Salsa’s success is the stuff of Asheville legend. An entrepreneur with a great idea and culinary flair cooks up an unorthodox business plan with a little help from the Mountain Microenterprise Fund, sets up shop in a tiny but strategic location, busts his butt, scores huge success — but doesn’t forget how it happened. Owner Hector Diaz is still busting his butt, and his constantly shifting menu never fails to please. In fact, Heraclitus (c. 535-475 B.C.) could have been referring to Salsa when he said, in a somewhat different context, “You can never step into the same river twice.”
(Heraclitus, of course, had Mediterranean food, not Caribbean, to contend with. But he was assuredly confronted with a similarly variable handwritten menu, insofar as the printing press lay a good two millennia ahead.)
When I ate lunch at Salsa last week, Hector was busily orchestrating the kitchen, and our server, Rigel 7, was in good form, performing contortionist plate tricks and refilling water glasses incongruously balanced on his elbow.
It’s understood that most Asheville restaurant waitstaff are on sabbatical from their real work, and Rigel 7 is no exception. A member of the now-defunct Surreal Sirkus (as his dinnerware razzle-dazzle testified), Rigel 7 is now a new father — and an entrepreneur. Fatherhood has directed his focus toward kids, and he has identified an underserved population: teens. In the near future, he plans to open a business called the Candybar, a game arcade with vending machines offering soda, snacks and candy.
“That’s where my heart is,” he told Xpress.
But back to lunch: As an appetizer, my companion and I split an order of Mexican green-chili soup, a savory thick porridge blended from pasilla peppers, chipotles, eggs and masa balls. The spicy sopa was garnished with fresh cilantro, an herb so dear to my heart that I used to slam a poem about its glories (lyrically leavened with the insanity of transpoting nuclear waste through these mountains — but I digress).
My entree was a fish burrito done up with wild mushrooms, roasted corn, poblano peppers and salsa verde and accompanied by plantains, salad and a corn tamale. Flounder, as I recall from the late ’70s (when I spent long afternoons bottom-fishing from a canoe on New Hampshire’s brackish Piscataqua River), is an ideal underlayment for subtle flavorings, and Hector’s nuanced treatment works just fine.
And given Salsa’s dependable presentation of the freshest in-season foods — made to order instead of microwaved — and generous portions, this writer/diner, at least, aims to wade into that river again — Heraclitus be damned.
Salsa Mexican Caribbean Restaurant is at 6 Patton Ave. in downtown Asheville (252-9805).