Best Restaurant Salsa Recipe From Nopalito

This isn't the complimentary snack you're used to

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Most of us view chips and salsa as the complimentary (if not forgettable) warm-up for what's to come later in the meal. But in Nopalito, which recently won the James Beard Award for Best International Cookbook, you'll find chef Gonzalo Guzmán reinventing the starter by tossing toasted tortilla chips in homemade salsa de árbol, treating them essentially in the same way as "chicken wings are made." A drizzle of crema on the side is key to taming the salsa's fiery heat.

To see how other chefs are redefining Mexican cuisine, read "This Time , It's Personal."

Recipe reprinted with permission from 'Nopalito' copyright 2017 by Gonzalo Guzmán with Stacy Adimando. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Totopos Con Chile
4.7 from 40 ratings
Learn how to make tortilla chips coated with spicy salsa, or totopos con chile, from Gonzalo Guzmán of Nopalito Restaurant in San Francisco, California.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total time: 15 minutes
  • For the Salsa de Árbol
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Scant ¼ cup dried árbol chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1½ cups (12 ounces) canned diced tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 small tomatillo
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • For the Totopos
  • 2 cups salsa de árbol
  • 16 ounces homemade salted corn tortilla chips or thick, hearty store-bought chips
  • 1 cup grated cotija cheese
  • ½ cup finely diced white onion
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup crema or sour cream
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  1. Make the salsa de árbol: In a small pot, heat the oil over high heat, then add the chiles; let cook, continuously tossing the chiles so that they do not burn, about 10 seconds. When they turn bright orange, they are done. Immediately remove from the oil.
  2. Add three-quarters of the chiles to a blender and reserve the rest. Add the tomatoes, tomatillo, vinegar, garlic, salt, and 2 tablespoons water and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning, or blend in more of the remaining chiles, to taste.
  3. Pour the blended salsa into a small pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. Serve warm or cool.
  4. Be sure your salsa de árbol is prepared in advance and is still hot, or reheat on the stove. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Spread the chips on a baking sheet and bake until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chips from the oven to a large mixing bowl. Add the salsa and toss the chips with the hot salsa until they are completely covered. Transfer to a serving plate, then garnish the chips with the cheese, onion, and cilantro. Serve with the crema and lime wedges.
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