Stephanie found an independently owned restaurant in East Memphis that serves chicken nuggets!
Salsa Mexican Restaurant
6150 Poplar Ave # 129
Wednesday night I was feeling worn out and decided that I would take a night off from cooking. I considered the places in our neighborhood where my family likes to eat, and unilaterally picked Mexican. Hey- I plan the menus at the house. Why should that night be any different?
Now, when I think about going out for “Mexican” food, I take a number of things into account. Am I in the mood for real Mexican, or Tex Mex? Do I want a chain? A good margarita? Empanadas from On the Border? (I have a weakness, what can I say.) And on a night when I need dinner to be easy with no fights, I think, “Will Connor eat anything there?” Taking my extremely picky six-year-old son into consideration removes Swanky’s and Las Tortugas from the mix. (Sad, but true.) My need for a margarita takes the chains (OtB, Cozymel’s) out of the mix. (Too sweet.) Taking Chip into consideration removes El Porton from the mix (great margaritas, but he tires of their food.) I remembered that we had never checked Salsa for a kids’ menu, so I called and got the thumbs up on chicken fingers and fries. And just like that, we were off.
Salsa has long been a favorite of ours. The owner, Caesar Para, has done a great job maintaining the quality of the food and atmosphere over the years. It is one of the great locally-owned shops in the Regalia Center at Poplar and Ridgeway, a shopping center that is a real asset for us East Memphians. I don’t know why we had never been to Salsa with the kids- I guess we’ve managed to put it into the “date-night restaurant” category and forgot to consider it beyond that. In fact, Salsa is the very first place we ever went as a couple without Connor. (The week after he was born, Mom insisted we get out of the house and go have lunch somewhere without the baby. It was a good call on her part, even though I cried pretty much the whole time we were there. It will always be a fond memory for me, because now I can look back and laugh at how crazy those first few weeks are.)
Although there is some outdoor seating at Salsa, we chose to go inside because of the alarming number of bug bites my three-year-old, Chloe, had already received in the car on the way to the restaurant (but that’s another story altogether). We passed a sign announcing live music at 7:00, but we didn’t think much of it. It was 6:15 and we didn’t plan to be there all night. We were seated quickly and noticed that the wrap-around bar was already completely full of middle-aged East Memphis folks. I guess Wednesday is the night this crowd hangs at Salsa. (I understand from a bartender friend that all the restaurant bars in that area have an unofficial “night.”) No matter, they were all well-behaved and there was plenty of room for us, along with the several other families I noticed who were already there and eating.
I saw right away that the appetizer menu featured a spinach/cheese dip but not a Connor-approved “plain” cheese dip. I figured I’d order it anyway and see if I could trick him into it. However, when taking our drink order (two margaritas, two Sprites), the server asked, “Would you like some cheese dip while you look at the menu?” The kids both immediately exclaimed, “YES!” so that was that. And it was good white cheese dip- not as good as their spinach and cheese dip, but still good. The salsa at Salsa is also excellent- very fresh, very well flavored, and served with good crispy chips which aren’t too heavy. Between the dips and the margarita, I was satisfied before even considering a main course!
Let me get the kids’ meal discussion out of the way first. Chloe wanted both a quesadilla and chicken fingers. (Other choices were tacos or a junior burrito.) The last time I was conned into ordering one of each for them to share, there weren’t enough chicken fingers to go around (and of course Connor wouldn’t touch the quesadilla) so it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I said to Chloe, “It’s one or the other, not both.” Of course she chose chicken- if her brother had chosen “jump off a bridge” then that would have been her choice too. She’s in full brother-worship mode right now. So long story short, I came home with two full orders of kids’ chicken fingers and fries. I’ll assume it’s because they filled up on cheese dip and Sprite, since it all tasted fine. In fact, the chicken actually tasted like chicken, which might have been the problem- not processed enough! Which is one of the reasons it was so good. Kids!
Chip got the Tostada Regalia, a large flour tortilla with layers of refried beans, seasoned beef, shredded lettuce, mixed cheeses, diced tomato, sour cream and guacamole. Everything was flavored perfectly, which is one of the things we like about Salsa. They aren’t afraid to give a spicy little kick to their foods, and they never under-season the meat. I ordered a combo plate with a cheese enchilada and a beef burrito. The burrito had the same beef as Chip’s tostada, and was topped with Ranchero sauce. It was wonderful. The enchilada was topped with what I believe is salsa Colorado- it was red but smokier than the Ranchero. It was fantastic- I could eat a whole plate of those! Again, it’s impressive how much flavor Salsa packs into a regular ol’ cheese enchilada. Yum. My plate also had refried beans and rice, which were better than average and were enjoyed by both Chloe and me.
Chip and I enjoyed our second margaritas as we lingered to see if the kids would ever eat any of their chicken. By then, it was 7:00, which meant the band was starting and the bar was officially PACKED! It was crazy! The middle-aged East Memphians were serious about their night out, too- they were dressed to the nines, hair and makeup perfect, they all seemed to know each other, and many of them were really dancing, right from the first song! It was fun to see. While my guys finished paying and boxing up the chicken (in Styrofoam, just like the kids’ drinks- sigh), Chloe and I pushed our way through the crowd to the area where the dancers were. And we danced, and mingled. Soon the guys came up and watched the end of a song with us, and we finally made our exit. It was a fun night! Great food, and a little bit of entertainment, at a reasonable cost (if you don’t factor in the margaritas).
However- I could tell that around 7:00 our server was anxious to move us along and get us out of there. I didn’t feel uncomfortable about it, or particularly pressured, I could just see that she knew where the night was headed. So although I love Salsa and recommend it for a family outing, if you go on a Wednesday you might want to plan it so you are out of there by 7:30. But one way or another, you should plan to go see Caesar and the crew and enjoy some good Mexican food out in my neck of the woods.