The restaurant in Fair Haven has offered traditional Mexican food to the community for the last 14 years.
Joaquin Fernandez-Duque, Contributing Photographer
Salsa’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant has been providing a traditional eating experience in Fair Haven for 14 years. The business boasts a menu full of classic Mexican dishes and for many, has the added appeal of being family run.
New Haven Restaurant Week, which this year takes place from March 27 to April 9, has encouraged residents and visitors alike to explore the city’s wide array of eateries. Fifty-three restaurants across eight neighborhoods are offering special promotions during the week. Those looking for traditional Latinx food may find themselves drawn to Fair Haven, as the neighborhood has a prominent 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 mom was the owner of a restaurant in [Tlaxcala] Mexico,” Ramirez said, as translated from Spanish by the News. “Everyone likes continuing a tradition.”
Ramirez runs the business with the help of her family: her husband, daughter, son, brother and niece all work at Salsa’s. She said that working with family can be difficult, but she acts with strong character, reminding her family that if they continue their focused work, the restaurant will last. The workplace dynamic sometimes reflects relatable familial experiences, as Ramirez explained that her daughter, the youngest of her three children, helps with the computer work and charging customers.
“My brother is the one that is always in the kitchen making the burritos, tacos and easier things,” Ramirez said. “With the more difficult stuff, like the mole, I help out.”
Mole poblano, a traditional thick dark-red sauce with a variety of ingredients, including cocoa and various chiles, is the restaurant’s most popular item and is Ramirez’s personal favorite. She explained that many people love mole, but it is difficult to make, as it requires lots of ingredients and takes a full day to produce. As a result, the item sells very well with customers looking for authentic mole like they may have had growing up, discovered on a trip or simply fallen in love with elsewhere. Ramirez travels to Mexico four times a year to bring back ingredients, including many for the mole. In addition to ingredients, Ramirez brought much of the decor in the restaurant 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 for its success in a difficult market.
“In this area, we are 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 customers of Salsa’s told the News they have been eating there roughly every month since around the time the restaurant started and praised the food’s authenticity, citing it as a key reason for their regular trips from East Haven to Salsa’s. Ramirez estimated that 60 percent of her customers are part of the Latinx community, but that people from all over come in and enjoy the food.
“I found [Salsa’s] during the fall semester when some of my friends and I were looking to get out of the Yale campus a bit,” Will Leggat ’25 said. “It’s important to connect with the city you’re living in, especially when sometimes school can detach you from it, and the easiest way to do that is to go out and explore the community through something you like. In this case, food.”
New Haven Restaurant Week boosts business for an important part of the city, one that was especially hurt by the pandemic. Ramirez said they are looking to expand their business as their restaurant often fills up, a problem she is thankful to have after the difficulties brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant stayed open for pickup orders during the pandemic but saw less business than usual.
“I thought, ‘We don’t have another job, no one is helping us, and in a pandemic where else are we going to find work,’” Ramirez said about the decision to stay open and attempt to survive the pandemic’s accompanying economic struggles. “So, we decided to stay open and thanks to our customers we never closed. Thanks to God, we are still here.”
Salsa’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant is located at 99 Grand Ave. in Fair Haven.