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Totopos with Salsa De Arbol and Cotija Cheese

Totopos with Salsa De Arbol

We should be sharing all sorts of resolution-y things with you this week: juice fasts and gluten-free bread. But this recipe is just too good to hold back any longer.

Hands down, the best thing about living in California is the Mexican food. Sure, there is Mexican food in New York. And in Texas. And you good people will argue there’s a great place in your city, too. But in California, it’s just different. I’ve lived in two places with exceptional Mexican food (San Diego and San Francisco) and spent a fair amount of time in another (Los Angeles). Each of these cities offers something unique but in sum, I believe they deliver what I proclaim to be the best Mexican food there is outside of Mexico.

What I love about Mexican food in California is how much the cuisine highlights fresh ingredients: avocado and citrus, white fish and shrimp, tomatoes and cilantro. Even at the standard taqueria, you’ll often find meats that are grilled and corn tortillas as opposed to flour. Not to mention, a dizzying array of aguas frescas. But, at the end of the day, no meal is complete without some chips.

In San Francisco, establishments are rated on their chips and salsa (we’re partial to Papalote’s) but one of our favorite restaurants, Nopalito, takes chips to another level. Doused in a thick sauce made of tomatoes, chiles and tomatillos, these chips are then topped with crumbled cotija cheese and a drizzle of lime juice.

At $8, they’re not your cheap (or complementary) bowl of chips. We recently unearthed a recipe for totopos con salsa de arbol and couldn’t wait to make it. At Nopalito, I eat my chips sans sour cream, but you could certainly serve them the way they do at the restaurant. What I love about this dish is that it could arguably be considered a meal: some chips are crunchier while others, softer and saucier, punctuated by milder-flavored crumbles of cheese.

If this isn’t a good way to kick off 2014, well, I don’t know what is.

Totopos with Salsa De Arbol
adapted from Nopalito via SF Gate

1 tablespoon of canola oil
10 to 15 chiles de arbol*
1 28 ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 de-husked tomatillos, rinsed and quartered
1 clove of garlic
3 tablespoons of white vinegar
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
3 to 4 cups of totopos or tortilla chips (choose the thickest chips you can find)
grated cotija cheese and lime wedges, for serving

*The more chiles you use, the spicier the sauce will be.

1. Add the canola oil to a 10-inch skillet and heat over medium-high. Remove the stems from the chiles, shake out the seeds, and add the chiles to the skillet. Let the chiles sizzle for about 10 seconds without moving them, then turn them and cook for another 20 seconds. Be careful to not blacken the chiles (they’ll taste bitter).
2. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices, toasted chiles, tomatillos, garlic, vinegar, olive oil and kosher salt to a blender and puree until the sauce is smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
3. Transfer the salsa from the blender to a clean skillet and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.
4. Prior to serving, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the chips on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven for about 5-8 minutes. Transfer the chips to a large mixing bowl. Add about a 1/4 cup of salsa de arbol and toss to coat the chips. Add more salsa, to taste. Sprinkle with cheese and serve with lime wedges.

Optional: At Nopalito, chips are served with a bit of thinned sour cream. The original recipe has you straining the sauce but we found this step to be unnecessary.

Store leftover salsa in the fridge.

Musical Pairings: Musical Pairings: The Casket Girls – True Love Kills The Fairy Tale + Totopos with Salsa de Arbol

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • Nicole Spiridakis

    Yes and YES. I miss it so much already. We especially love/d Green Chili Kitchen which technically I guess is ‘New Mexican’ food but it seemed pretty Mexican food-ish to me; plus, PIE. I also love Gracias Madre and surprisingly never miss the sour cream (and I love sour cream). This looks so good!

  • panoptic

    those are called chilaquiles, guys!

  • Yes! This is how I want to kick of 2014. I’m with you Kasey, we are so spoiled with great Mexican food here. One of my favorite things about California livin’.
    Happy New Year to you and your cute family!

  • Katie @ Moms Kitchen Handbook

    I go to Nopalito for the sole purpose of eating these chili-smothered chips. Now I can make them at home. Thanks Kasey.

