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Meet ‘El Salsero’: The Santa Ana Chef Behind the Famed Lettuce Salsa

Luis Alberto's salsa de lechuga is mild, garlicky, and has a hint of lime. Like Luis himself would say, “you just need to try it.” 

Chef Luis Alberto of Acapico Salsa in Santa Ana (by Janette Villafana)

If you had asked chef Luis Alberto of Acapico Salsa in Santa Ana if he saw himself ever running his own business dedicated to creating unique salsas, he would respond with a quick yes. 

As a man who often seeks to discover new and bold flavors, he always saw himself starting his own business.

“I started in late 2016 because my needs were not being met as far as salsas went and I felt like it was up to me to represent,” said Luis as he sat inside a coffee shop in Santa Ana.

But before his now famed salsas came to fruition, the Acapulco-born-Santa Ana-raised salsero actually had his first introduction to farmers' markets and their potential when he worked for a farm selling oranges. 

Now he returns to these same farmers markets every weekend only this time he’s setting up his own stand.

The chef is always ready to wave people down to try his salsas. When they hit him with a “we’ve already tried something similar” he quickly comes back with “but you haven't tried mine.”

He and his team which is made up of his partner, family, and friends attend over 15 different farmers markets every weekend. 

“It's one of the reasons why I became a farmers market business. I love sharing my food, I love serving people,” he said. 

As for his salsas, they range in flavor and heat. Some are inspired by the salsas he grew up with and others are inspired by the different food that makes up the city that made him. 

“I was very influenced by the Santa Ana food scene, and it's not just tacos. There’s South American food, Asian food, and all of that is what is manifested in my menu. It's what I grew up with,” the chef said as he sipped on some café olla. “Most of the time I get inspired because I get bored of eating the same thing over and over. So I’m trying to create something new that nobody else is doing.”

Like his salsa de lechuga. The idea came to him after he sat down at a Peruvian restaurant to eat. Luis isn't trying to recreate something that has already been done. Instead he tries to give each salsa his own twist. 

Acapico Salsa's La Buena and Let Us salsas (by Janette Villafana)
Salsa de lechuga from Acapico Salsa (by Janette Villafana)

When asked to describe his "Let Us" salsa, he used one word: “freyish” (fresh).

And he isn't wrong, dip your tortilla chip into the salsa and the lettuce flavor is mild, garlicky and has a hint of lime. Like Luis himself would say, “you just need to try it.”

Other salsas include a creamy green salsa that is perfect as a dip or to top some crispy tacos dorados.

For those who seek more of a traditional chunky-salsa he has his La Buena or PaJarito: red salsas that include serranos, cherry tomatoes, guajillos and more.

He also serves up a mean plant-based queso crema salsa, a “coctel” salsa inspired by shrimp cocktails, and a spicy salsa macha.

Salsa by chef Luis Alberto

In total, he serves over 12 different salsas, and yes he’s always in the kitchen trying to concoct a new flavor. 

Whether he is selling his bottled salsas or table ones, Luis prides himself on always serving the best and freshest ingredients. Almost all of his salsas are five ingredients or less and yes you can pronounce everything on the label. 

“I go through extreme measures to make sure that we have the best ingredients. I wake up at two in the morning and go to El Centro in Downtown Los Angeles to get the best pick of tomato, onions, avocado, whatever I can’t get locally I go down there to get it,” he said. 

The chef is so intentional about providing the best he hand-picks his own produce from farms in Riverside, Ontario, and Chino. Similar to what he did when selling oranges only this time it’s for his own growing business. 

“I feel like I do a lot of things that most people are not willing to do, that's what really sets us apart,” he added.  “It’s just my personality, if I’m going to do something I’m going to do it 100 percent otherwise I don’t see a point in doing it.”

Luis and his team set up shop every weekend. He usually posts his schedule on Instagram. And even if he isn't working, the chef is always promoting his business. There's a bottle of salsa on his business cards and he carries some with him at all times, always ready to showcase them at any given moment.

“A lot of people think salsa is a side dish, never the star of any meal but we at Acapico make the salsa the main subject, so it has to be great and we can only hope that everyone enjoys them as much as we do.”

Follow Acapico Salsa on Instagram to find out which farmers' markets they're popping up at.

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