Until this week, the Yelp reviews for the Su Casa Mexican restaurant in South Haven, Michigan were mostly positive, with a handful of complaints about slow service, bland tacos, or being charged $4 for a second basket of chips and salsa. But even the customers who left one sad-looking star didn't know that those tortilla chips might've been what a euphemistic eBay seller would describe as "gently used."
A former employee has accused Su Casa of re-serving food, instructing servers to move salsa and chips that seemed to be unchewed from one customer's plate onto another's. Owner Edgar Suarez admitted that his restaurant was guilty of the worst possible kind of re-gifting, but he claims that he had no idea it was unsanitary or, you know, just a bad idea.
"I thought it was OK and the Health Department said it's not possible, you cannot do that," Suarez told WWMT. "I didn't realise that even if people did not touch [the chips] or they were still in the tray, I thought everything was good."
Everything was not good, and the Van Buren County Health Department has launched an investigation of Su Casa and has cited it for re-serving the food. The restaurant—which should consider "Mis Nachos Son Sus Nachos" as its new slogan—was allowed to remain open.
Suarez has owned Su Casa for six years, but it took until this week for his unsanitary chip-and-salsa recycling to be revealed, thanks to—what else?—an angry Facebook post from a former employee's mu
Kristie Bowie's 16-year-old daughter worked for a week at Su Casa and, during her short stint there, basically became the Erin Brockovich of table bussers. "She was told not to throw away the salsa, chips, etc. that come back that 'looked' like they haven't been touched," Bowie wrote in a Facebook post that has since been shared almost 3,000 times. "She did not feel comfortable with this so [she] asked the owner if it was true. He said it was true so she put her notice in and worked her shift."
Other former Su Casa employees shared similar stories, while more said that re-serving chips was pretty much the norm at many Mexican restaurants. But IS that a standard practice? It seems like it depends on who you ask—and where you eat. You can find TripAdvisor reviews from diners who say they saw servers recycling chips at Mexican joints in Georgia, New Jersey, and Texas.
I posed this very question on the Ask Your Server subreddit, and the comments emphatically said that it was not common. "If you do find [it] anywhere, please note that it is an exception and how hard you looked to find it," a Redditor named TechieBabe wrote.
In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain said that it was "an industry-wide practice," for restaurants to reuse the bread from those complimentary baskets. "This is a fact of life," he wrote. "This doesn't bother me and it shouldn't surprise you."
Bourdain's carb-based observations aside, it seems like Su Casa and a handful of dodgy restaurants like it really are the outliers. Besides, you're probably at a bigger risk of catching something communicable from your dining companion who's double-dipping in the salsa.