Take the Milwaukee Challenge: El Rey vs. Manny's chips and salsa
The two Milwaukee chips and salsa heavyweights -- El Rey and Manny's -- are zesty cornerstones of the local Mexican snack scene. But which company makes the tastier appetizer? That was the tough question we sought to tackle in this latest Milwaukee Challenge. Overall, our group picked El Rey as Milwaukee's best chips (3-2) and best salsa (4-1, with a tie). Here's why:
Pick: El Rey
It should probably be noted that chips and salsa is my favorite food combination. Ever. But whereas most people tend to be quite picky about name brands, ingredients and the preparation of their favorite foods, I find myself on the far opposite end of the spectrum. In other words, unless it's fat-free or unsalted, you'd be hard pressed to find a tortilla chip I would not dip into a bowl of salsa, so it came as something of a surprise -- when I was forced to pit two brands against each other -- how severely different they were, and most importantly, how drastically I preferred El Rey's products to Manny's.
Let's start with the salsa. Appearance wise, El Rey had more of a dark, muddy color, as opposed to Manny's bright red, but it was everything that made it dark -- the whole jalapenos, the abundance of cilantro and other spices -- that rendered it perfectly spicy, salty and savory. In comparison, Manny's salsa tasted quite sweet -- and we looked at the label, there's sugar in it where El Rey does not -- reminding me of a spicy pasta sauce.
On to the almighty tortilla chip. Don't get me wrong, I would happily scarf down more than my share of Manny's chips any day, but when competing against El Rey's thinner, crunchier chip, I preferred the quirky curl (which make great salsa pockets) of El Rey to the softer, puffy Manny triangles. Oddly enough, El Rey had the higher fat and sodium count but seemed significantly less oily than Manny's.
Pick: Manny's (chips), tie (salsa)
Disclaimer -- I regularly purchase products from both Manny's and El Rey and find them to be outstanding.
Chips -- Both were consistent in size, shape, color and texture. Neither was overly salty. When tested "naked" or sans salsa, El Rey's chip had a noticeable "snap" to it, but flattened out after the initial bite and did not have a great deal of flavor. Manny's chip seemed a bit thinner, but had more crunch after the initial bite and gave a more pleasant "naked" experience. Both held up to salsa well, though El Rey seemed like the sturdier dipping chip. Manny's just had a better crunch and flavor throughout.
Salsa -- This was, pardon the pun, a dead heat. Though neither salsa approached the afterburn of my favorite Mexican restaurant, Los Dos Molinos in Phoenix, I found both to be flavorful and delicious. Give me an ice cold Tecate and I could see myself consuming mass quantities of both. Since I found both to be delicious, I think the major difference was texture. Manny's was thicker and more tomatoey (if that's a word), and was as thick as some spaghetti sauces. El Rey was just a bit runnier and had more visible ingredients. If you're sitting at a table surrounded by friends and margaritas, that's not a problem. If you are standing at a cocktail party or you have to cover a lot of real estate in order to get the chip from dip receptacle to your mouth, I think Manny's would be a "cleaner" experience because it's thicker and clings to the chip a bit more. In terms of flavor, both are excellent. You can taste hits of cilantro and pepper and other ingredients long after you've swallowed the bite.
In summary, I'd say that Milwaukee is well-served in the chips and salsa department and that either of these contestants will please guests at your next party.
Molly Snyder Edler
Pick: El Rey
In the past, I grabbed Manny's or El Rey products interchangeably. In my mind they were, more or less, the same thing: delicious, authentic Mexican products made in the Milwaukee area. However, after this taste test, I'm sold on El Rey's chips and salsa. At first, I was slightly turned off by the dark red color of the El Rey salsa compared to the more familiar, tomato-sauce hue of the Manny's. But after taking a closer look, I actually found the El Rey to be more aesthetically pleasing, with visible, delicate pieces of onion and peppers. Also, the El Rey salsa is zippier and tangier -- perhaps because it doesn't have sugar listed in the ingredients like the Manny's. El Rey's chips are crunchier, more flavorful, and just convex enough for maximum salsa scoop-ability. They do, however, contain more fat, calories and salt than the Manny's chips, but since counting calories and scarfing Mexican food never happens at the same time for me, I'd splurge on El Rey's supreme chips-and-salsa duo every time. Ole.
Pick: El Rey (salsa), Manny's (chips)
I'm one of the few fence straddlers in this challenge, in that while I preferred El Rey's salsa, I liked Manny's chips better.
While the El Rey chips have a nice bend to them – perfect for scooping up salsa – the Manny's chips carry a bit more of a salty zing and are definitely more corn-forward (to borrow and paraphrase a wine term). The El Rey chips are more brittle and a little darker, as if they were cooked a bit longer. Despite the saltier taste of Manny's chips (which dished up 2 more ounces than El Rey for the same price), the El Rey examples are higher in calories and fat and salt.
Both salsas have roughly the same consistency, but the similarities end there. El Rey's salsa has a deep, claret color and is dotted with pepper seeds and spices. The Manny's salsa is a brilliant red color, which is pleasing, but drops the ball on flavor. It is by no means a bad salsa, but it is a comparatively bland one compared to the more picante El Rey.
So, I'm dipping Manny's chips into El Rey's salsa and celebrating diversity!
Pick: El Rey
I found both brands of chips and salsa to be great -- easily a cut above the Tostitos of the world. But when pitting them head to head, El Rey came out on top. The El Rey salsa was not as sweet as the Manny's, with a more sublime flavor to it. It wasn't especially spicy, but the cilantro taste came through nicely at the end. El Rey had a darker, duller and more natural flavor, while the Manny's looked a brighter shade of red, and subsequently seemed tangier and even a little cheap-tasting. Though you couldn't force feed me an uncooked tomato, El Rey had a more stewed tomatoey taste (which is a good thing). As for the chips, I appreciate the fresh, crunchy and toasty texture of the El Rey. They were also more consistently curly, which made for perfect salsa scoop-ability. Manny's chips were cornier and less salty -- which might seem like an advantage. But next to each other, El Rey held a slight edge.
El Rey XXX Hot Salsa. Not for light-weights. El Rey Chips blow Manny's out of the water if fresh.
Both my wife and I agree that El Rey is the way to go. Well really my wife loves El Ranchero chips the best, but I find they are only really good for heavy dips because they are so thick. In other words, they rip your mouth apart but again are great for heavy dips. Just so you know, Manny's is still locally produced but no longer locally owned. They were bought by the Hormel corporation, so expect a Spam infused flavored chip soon.
Drew is correct. Manny's chips, tie with salsa. Manny's chips are the best commercial tortilla chips that I know of. We need a debate on the best local Mexican restaurant. I'm sure Drew could be of help there too.
Show me the other 4 Talkbacks
9 comments about this article.
Post a comment / write a review.
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.