  • Oh, fresh Mexican food is my favorite. I know a couple of really fantastic Mexican places in Oklahoma and Missouri, but I’d love to try your San Fran Mexican sometime. I’ve never had chips like these, but they look incredible! Happy New Year, Kasey.

  • Nicole

    Oh yum! I really wish this was my lunch. My hometown has pretty good Mexican, but you’re right, California Mexican food is something special!!

  • Uhhh this is pretty much one of the best ways to kick off 2014 ๐Ÿ˜‰ These chips remind me of chilequiles, one of my favorite Mexican breakfasts. Did you get a chance to try chilequiles while living in San Diego?

  • YES. California Mexican food is the best, hands down. We lived in NYC for about a year and a half, and basically had no decent Mexican food for that entire time. No fish tacos! Horror. We were so glad to come back and stuff our faces at our favorite taqueria. These chips sound delicious and easy and authentic–perfect.

  • Laura

    I keep telling my man that we need to prioritize a trip to California, and this is one of the reasons why. I’m not sure on how often I would cook at home if we had incredible access to really fresh, serious Mexican food. I’m not on a new year’s detox, you are my fave, and I’m making this really, really soon. Happy new year too! xo

  • I’m totally not doing any kind of resolution-y eating this January so this is totally perfect. We ate so much Mexican food in California and I really miss that over here. Can’t wait to recreate this asap!

  • I love all of those places! Esp. Green Chili Kitchen (their chicken posole is my faaaaavorite). Where are you living these days??

  • Hey there – yep, these are similar!

  • Erin, happy New Year to you! When does your book come out???

  • Ha. I discovered them only recently but can now vow to never go to Nopalito again and NOT order those chips. x

  • Yes you will! I believe 2014 is the year miss Kathryne takes a trip out here… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I wish it was mine! Planning to make another batch soon..the nice thing is the sauce makes plenty for several bowls ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy New Year!

  • Thanks, B. I did! Man, I miss San Diego Mexican food. Fish tacos are definitely not the same in SF…

  • For all the amazing cuisine NY has to offer…Mexican isn’t one of them. Fish tacos are probably my favorite kind of Mexican food and I find that they are really hard to find outside of California!

  • Can you pleaaaaase come visit me?! High five for the anti-detox 2014. No, YOU are my fave! x

  • I love how us food writers band together come January. Bring on the cupcakes! The stew! The focaccia! You’ll just have to come back soon! x

  • August! I’m so darned excited:)

  • Sarah B.

    Oh man. These look seriously incredible Kasey. I’m gonna get on making these happen in my kitchen as soon as I can. I think you and I share similar affinity for things, cali mexi food being one of them for sure :)) Happy new year to your amazingly adorable family babe! You guys are so beautiful, cheers! XOO

  • We eat Mexican food like it’s going out of style. Never had these though. Adding this to the to-make list stat! My resolution is to eat more waffles and biscuits. I think we’re on the same page.

  • Nicole Spiridakis

    We’re in Casablanca, Morocco (of all places) for the next 3 1/2 years … needless to say, there is NO decent Mexican food here (if at all?) so I will be making it myself whenever possible …

  • Kate Ramos

    You know I’m down for some solid Mexican food. We have none here in ND (except at my house!) Adding these to the rotation!

  • Sarah! Thank you! So nice to see you here. I know you know what I mean about California Mexican ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy New Year to you, beautiful!

  • I love those resolutions! Carb it up! Happy New Year. I hope you and babe and hubby are doing wonderfully. x

  • Hehehe. We could Mexican at home at ton, but of course it’s hard to get the exact flavors right. Guess you gotta live it up on visits to Cali… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Wait. WHAT? I thought you were still somewhere in Norcal! I must read up…It must be amazing!! I am jealous of all the delicious Moroccan food you’ll be having!

  • milk88

    porque no conoche la cocina desde Italia (perchรจ non conosci la cucina Italiana) because you don’t know the italian kictchen.. Fausto – (Roma-Italia) he he he…. ciao

  • You’re a lady after my heart with this recipe — I could eat totopos everyday!

  • <3

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