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Decoding taqueria salsas

What’s in the red and green salsas at most taquerias?
Illustration: Andy Mora
By Julia Kramer |

One is green, one is red, but which salsa do you want on your taco? Follow these steps to decide.

1. Learn your flavor profiles. Salsa verde (often simmered and blended tomatillos, serrano chilies and garlic) usually has the most burn; salsa roja (usually rehydrated red chilies; sometimes tomatoes, too) can be just as hot, but is often milder. The deeper and darker the red color, the more smoky the sauce likely will be, from the charring or roasting of chilies and/or tomatoes.

2. Have a fish taco in hand? Use the green sauce—a smoky red may overpower a lighter taco.

3. If you’ve ordered a meat taco, you’re good with either sauce. The smoky flavor of a red sauce complements most meat, while the more acidic green sauce balances rich cuts like beef tongue and goat.