Salsa: Member Spotlight

In today’s culinary landscape, it’s not often you find an original anything, or the first of something. But sitting in the middle of SoBro—a stone’s throw away from the popular Cannery Ballroom—is Nashville’s first authentic Puerto Rican restaurant, Salsa.

Before you go making assumptions about the restaurant and its menu, let’s clear the air about one thing: Salsa does not serve salsa, so do not come to Salsa and ask for salsa. Instead, the small restaurant is named after the dance that is prevalent across Latin America.

Salsa – Nashville Originals-Sheridan-Delevante-8185What you will find is a modern dining space, bright colors, a sleek bar, upbeat Latin-inspired music and a big garage door that opens up to a fantastic patio overlooking the Music City skyline. The owners, Puerto Rican natives Juan Reyes and Marcos Cruz, took care to engrain their heritage into every inch of the restaurant because, as they say, Nashville needed some island influence.

“When my business partner (Marcos) visited Nashville, he came back with one complaint: there was no Puerto Rican food,” explains Reyes. “Now when you come here, you’re not in Nashville. You’re in a little slice of Puerto Rico.”

A former restaurateur in Puerto Rico, Juan jumped on board for the chance to open up a restaurant in Nashville, and after several more visits it didn’t take them long to find the perfect space in SoBro. By January 2013, Salsa was in full swing—no pun intended—serving authentic Latin-inspired cuisine.

The menu items are unfamiliar to most, consisting of traditional Puerto Rican dishes—recipes Juan learned from his mother and grandmother.

“There are still people who come and have no idea about Puerto Rican food,” he says. “Everyday, someone asks for chips and salsa, burritos and tacos. Luckily though, most people come wanting to try something new.”

Juan suggests the carne frita, pan-fried pork served with pork demi-glace onions. Also popular is the pastelon de amarillos, which is a sweet plantain and ground beef lasagna.

If you’re a first timer, try the Trip through Puerto Rico: three entrees and two sides that allow you to see what you like without being pinned to one menu item… and it’s great for sharing.

Salsa – Nashville Originals-Sheridan-Delevante-8235 (1)And let’s not forget about the bar menu, as Puerto Rico is the rum capital of the world. As you’d expect, most cocktails are rum-based and mixed with fruity juices. There’s also a generous happy hour every Wednesday from 6:30 till 7:30 at night where, in addition to discounted appetizers and Caribbean drinks, you can enjoy live music from Marcela Pinilla, whose sound is described as bringing Latin rhythms to life with the influence of jazz and traditional Spanish guitar.

Despite our seeming naivete, Juan credits Nashvillians and their growing cultural interests to the success of Salsa.

“One of the reasons we thought this was a good idea was because the vibe and energy of Nashville is growing, and as it grows people are being exposed to new things,” he says.

“That’s why we have live music—to keep the vibe alive.”

And entertainment they do have. Every Tuesday night from 8-9 (though usually lasting much longer than an hour), the restaurants hosts free Salsa dancing lessons. And then there are the first Saturdays of every month, where the more experienced Salsa dancers (and brave beginners) can come for a Salsa dancing party, live DJ and all.

“We move all the tables and chairs to the side, dim down the lights and turn up the music!” says Juan, who is continually surprised by the huge turnout every Saturday.

Founded out of the need for authentic Puerto Rican and Latin-inspired food in Music City, Salsa still stands as one of the only restaurants serving the unique fare, along with other cultural surprises.

Lucky for us, Juan has found a home in Nashville, and plans to stay for a while.

“People in Nashville are so nice—it’s a lot like the island in that way,” he says. “I’ve always felt at home here, and not like a tourist.”

And we’d like to thank Juan for introducing us to his heritage—even if some of us are still catching on.

Located at 818 Palmer Place (with free parking!), Salsa is open Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. till 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. till 11 p.m. Learn more on the website at www.salsarestaurantnashville.com or on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/salsanashville.