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Jun 11, 2009 05:15 PM


It's an unsettling trend.

Competition is cut-throat and restaurants are fighting to survive.The fallout is that we're starting to see,with regularity, new[and a few old] Mexican restaurants charging for the birthright:Chips and salsa.Let's drag them from their cushy lair kicking and hollering.They need to be compelled to explain themselves to the Austin eaters.

An acceptable alternative:Make the totopos from scratch along with at least one delicious salsa.Fry the chips per order and charge a nominal fee.A dollar ought about do it.People will flock to you.In New Orleans The Alibi does just that plus they'll have a guy on a bicycle bring a big hot-fresh-out-of-the-fryer bag to your house or inn.

What places are charging for chips and salsa?

How is the quality?

Is the money well spent or should you perhaps have went to the 95% of taquerias that don't follow this unsavory practice?

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  1. I haven't come across any restaurants charging for the basic chips and salsa. However it needs to be pointed out that no restaurant provides them for free. It's part of their cost of sales just like any other consumable and they must charge for it. The restaurants that 'don't charge' merely cover the cost of chips and salsa in their entrees.

    1. I second TaseT on this topic. You pay for chips through your entrees or upfront. Nothing is free in this world.

      3 Replies
      1. re: auspr

        TaseT and auspr, I could agree with that in theory, but my tab is higher at Polvo's than for a comparable meal at places that don't charge for chips. The numbers don't lie.

        1. re: GermanBrat

          Regardless, the good thing about Polvo's is that their chips really suck. Therefore, I refuse the chips when they bring them. You still have to watch the bill to make sure that they don't charge you. They do offer the salsa bar, and the eschabeche.

          1. re: GermanBrat

            GermanBrat, You may very well be paying different prices because they are 2 different establishments. I'd venture to say that no 2 similar dishes are priced the same from restaurant to restaurant. This is a matter of simple economics. No 2 restaurants have the exact same overhead. They can charge what they feel is appropriate for their profit margin. There are no set prices out there for restaurants.

          1. re: LakeLBJ

            Some of my favorite hounds have done a good job elucidating on the poor nature of Polvo's version of Mexican food.

            I haven't eaten there in a coon's age but I do remember them charging for chips and salsa. The chips were the standard industrial totopos served by c grade joints all over town.

            The salsa bar inside the restaurant is a good gimmick with at least 3 different salsas as well an escabeche.Unfortunately the salsas had little flavor,looked good and had to be fresh due to the volume of business,just lacked the punch and clarity of places like Mi Casita or Asadero Nuevo Leon.

            I read a review for el sol y la luna that mentioned they charge as well. I have to wonder how long their tenancy will remain viable in the doomed Emo's Lounge building?

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              Actually the chips are worse than C-grade. They are probably the worst chips that I've ever had in a restaurant. And they are consistently not good.

              It does seem like it is popular to dislike Polvo's, almost a fad. If some of their dishes weren't so freaking good, I'd never go back. My tastebuds work pretty well, too.

              1. re: rudeboy

                taset and auspr,

                Sometimes I just want a taco,an order of chips and salsa and a big glass of water on a 100+ degree day. Walking into Los Altos today I'm puzzling over how they've built the cost of chips and salsa into my pending $1.72 tab.

                They haven't.

                The restaurants that charge for chips and salsa get you going and coming.La Condesa,Maria Maria,Garridos,El Sol Y La Luna etc. DO build the cost of chips and salsa into their entree's.


                I've got a buddy who's as Mexican as it gets.Big 300+pound Hoss Cat straight out of the bad end of El Paso.This man makes some mean Mexican food,has a black widow hair net that he wears in the kitchen and has been known to get sideways on the cerveza from time to time.

                I ask him what he thinks about this phenomenon using Maria Maria as an example."Carlos Santana is letting la Raza down brah" he emotes with a sad wave of his giant,shaggy head.

                La Playa,Taqueria Arandas,La Tapatia,El Zunzal,Los I could sit here for an hour typing in places that will sell you a taco or a tostada,get you out of there for under 2 or 3 bucks and feed you some of the best chips and salsa you ever

                You could order something expensive and easily blow 6 or 7 dollars.Maybe that's where they're "building in the expense"; on the high dollar end of the menu.

                Or maybe they're just carrying on the tradition of feeding working class people a cheap delicious meal,treating them good and hoping they'll come back the next time they've got a few dollars in their pocket and are hungry.

                1. re: scrumptiouschef

                  And the ones you praise lost money on your business, and it will attract others looking for something for nothing. I don't like to over-complicate things, but what would you think of menu language " chips and salsa $3, complimentary for table checks above $20". Home made salsa and chips are work and expense, and for customers to scarf them down with a happy hour draft beer and split is not right.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    I doubt the restaurants I named as having good,free chips and salsa are "losing money on your business".

                    Having said that I suppose they could be non-profits,merely existing to serve the public weal,but I doubt it.

                    More likely they run a tight margin on their operation and are merely doing what tradition in Austin has always dictated:free chips and salsa brought to table by a smiling Mexican girl.

                    I'm sure one day it'll go away just like the bread baskets at American cafe's.By then you'll be able to buy a beltbuckle at the fleamarket out on 290:"they'll take my chips and salsa away from me when they pry them from my cold,dead fingers"

                  2. re: scrumptiouschef

                    scrumptiouschef, You are correct, when you go into a restaurant and only spend 1.72 they're not making any money off of you. However you are not the norm. Most people will be spending 4 to 10 times that amount. You're also correct that they recoup their costs on the bigger ticket items. However, one of the most profitable areas for a restaurant are beverages. Especially iced tea. It may cost .03 to make, yet they charge 1.25 to 2.00 per glass. That's some good profit and they've just covered their chip charge!

                    1. re: TaseT

                      I've been in a number of places where the first bowl of salsa and chips are complimentary, then a nominal charge for refills.

                      1. re: markabauman

                        Chapala gives the first basket free and then charges for refills. I can't stand that! Aranda's is very similar in cuisine, but doesn't charge extra (at least last time I went) AND they are generally cheaper on the same menu items. I choose Arandas!

                2. re: scrumptiouschef

                  I've got to say that Polvo's fell from my graces about 2 years ago. The food went down a bunch in quality, the prices went up, and the waits became tremendous.

                  For the first time in probably a year, my wife and I went to Polvo's 2 weeks ago (and we've been back twice since then). We've ordered the pastor fajitas, the guajillo beef, and chicken fajitas . Each dish has been really tasty. When we go, we each get a dish priced around $11 or $12 and every time we go home with enough food for at least one lunch in the doggy bag.

                  Granted, the frozen margaritas don't seem to have any booze in them and the place is teeming with hipsters, but, nonetheless, Polvo's is now back in my good graces and is once again our "go to" spot for Mexican.

                  1. re: uarent

                    Thread drift warning..... Love the Polvo cerveza beef fajitas. Best ever.

                    1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                      OK - let's reel it back in did uarent get the chips? Did Polvo's charge for them.

                      Try the regular chile relleno with chicken and cheese (or beef and cheese) and the fish a la plancha.

              2. Or Italian places that charge for bread. Reales gets on my nerves solely for this reason.

                3 Replies
                1. re: conquer

                  I eat at Reale's regularly and have _never_ been charged for bread.

                  1. re: TheBadWolf

                    So do I. They have _never_ just brought it out for us. We asked once (because we saw nearby tables had them), and it turned out to be a little surprise on our bill.

                    1. re: TheBadWolf

                      Same with me... it's been a couple of months since I've been, though.