I find chain restaurants endlessly fascinating. Usually mediocre. Sometimes execrable. Rarely worth recommending. But endlessly fascinating. So I present the Chain Gang, a very special subdivision of Gut Check's blog-exclusive reviews.
La Salsa is the first Missouri outpost of a California-based chain with locations in ten states. It styles itself a "Fresh Mexican Grill" in much the same vein as Chipotle or Qdoba, though La Salsa's menu struck me as slightly broader. Besides the expected burritos, tacos, quesadillas and nachos -- and such questionable hybrids as the chipotle shrimp salad -- it offers enchiladas and taquitos.
Burritos are the lifeblood of these fast-casual Mexican joints. Though the menu features the overstuffed monsters familiar to Chipotle and Qdoba diners, I opted for a somewhat more restrained "Original Gourmet" burrito with carnitas, cheese, guacamole and salsa. Though the cheese was a bland Americanized blend of shredded cheddar and jack, the burrito as a whole was tasty --though very juicy with salsa.
On the other hand, an order of chicken enchiladas was a disaster. In addition to the cheddar-Jack cheese, they came with a thin layer of salsa that had the taste and texture of tomato paste. They did come with a yummy side of refried black beans, but -- as my fiancée likes to point out -- I'm the only person who gets excited about refried beans.
The "Carnitas Guadalajara" tacos feature decent, if not great, meat as well as that same damn cheese blend, grilled vegetables and a bizarre ancho chile sauce that tasted like a generic chipotle mayo.
This is exactly the sort of tweaking that causes purists to decry these sorts of chains. I'm not offended -- you shouldn't expect authentic at a place like this, no matter their claims. But since La Salsa features a large salsa "bar," with selections ranging from a scorching habanero to a watery avocado to a sweet, chunky mango, I wonder why they decided to throw the ancho chile sauce on the tacos in the first place.
Of course, if chains let well enough alone, they'd have no reason to exist.
La Salsa 12536 Olive Boulevard Creve Coeur 314-275-7257 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. $