Salsa’s authentic Mexican restaurant stands out for its authenticity and family warmth
The restaurant at Fair Haven has been providing traditional Mexican cuisine to the community for 14 years.
Joaquin Fernandez-Duque, collaborating photographer
Salsa’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant has been providing a traditional dining experience in Fair Haven for 14 years. The business offers an extensive menu of classic Mexican dishes and for many has the added appeal of being family-run.
New Haven Restaurant Week, which this year runs from March 27 to April 9, has encouraged residents and visitors to explore the city’s wide array of restaurants. Fifty-three restaurants in eight neighborhoods offer special promotions during the week. Those looking for traditional Latinx food may find themselves drawn to Fair Haven, as the neighborhood has a large Latinx community. There, on a block filled with other restaurants, Juana Ramirez decided to establish Salsa’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant.
“I decided to open a restaurant because my mother owned a restaurant in [Tlaxcala] Mexico,” Ramirez said, translated from Spanish by the News. “Everyone likes to carry on a tradition.”
Ramirez runs the business with the help of his family: his husband, daughter, son, brother and niece all work at Salsa. She said working with her family can be difficult, but she acts with a strong character, reminding her family that if they continue their focused work, the restaurant will endure. Workplace dynamics sometimes reflect relatable family experiences, as Ramirez explained that his daughter, the youngest of his three children, helps with computer work and customer billing.
“My brother is the one who’s always in the kitchen making the burritos and the tacos and the easier stuff,” Ramirez said. “With the most difficult things, like the mole, I help.”
Mole poblano, a traditional thick dark red sauce with a variety of ingredients including cocoa and various chilies, is the restaurant’s most popular item and is Ramirez’s favorite. She explained that many people like mole, but it is difficult to prepare, as it requires a lot of ingredients and takes an entire day to produce. As a result, the item sells very well to customers looking for authentic moles such as they may have had growing up, discovered while traveling or simply fell in love elsewhere. Ramirez travels to Mexico four times a year to bring back ingredients, many of them for the mole. In addition to the ingredients, Ramirez brought much of the restaurant decor from Mexico, including traditional calendars and tablecloths. In a block that also offers Chinese food, Peruvian food and two pizzerias, Ramirez credits the authenticity of Salsa’s food with its success in a tough market.
“In this area, we’re almost the only Mexican restaurant, especially authentic Mexican,” Ramirez said. “There are restaurants outside of Fair Haven that don’t compare because they’re Mexican but not authentic. Here we serve it like they do in Mexico.
Two Salsa’s customers told the News they’ve eaten there just about every month since the restaurant opened and praised the authenticity of the food, citing it as one of the main reasons for their regular trips. East Haven at Salsa’s. Ramirez estimated that 60% of his customers are from the Latinx community, but people from all over come and enjoy the food.
“I’ve found [Salsa’s] during the fall semester when some of my friends and I were looking to get off campus at Yale for a bit,” said Will Leggat ’25. “It’s important to connect with the city you live in, especially when school can sometimes tear you away from it, and the easiest way to do that is to get out and explore the community through something you love. In this case, food.
New Haven Restaurant Week boosts business for an important part of the city, one that has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Ramirez said they are looking to expand their business as their restaurant often fills up, a problem she is grateful to have after the difficulties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant remained open for pick-up orders during the pandemic, but saw less business than usual.
“I thought, ‘We don’t have any other jobs, no one is helping us, and in a pandemic, where are we going to find work,'” Ramirez said of the decision to stay open and to trying to survive the economic crisis that comes with the pandemic struggles.” So we decided to stay open and thanks to our customers we never closed. Thank God we are still here.
Salsa’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant is located at 99 Grand Avenue in Fair Haven.