'Chronicle' Critics' Picks for Restaurant and Commercial Hot Sauces 2010
Our critics guarantee these sauces are all delicious and encourage readers to check them out
By Virginia B. Wood, Mick Vann, Claudia Alarcón, MM Pack, Kate Thornberry, and Rachel Feit, Fri., Aug. 27, 2010
Every year, the preliminary and celebrity judges choose winners in all categories of our annual Hot Sauce Festival. In honor of our 20th anniversary, we asked contributing Food critics Mick Vann, Claudia Alarcón, MM Pack, Kate Thornberry, and Rachel Feit to pick their favorite restaurant and commercial sauces. Some of the sauces they've chosen are entered in the festival regularly, and others are not, but our critics guarantee these sauces are all delicious and encourage readers to check them out. – V.B.W.
Restaurant Red Sauces
El Mesón: Such a well-balanced combination of serranos, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and salt that the fiery total seems much greater than the sum of its parts. – MM.P.
La Reyna: Prepared fresh two or three times daily, this sauce teeters on the edge of being too hot for me to eat comfortably, but it's always fresh, each batch as perfect as the last. – K.T.
Mi Ranchito charred-chile sauce: The fire that charred these chiles makes them even angrier, yielding a rich and balanced sauce with just the right amount of tomato, onion, garlic, herbs, and perfectly carbonized peppers. – M.V.
Sazón: This roasted-tomato concoction is a winner on the tables at the restaurant and in the festival during recent years. – C.A.
Restaurant Green Sauces
Mi Ranchito spicy green sauce: The darker of its two green sauces gets its color from a heavy dose of green chiles balanced nicely with avocado, lime, herbs, and garlic. – M.V.
Corazon Salsa de Cruz: Absolutely light for the big flavor it packs, this combination of serranos, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper, and avocado puree is named for lunch chef Carlos Cruz. – K.T.
Tacodeli Salsa Doña: Despite its pronounced heat, I think I could drink this creamy green sauce made from fiery chiles and a secret ingredient – some kind of cheese, perhaps? – R.F.
Tacodeli and El Pollo Rico Salsas Doña: Similar in their smooth and creamy texture, both these sauces are fiery hot, intensely addictive, and downright delicious. – C.A.
Restaurant Special Variety
Madam Mam's nam prik pao chili paste: With a burn from wok-charred red chilies, this complex and smoky paste livens up every dish it kisses, making flavor explode off the plate. – M.V.
Curra's Grill borracho sauce: Served with several breakfast dishes and its award-winning tamales, this simple sauce of grilled tomatoes and jalapeños, salt, and garlic manages to be the perfect complement to every dish. – K.T.
Torchy's Tacos Diablo Sauce: The nuclear-orange glow of this vinegary habanero sauce lets you know it's not the average burn drizzled on your tacos. This winner is newly available in bottles at all Torchy's locations. – R.F.
El Mesón Playa del Carmen Habanero Sauce: This is the tastiest habanero sauce I've had outside the Yucatan – roasting the chiles adds depth and flavor, and the heat keeps you coming back for more. – C.A.
Austin Slow Burn Green Chile Salsa Fresca: Available during the New Mexico green chile harvest every fall, this sauce is spicy and crisp – you can almost smell the piñon burning in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. – M.V.
Winston's Jamaican Hot Pepper Sauce: This multipurpose habanero sauce seasoned with thyme and ginger is excellent on grilled items, mixed into ground beef for burgers or meatloaf, or stirred into sour cream for dip. – C.A.
Sgt. Pepper's Pumpkin Chipotle Sauce: I am never without a bottle of this deeply flavored sauce to add to carne guisada or drizzle over avocado tacos. – K.T.
Salsa Xochitl Asada Verde: Irresistible on tortilla chips, this sauce of roasted tomatillos and chiles is a Mexican hat dance of citrus, sweet, and salty. – R.F.
Austin Slow Burn Salsa Verde: Maybe it's the whisper of lime added to the roasted tomatillos, serranos, and onions that renders such a stellar result. – MM.P.