Bettendorf Magazine: A salsa tour of Bettendorf | Exclusive
Much of the communion around a shared meal is a matter of ritual. Your family can drink a specific drink at each party. No baseball game is complete without a juicy hot dog or popcorn. And, of course, a meal at a Mexican restaurant almost always starts with fries and salsa.
Bettendorf is home to several Mexican restaurants whose owners ensure that their customers can experience the joy of sharing a meal with someone dear to them. We visited five to taste their salsa. Whether spicy or mild, thick or sweet, these salsas from Bettendorf have the ability to unite us around one thing we can all enjoy: flavor.
And boy, is there a lot of flavor.
Baja Tacos and Shots, 2526 Middle Rd.
When you walk into Baja Tacos and Shots, which opened on Middle Road in January 2022, you are immediately greeted with a view of the open kitchen where the chefs are diligently working to prepare your meal. You’ll appreciate that hard work when their authentic Mexican cuisine hits your taste buds.
People also read…
“We make it fresh every day,” said co-owner Ramses Moreno. “Nothing is ever frozen overnight like other restaurants.”
Mexican music plays throughout the restaurant, a rhythmic tempo with trumpets and saxophones, almost insular. The sound moves with the wind through the palm trees, the perfect accompaniment to Baja’s assortment of tacos and a cold margarita.
Baja salsa, which comes in a small white bowl served on a silver platter, has a smooth texture. It’s a very mild salsa, perfect even for someone like me who can’t take a lot of heat. But for those who love spice, be sure to ask for the special hot salsa they keep in the back.
The salsa doesn’t have as much cilantro as many Mexican restaurants. Instead, an onion flavor dominates the palate. It’s almost a little sweet, not intimidating but delicious all the same. The accompanying tortilla chips are not very salty, perfect to eat as much as possible.
But be sure to save room for dinner, because you don’t want to miss the tacos. Tender chicken and bursting with flavor pico de gallo were wrapped in some of the best corn tortillas I have ever had.
D’Lua Fusion Kitchen & Bar, 5185 18th St.
D’Lua Fusion Cuisine & Bar in Bettendorf isn’t the first location for the restaurant, which opened in Mexico City in 2010. They also have D’Lua Pancake & Burrito House in Moline. The restaurant offers both breakfast and Mexican dishes.
And every meal starts with a salsa that will linger with you.
With its high ceilings and sky blue walls, stepping into D’Lua as up-tempo Mexican music wafts through the air transports you to the tropical vacation you’ve been wishing for.
“It feels like we’re not in Bettendorf, but we’re somewhere down south,” my friend Kasey said as we all took off our winter coats and stocking caps. I invited my boyfriend, Matt, Kasey and her fiancé, and another couple to have dinner with me tonight. The bright and vibrant atmosphere was the perfect setting to catch up and appreciate the gift of good friendship.
The meal started with a small wicker basket of tortilla chips and a glass of salsa to pour into small personal salsa bowls. I first noticed the texture when pouring my own bowl: smooth and runny, with no big chunks of tomatoes and onions. I had to do a quick run from the bowl of salsa to my mouth to make sure none was dripping from the chip and onto my lap.
This salsa was heavier on the cilantro, with a few extra spices to give it a kick. It wasn’t just hot for the sake of being hot. The spice had a purpose; an explosion of flavors with every bite.
It was a slow burn that stayed with you. I sipped a margarita from a deceptively large glass, not too strong and not too sweet, and imagined myself traveling down south, escaping the cold Midwest.
Los Amigos, 2322 Spruce Hills Dr.
I love going out to eat alone.
Most people think it’s weird, but I relish the quiet time to enjoy my own company. When I sat alone in Los Amigos and took a bite of their salsa, I knew I had made the right decision. I wanted all that salsa for myself.
I arrived around 11:15 am to a much busier lunch crowd than I expected for a Tuesday. The interior of the restaurant was different shades of brown with artwork from the southwestern United States and Mexico. It had the distinct vibe of a great lunch spot.
