Driver’s salsa named Best of 2021

Beatrice Driver mixes the ingredients that netted her $1,000 for the best salsa at the 2021 NatureSweet Tomatoes SalsaFest. - David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central

SAFFORD — When it comes to salsa, Beatrice Driver has the award-winning secret.

“Just fresh ingredients, and believe everyone that says it’s amazing salsa. They’ve been telling me for years to put it in (competition),” Driver said.

Driver won the $1,000 prize as the judge’s top pick at the 2021 NatureSweet Tomatoes SalsaFest Saturday.

Deanna Best was a three-time winner of the $500 People’s Choice award.

“I pour my heart and soul into my salsa,” Best said.

For the third SalsaFest in a row, Deanna Best’s D-Best Salsa was named the People’s Choice winner. – David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central

Rounding out the list of first-place finishers was La Paloma Restaurant taking the top prize for best overall salsa in the Taste of the Trail competition between the restaurants on the Salsa Trail.

La Paloma owner Nick Tellez said the difference-maker with his salsa is “a great prep cook. James Horner, he’s a retired DOC, he’s doing our prep these days and he did an awesome job.”

Salsa samplers had their choice of red or green, mild or spicy at the La Paloma booth during the local restaurant competition Friday. La Paloma was named Taste of the Trail Best Overall Salsa. – David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central

The rain stayed away for almost all of SalsaFest this year, giving Gila Valley residents a chance to celebrate.

“We had a really fun SalsaFest,” said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vance Bryce. “It was interesting to get cranking after being off for a year, but I feel like now that we’re here and we’re having SalsaFest we’re back in the groove. SalsaFest is back and fun and we’re having a good time.”

In addition to the salsa-making competitions, sponsored by the Safford Lions Club, SalsaFest included a number of old favorites, including vendors lining Safford’s Main Street, the 19 Double X Tattoo Classic Car Show and the Safford Lions Club Chihuahua Races, which was won by Cooper “Corndog” Aranda.

“I absolutely knew he was going win,” said owner Tabetha Aranda. “When (he) was 6 months old, he would run to us as fast as he could, at breakneck speed. And I was like, ‘Next Chihuahua Race, I’m entering him.’ And we’ve been training with him for eight months.”

The judges take their jobs very seriously, picking the best salsas at the 2021 NatureSweet Tomatoes SalsaFest. – David Bell Photo/Gila Valley Central

Sponsors included: NatureSweet Tomatoes, Kempton Chevrolet, CMI, Quality Inn and Suites Safford, Estrella Jalisco, Bud Light, The Pharm, Bayacan, Double R Communications, Eastern Arizona Courier, Safford Lions Club, Safford Downtown Association, Graham County Chamber of Commerce, City of Safford, Town of Thatcher, Town of Pima and Graham County.