Salsa Latina spices up the scene in Albany

I’m not a tough sell when it comes to Mexican food, I just have a few minimal requirements when it comes to Mexican restaurants: loads of spices and flavor, cheese as an integral component, and the terms “grande, gordita, and chalupa” do not appear anywhere on the menu. As long as those key points are met, I can eat with an open mind. However, despite the low bar, eating at a random restaurant is still a gamble. Okay, the name isn’t particularly catchy (I have forgotten it on at least two occasions) and the neighborhood leaves something to be desired, but how does Salsa Latina hold up? In a word: Jackpot!

For starters, they had a sign up heralding 10 percent off for students with an ID—a legit selling point for broke upperclassmen. Then we entered and were immediately enveloped in a fragrant Mexican aroma as well as a cozy atmosphere that completely beats the noisy bustle of a chain restaurant during the dinner rush. I’ll admit I was a little nervous when we were immediately seated despite the fact that it was a Saturday night during the dinner hour. But as it turns out, Salsa Latina is just a well kept secret. A waitress was over in seconds with a basket of still-warm tortilla chips and some of the best salsa I have ever eaten.

So now I can get to the important part of the review: the bar selection. Unfortunately, they did not have any beers on tap, but they more than made up for it with their extensive selection of shots, build-your-own margaritas, and the wine list. Plus, they had an assortment of kinky-sounding cocktails like “sex on the beach,” “sex on fire,” and the “Mexican screwdriver.” And to top it off, the comprehensive bar menu wasn’t even overcompensating for the actual menu. You could choose from dozens of different dishes and combination plates; they even had a vegetarian section. More importantly, they had choices that were authentic dishes, not “American” Mexican food. For instance, I sampled an appetizer that I had never heard of called, Arepa con Queso. Turns out this is a Venezuelan dish consisting of a thick flat cornbread with mild and salty South American cheese sliced thick on top. It was served in a very traditional fashion without any flourishes at all, but if you are into trying unusual dishes, it’s something to consider. At $5 it makes for an interesting step away from the usual appetizers.

It was a tough choice, but we finally decided on two entrees that would fairly represent what Salsa Latina had to offer. First, a tried and true standard of Mexican food: chicken fajita, how would they rank on the fajita scale? Chili’s? TGIF’s? Pancho’s? Not a clue, seeing as I’ve never had fajitas at any of those places, but I can say that an order of Salsa Latina’s fajitas will fill anyone. The pan was literally mounded over with all the peppers, onion, tomatoes, and chicken you could eat. The only drawback was that they would only give you three tortillas to try and wrap the savory monstrosity, which doesn’t work out too well. In addition, we were given a bowl of Mexican rice, lettuce, sour cream, and the house guacamole with a distinct hint of lime.

All in all, it’s a great deal for only $14. But if you’re after a full-flavor cacophony, the beef chimichangas are for you. Not one, but two chimichangas complement a plate full of rice, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and another heaping portion of the house guacamole. They were wrapped in a buttery corn tortilla that had a crispy texture underneath a sharp cheese coating and a thin layer of tangy tomato sauce. Then an interior stuffed with sautéed peppers, onion, and shredded beef that is perfectly cooked, blend together into a thick sauce. That was $12 well spent. Still hungry? All I’m going to say is, “fried ice cream”. You won’t be disappointed.