Street Style Tomatillo Salsa

Street Style Tomatillo Salsa
Editor’s Note:
May is National Salsa Month and we’re celebrating with a salsa that steps up the heat…in a delicious way. Enjoy!

The first time street salsa combusted in my mouth, I was standing in front of Tacos Picosa, a México City taco stand shoved into the back of an old VW van. I’d ladled a few gloppy spoonfuls of green salsa onto my steak taco, figuring it was like all the others.

Instead of bright and acidic and spicy, though, this one spewed fire. My tongue swelled. My eyes watered. My sister-in-law had put the same sauce on her own taco, and after she took a bite, both of us ran inside the nearby convenience store and did the only thing we could: douse our hot mouths with packaged soy milk.

Street salsa in México can be unpredictable, but the quality is, across the board, astonishingly good. Many street foods are simply a vehicle for the salsa itself. A steak taco can taste almost bland without a little lime and salsita, for instance. Same for a taco de canasta, a soft, steamed taco that’s jazzed up immensely by a drizzle of tomatillo salsa.

At home, you can whip up a street salsa in your blender and put it on almost anything: eggs, quesadillas, roasted chicken—or my personal favorite, a taco made with only ripe avocado and salt that’s particularly excellent with green salsa.

Really, there’s not much difference between a street salsa and any other one you’d make at home, except the former is made in much larger quantities, with the cook stretching her peso as best she can.

Read Related: Oaxacan Street Corn

My recipe below mimics what I used to eat at one of my favorite México City taco spots. It combines tomatillos with fresh chile de árbol, which is hotter than the serrano or jalapeño, and cubes of creamy avocado.

This is a rustic salsa, so don’t worry about chopping the onions or cilantro perfectly—the more homemade it looks, the better. You can also add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to this salsa if you like a thinner texture.

Yield: Makes about 1 cup

10 oz or roughly 25 small tomatillos (see note)
9 chile de árbol fresco (see note)
¼ cup + 2 TBSP chunky diced onion
¼ cup loosely chopped cilantro
½ of 1 large avocado
Juice of ½ large lime
½ TSP kosher salt, or to taste

Note: Small tomatillos tend to be sweeter and more flavorful than the large ones. If you can’t find fresh chile de árbol, which is often available at Latino grocery stores or bodegas, substitute three to four serranos.


  1. Husk and rinse the tomatillos. Cut them in half—unless you have a very powerful blender, in which case you can skip this step—and add to a blender jar.
  2. Cut the stems off the chiles de árbol, and cut them in half. Add them to the blender jar as well.
  3. Blend for about 15 seconds, until the salsa is smooth and you no longer see large bits of tomatillo or chiles.
  4. Pour salsa into a medium-sized bowl and stir in diced onion, cilantro, avocado and lime juice. Mash avocado a bit with the bottom of a spoon or a clean plastic cup. Taste and add salt accordingly.
  5. Spoon into attractive salsa bowl if you’ve got one. Serve immediately.