventional, salsa and hot sauce are the go-to condiments in Arizona. You can sample the best local salsas and hot sauces along Southern Arizona's Salsa Trail and at salsa festivals throughout the state. Or, purchase a jar from Arizona sauce and salsa makers at their stores.

Safford's Salsa Trail & Salsa Fest

Arizona has an entire route dedicated to salsa, the Salsa Trail, which connects several Mexican restaurants, taco shops and a tortilla factory in the southeastern section of the state. Pick up a trail map at any of the 16 stops or at the Safford Visitor Center.

To taste the offerings from the Salsa Trail restaurants all in one place, head to Safford in September for the annual Salsa Fest. Friday night showcases their spicy handiwork during the Taste of the Salsa Trail event.

On Saturday and Sunday, attendees can taste salsas prepared by professionals and amateurs and vote for their favorite. The Salsa Fest also includes a salsa-eating contest, a jalapeño-eating contest, Chihuahua races, a car show, a kids' zone, live entertainment, cooking demonstrations and up to 80 vendors.

Salsa Festivals in Arizona

Safford doesn't host the state's only salsa fest. The following competitions are also popular throughout Arizona.

My Nana's Best Tasting Salsa Challenge in Phoenix is one of the state's largest salsa events features more than 100 fresh salsas made by chefs, salsa companies and talented enthusiasts. At the same time, mixologists go head-to-head in the Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix-Off, a separate competition within the event.

More than 15,000 people pour into the town of Maricopa for its annual Salsa Festival to sample the hot, mild and unusual entries in the community's salsa competition. Between tastings, attendees can listen to live music or sip a brew in the beer garden. Games and inflatables are available for kids.

Admission to Tucson's Salsa and Tequila Challenge – a 21-and-over event – includes samples salsa, tequila cocktails and food prepared by local chefs and resorts. Proceeds benefit the Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance's arts therapy and education programs.

Arizona's Locally Made Salsa

If you can't make it to the Salsa Trail or to a salsa festival, you can purchase locally made salsa and hot sauces throughout the state. Here are a few of the many options available.

At the Santa Cruz Chili & Salsa Company, the owner Jean Neubauer's father, a stuntman, developed the four salsas for sale at this local spice shop near Tumacácori National Historical Park in Southern Arizona. The salsas are also available at some Tucson grocery stores.

El Charro Café is the nation's oldest Mexican restaurant continually operated by the same family. It sells the salsas it serves diners in retail jars or by the pint at all three of its Tucson locations.

To help support the West’s national parks, the Western National Parks Association sells its own salsa line along with field guides, authentic American Indian crafts and the like in its 2,100-square-foot flagship store in Oro Valley.

Arizona Salsa & Spice Company's all-natural salsas (no chemicals, flavor enhancers or fillers) each contain up to 11 different peppers, adding layers of flavor – and sometimes heat – that you won't find in other salsas. They are available at their Mesa store and AJ's Fine Foods grocery stores.

Known for its Ass Kickin' brand, Southwest Specialty Food Inc. produces more than 200 salsas, hot sauces and cooking sauces with colorful names like Whoop Ass Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce. Visit the production facility's gift shop in Goodyear for salsa, seasonings and more.

Local habaneros and lemons flavor the line-up from Mama Bella Hot Sauce, named for owner Ana Bella DeAnda's mother, Bella. They are available at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot Visitor Center.

 

About the Author: Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of Great Escapes Arizona as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps and is currently working on her second guidebook, Backroads & Byways of Indian Country.

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