The salsa seemed watery at first glance, but when I dipped my tortilla into the small bowl, I found lots of chunks of tomato, onion, and cilantro. I learned that salsa is really made with the most important recipe, the love of the terroir.
“My brother has been running the kitchen since we started here. It always follows our mother’s recipe for everything, especially salsa,” said co-owner Carlos Cardenas.
None of these ingredients overpowered the others, resulting in a balanced, full flavor in every bite. I couldn’t pick one flavor above the others because they were all too busy working together to create a taste bursting with deliciousness. A little spiciness from the tomatoes, a little garlic mixed in. This salsa recipe hits the perfect combination of ingredients. Overall it was a bit saltier than many salsas, but it wasn’t overwhelming.
The bursts of flavor were more important than the spices in the Los Amigos salsa. A little heat lingered after each bite, but just enough to let you know the people behind the scenes wanted the peppers and chilies involved.
For my meal, I ordered shrimp enchiladas with the most tender and perfectly cooked peppers and onions. Every bite of this meal oozed flavor, and I left my lonely meal a happy writer.
Azteca 3, 2400 Spruce Hills Dr.
Azteca 3 has signs inside and out that advertise themselves as an authentic Mexican restaurant, and you should take those signs seriously. Especially when it comes to their salsa.
“I love that our salsa is made in-house literally every morning. It’s a mild table salsa. I especially love our chef’s spice blend,” said my waitress, Gabriella. Gabriella had a brilliant energy about her and made my meal even more enjoyable.
This salsa has been blended to a perfect, smooth consistency. Although I can usually identify the tomatoes in most salsas, that was not the case here. The onion, particularly the green onion, seemed to overpower the flavor here. I could tell it tasted crisp and fresh, and I believed it when Gabriella said it was made that morning.
Gabriella mentioned before I took a bite that their salsa was spicy for some, so I knew I would probably feel a little hot. The spice took a while to seep in and once it did it lingered for a little while but never overstayed its welcome. Ask for their other salsas on the menu if you want a little spice.
As I chomped on some tortilla chips, I noticed the beautiful painting of tulips hanging above my booth. The creation was painted in the style of contemporary Mexican artists and featured a variety of rich colors, signed on the bottom as being painted in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Many paintings made in this style hung around the restaurant. I took in the decor as a Spanish version of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” blared through the speakers. The crab enchiladas I ordered were smothered in a rich cheese sauce with tender, flavorful meat. The ambiance came together to really create an authentic lunch experience.
Until I come back to the cold Iowa rain.
Rudy’s Tacos Bettendorf – 3111 Devils Glen Rd.
Rudy’s Tacos was first established in the Quad-Cities in 1973 and has expanded throughout the region. A tradition of good Mexican food finally landed a location in Bettendorf which has since offered us excellent salsa.
Your eyes are greeted by pure colors as you enter Rudy’s Tacos on Devils Glen Road. Bright green, yellow and blue cover the walls and cabins. There’s no artwork on the walls, but cacti and other southern-looking houseplants decorate the dining area.
The waiter brings two bottles of salsa to your table when you sit down, but you have to order fries and a bowl of salsa off the menu. It’s all worth it when you take that crunchy first bite of a tortilla chip covered in tomato goodness.
This presentation of this salsa was very pretty, with a nice sized square white bowl and the chunks of vegetables swimming perfectly on top. It wasn’t as blended as some of the others which meant the tomato flavor overpowered the palate. A tangy cilantro flavor and, surprisingly, a strong garlic flavor followed closely.
“We use very fresh coriander and have recently experimented with different garlics. Freshness is key,” manager Joshua McGowan said.
I chose a traditional chicken and rice for my lunch. The shredded chicken was covered in a creamy cottage cheese sauce – one of my favorite ingredients when it comes to Mexican cooking. He was sitting on a bed of traditional Mexican rice filled with spices and flavors.
I rolled it tight in flour tortillas and added a little salsa from the bottles the waiter gave me at the start of the meal. These salsas weren’t as flavorful as the menu salsa, but they were still fresh and delicious. It’s no surprise that this channel has thrived for as long as it has.