Taco ‘bout a salsa party.
Salsa taste test
Credit: Antara Sinha

We like to think of salsa as a pantry (and party) staple. It’s delicious spooned over tacos, burgers, chicken, and seafood or served in a large bowl surrounded by crunchy tortilla chips for an easy, last-minute snack. But for something so essential, have you ever paused to consider whether or not you’ve got the best one on hand?

That’s what we’re here for. We went classic and grabbed seven popular store-bought tomato salsas (of the chunky and mild variety) to determine the ultimate jarred go-to. Next time you’re pouring out chips for a party and don’t have the time or ingredients to make your own, rest assured that you’ll have the best prepared salsa on deck to wow your guests. Or really, just a jar that makes sure they’ll be fed and happy. Whatever works.

Salsas to Skip

Trader Joe’s Homestyle Salsa Especial, ($2.99, 12 oz.)

You would think a brand couldn’t really mess up a basic tomato salsa… but you would be wrong. Tasters agreed this was closer to an Italian pasta sauce than a Mexican salsa. The ingredients included (what had to be a lot of) dried oregano, which was far too bitterly intense for our liking. One staffer said, “It looks promising, like a restaurant salsa, but it’s so off flavor-wise. Did someone accidently knock a barrel of oregano into it?” Trader Joe’s, we love you. But we’ll skip your salsa.

Newman’s Own, ($2.89, 16 oz.)

We couldn’t quite put our finger on what was wrong with this jar, but there was definitely something off. The flavor was a overly-sweet, and somehow managed to also taste super bland. Some staffers described the jarred tomatoes as almost bitter and just plain weird. It’s a brand we’ll pass on in the store.

Fine, Not Great

Whole Foods 365 Salsa, ($2.69, 16 oz.)

If you’re more into liquidy salsa than chunky, this one’s definitely you’re salsa soulmate. Taste-wise, we were big fans of the classic salsa flavor, but in terms of texture it wasn’t the most appealing for our panel. One taster said, “It’s basic, all-purpose salsa. It’s not super vibrant or flavorful, but I’d keep this in the pantry.”

Chi-Chi’s, ($2.49, 16 oz.)

When we think “salsa” we don’t typically think “sugary,” but Chi-Chi’s definitely had us second guessing ourselves. Tasters unanimously agreed this was the sweetest of the options, and when it comes to salsa we’re looking for a more spicy, salty, and acidic punch. Other staffers commented that the large chunks of onion were unappetizing, but overall the flavor was not offensive. In other words, we’re not gonna turn our noses up at it, but we’re also probably not about to seek it out.

Our Winners

Tostitos, ($3.55, 15.5 oz.)

Tasters liked the bright flavor and chunky texture this variety brought to the table. The salsa itself was fairly mild, but definitely not unsatisfying. All around, we found this jar was almost identical to the jar of Pace, with perhaps a slightly milder heat.

Pace, ($2.50, 24 oz.)

We were surprised at how similar this tasted to the Tostitos brand, but after some intense deliberation tasters settled on this as the favorite jarred salsa. Staffers agreed the flavor was subtly sweet with a pleasant kick at the end. Though it was essentially an extremely standard jarred salsa, we kept turning back to this jar for one last bite.

Whole Foods Pico De Gallo, ($7.99 per pound)

It’s not totally fair to compare a container of vibrant, fresh salsa to jars of shelf-stable crushed tomatoes. Tasters unanimously agreed the dip could use a little more salt and acid, but it was overall the most delicious option. Staffers also pointed out pico de gallo (or salsa fresca) isn’t always their number one choice for dipping chips poolside given its aptitude for falling off of the chip. We’d much prefer to spoon this fresh blend over tacos or mix it into a queso or guacamole.

So, the bottom line is: If you’re simply looking to pour salsa from a jar and start scooping, Pace or Tostitos are both pretty classically delicious choices. Pace might be a better fit if you’re looking for a little more bang for your buck and a slight kick. If salsa that’s super fresh and chunky is more your thing, and you don’t mind forking over a little extra cash, then Whole Foods’ pico de gallo will for sure be a new favorite.