Skip to main content

Salsa Moves: Which Salsa Will Make Your Dinner Great Tonight?

Salsa roja, salsa verde, pico de gallo ... so many options exist for those who love this glorious sauce! On alone, we have over 300 recipes for salsa. With so many different types, it can get overwhelming to decide which is perfect for your tacos, and which to use when dipping your chips. Here's a handy guide on some of the most popular styles, and when to use them.

Pico de Gallo

You may also see pico de gallo (pronounced "peek-oh duh-guy-oh") labeled as salsa fresca, salsa picada, or salsa Mexicana. Made of fresh chunks of tomato, onion, garlic, and jalapeño, this is the quintessential salsa you find in the market or at a restaurant topping your dish. It's also the easiest to make, with no cooking required!

Recommended use: As a topping for a meat-based dish. The brightness of the salsa brightens the fatty flavors in meat. Because of its chunky texture, it's not the best as a dip.


Pico De Gallo. Photo by Nanda

Other pico de gallo recipes:

Salsa Roja

This encompasses most of the salsas we're familiar with. Pace Picante? That's a salsa roja. Standard restaurant red salsa? That's also salsa roja! The basic requirement is that it's tomato-based ("roja" means red). You can find salsa roja cooked, raw, or any combination in between.
Recommended use: Dip that chip or top your favorite dish. Salsa roja is delicious served along with pico de gallo.


Roasted Tomato Salsa I. Photo by 1gdcowgirl gone.

Other salsa roja:

Learn how to make the best tacos.

Salsa Verde

If you want a tart sauce with a kick, you're looking for a salsa verde. Most salsa verdes have bright and tangy tomatillos as a base ingredient. This is the essential ingredient for enchilada verde!
Recommended use: While I prefer using salsa verde as a sauce for meat or enchiladas, many prefer it over salsa roja as a dipping sauce.


Roasted Tomatillo and Garlic Salsa. Photo by MrsCalderon

Other salsa verde to try:

Corn Salsa

While a staple in many fast casual Tex-Mex restaurants, corn salsa isn't traditional. This salsa is a great alternative if you're averse to tomatoes, and there are so many variations, you can really make it your own!

Recommended use: Anywhere you use pico de gallo. It can also be used as a salad. Much like pico de gallo, corn salsa is tough to eat with chips.


Heather's Cilantro, Black Bean, and Corn Salsa. Photo by Dianne

Try these corn salsas:

Fruit Salsas

Part dessert, part condiment, all party! Fruit salsas are great additions to get-togethers. They get their sweetness from mangoes, peaches, or strawberries with a balance of heat from jalapeño or habañero peppers.
Recommended use: My favorite way to use this salsa is as a taco topper over a soft creamy cheese. Others like to use it instead of pico de gallo.


Mango Salsa. Photo by Lisa Bieber

More fruit salsas:

Lesser-Known Salsas

Other fun salsas you might want to check out include salsa negra and salsa ranchera. Salsa negra get its name from the dark chiles used to create the sauce. The recipes don't call for much more than chiles, sugar, vinegar, and salt. Use this sauce sparingly or as a glaze on meat!
You've most likely seen salsa ranchera as part of huevos rancheros. It's usually a thicker, chunkier salsa made from roasted tomatoes, onions, and spices. Though it's a great salsa for dipping, I think it's best saved for the perfect huevos rancheros.


Black Bean Huevos Rancheros. Photo by LRS

Heat Levels

When making your own salsa, pay close attention to how much and what type of heat is added. Everyone's palate is different, and while you might be all about that ghost pepper, there's a good chance your friend can barely stomach a jalapeño.
If you're looking for the pepper flavor but less heat, I recommend removing the seeds and veins and just chopping up the flesh of the pepper you're using. Jalapeño and serrano have a great vegetal flavor reminiscent of green bell pepper. Habañero has a fruitier flavor which makes it a great pairing for fruit salsas.

Learn more about chiles and salsa:


About Cally Rhine

I’m always on the hunt for a new dish, flavor, and experience, and keep me away from your Frito pie and crème brûlée. I’ll eat it all!