Photos by Kateri Wozny

Salsa and chips are one of my favorite snacks, so when I was asked to judge this year’s Amateur Salsa Recipe Contest at the 26th annual Oxnard Salsa Festival, I jumped at the chance.

For two hours, 13 judges (one was Top Chef Junior contestant Carson Peterson of Ventura and Port Hueneme Chief of Police Andrew Salinas) and I were seated at tables swimming in 23 salsa entries, which were categorized as red, green, hot, medium, mild and specialty/fruit. We rated their flavor on a scale of 1 to 5.

My favorite red salsa was the first one I randomly tried that had a light tomato flavor with a bit of jalapeño pepper on the finish. It ended up being a tie for “Best Red.” After more tastings, we broke the tie and Michael Rodriguez of Oxnard took the honors with his roasted tomato salsa, which was also amazing. Rodriguez also won “Best Medium.”

Another of my favorites — and also a winner — was a “Best Specialty” mango salsa with peppers made by Karen Silvers of Chatsworth. The “Best Green” salsa was made by Sandra Haig of San Jacinto and she also won $100 for “Judges Choice.”

Next I hopped over to the Salsa Tasting Tent, where I swam in more salsa and hot sauces from 15 local restaurants and grocers. For $5, each person received a bag of chips and 10 tasting tickets. First up, I tried a green salsa from Vallarta Supermarkets (Oxnard), which had a tangy flavor to it, followed by a fresh pico de gallo. Next I filled a chip with a sweet and smoky barbecue salsa made by Chiliiman Salsa (Ventura), followed by a garlic salsa that had a six out of 10 on the heat scale (I survived). At the Sabor Pa’todo (Oxnard) table, I tried the hot and mild salsas, which had a lemon base mixed with the perfect blend of habanero, garlic, salt and tomato.

Remember HiHo Restaurant in Ventura? It closed in 2007, but the iconic original sauce sells on Amazon, filled with tomatoes, peppers with a sweet finish. Tacos Don Chente (Oxnard) had won “Best Specialty” and “Judges Choice” and I indulged in the Salsa de Aguacate and Salsa Quemada that was full of lemon and pepper.

At Montezuma’s table (Oxnard), the restaurant focused more on the flavor and, trust me, the spice snuck up on me after a full minute from tasting the “Best Hot” habanero salsa. My final destination was the Orozco’s de Ventura’s table, which had a Salsa de Molcajete Rostisada with roasted tomato filled with peppers and garlic, which also won “Best Medium.” It was my personal No. 1 pick.

I swam out of the salsa pool alive and believe me, it was worth every bite. Congratulations to all of the winners!

Salsa Recipe Contest/Professional Division

Best Mild: BG’s Café picante salsa

Best Medium: Orozco’s de Ventura

Best Hot: Montezuma Restaurant

Best Red: BG’s Café 

Best Green: BG’s Café

Best Specialty: Tacos Don Chente

Judges Choice: Tacos Don Chente

Salsa Recipe Contest/Amateur Division

Best Hot: Toni Becerra — Red Bluff, Calif.

Best Medium: Michael Rodriguez — Oxnard

Best Mild: Dos Margaritas — Houston

Best Red: Michael Rodriguez — Oxnard

Best Green: Sandra Haig — San Jacinto, Calif.

Best Specialty: Karen Silvers — Chatsworth, Calif.

Judges Choice: Sandra Haig — San Jacinto, Calif.