Join intern Virginia on her journey to discover how different regions of the US use local cheeses to improve local cuisine. From Vermont cheddar to Wisconsin colby and on to California Monterey jack, she’ll hit the iconic cheese destinations of America and introduce you to regional delicacies and recipes along the way. If you missed it, don’t forget to read last week’s post on St. Louis Toasted Ravioli.
Nachos are one of the most ubiquitous cheesy treats out there. It’s an easy appetizer or meal that can be jazzed up to anyone’s liking. Traditionally nachos use Mexican-inspired ingredients, but you can easily add a wide array of toppings to personalize them however you like. This cheesy classic hails from Texas and – like everything else – the nachos are bigger in Texas (and quite possibly better, too!).
Despite what you might think, the nacho hasn’t been around for very long. One version of the nacho birth tale starts just south of Eagle Pass, Texas. Supposedly, in 1943 several ladies on a shopping trip wandered into the Victory Club restaurant after it had closed. Not wanting to turn paying customers away, Ignacio Anaya, the chef, made the simple dish and called it Nachos Especiales. The recipe shows up in 1954 and 1956 in local church cookbooks. St. Anne’s Cookbook in 1954 proved the existence of Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Anaya by sharing his recipe from the Victory Club. Later in 1956, the Church of the Redeemer in Eagle Pass, Texas, published a local cookbook with a recipe for the cheesy chip dish that had become quite popular.
The original recipe is extremely simple:
“Cut a stack of corn tortillas into 4 wedges. Fry them in about an inch of vegetable oil till crisp. Place on a baking sheet and top liberally with longhorn cheddar cheese and jalapeño pepper slices. Bake at 400 degrees till melted and bubbling. Serve with salsa and sour cream if desired.”
Though many sources agree that Anaya was the first to come up with the nacho, his role in each story is slightly different. Some claim that Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Anaya was the maître d’ who greeted the shopping women. Unfortunately, he could not find the chef and came up with the nacho dish with what he could find to appease the ladies.
The nacho did not become widely popular until the early 1950s. El Cholo Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles is credited with the popularization of the tasty treat thanks to a friendly waitress, Carmen Rocha. Rocha would whip up the dish that was not on the menu only for special guests, including Jack Nicholson who liked to share his favorite snack with his high-profile friends.
Frank Liberto also helped make the nacho a success by selling them at Arlington Stadium (home of baseball’s Texas Rangers at the time). Liberto had one small problem with nachos: the cheese needed to be melted.
“[B]ecause real cheese didn’t have a great shelf life (and melting it would require an oven or broiler), Liberto devised a fast food form of Anaya’s masterpiece that was part cheese and part secret ingredients. The new sauce didn’t need to be heated and, when it came to shelf life, it could likely survive a nuclear blast.”
As the nacho spread, ingredients were personalized and the cheesy treat spread all over the United States.
Top 6 Places to get Nachos in Texas
Cora’s 471 Grill in Castroville makes the bold claim that they have “the best damn nachos in Texas.” Their nachos come in four sizes ranging from small to extra large, which comes on a cafeteria tray. This crunchy snack can be loaded with either cheese, beans, or “super” for sharing or hoarding.
Rosa’s Cafe & Tortilla Factory is a chain that can be found all over Texas and some parts of California. Rosa’s is one of the classic order-by-number Mexican restaurants that prides itself on quality food above all else. The #40 combination nachos or the #51 fajita nachos are the way to go – a true Tex-Mex staple.
Tap Bar & Restaurant in El Paso presents the best kind of delicious bar nachos. Everything is made in-house and the puffy chips, white queso, and spicy house-salsa pair perfectly with their large list of $2 drafts.
El Bracero in Amarillo has mastered the topping-to-chip ratio. Instead of piling delicious toppings on top of a mound of chips, they artfully dorm each chip with all the ingredients to make each bite cheesy perfection. They have a few unique nacho flavors like seafood, but the simple nachos con carne are the best way to go
Chacho’s in San Antonio and Houston is like the Subway of nachos – you are welcome to build whatever nacho appeals to you most. Choices include refried beans, shredded cheese, homemade spicy queso sauce, shredded chicken, and picadillo beef. If you are up to it, try the Monster Kong Nachos: a “huge variety of nachos on one platter – bean & cheese, picadillo beef, shredded chicken, chicken & carbon (mesquite) beef fajitas nachos, served w/queso, guacamole & sour cream.” Did I mention they are open 24 hours a day? You never know when a late night nacho snack needs to happen.
Yucatan Taco Stand in Fort Worth and The Woodlands has upped the nacho game with gourmet ingredients. Try their chip tower with chihuahua and queso fresco cheeses and chile con queso. Alongside the delicious cheesy toppings try their roasted garlic aioli, classic veggies, tequila-lime chicken, or garlic shredded-beef.
There is a certain beautiful simplicity with nachos from Texas – just cheese and a jalapeño on a chip can be so very delicious. Other popular nacho staples are beans, chicken, beef, sour cream, and guacamole. Make up your own recipe using these staple ingredients, or try out one of these off-the-wall recipes.
National Nacho Day
Nachos are so popular that they have their own day now! Check out Happy National Nacho Day for more information!
Win an Issue
This week’s question: What is your favorite cheese for nachos? Post your answer in the comments section by Wednesday, November 19, 2014 for a chance to win a FREE issue of culture magazine! You must be located within the continental US to be eligible to win. Good luck!
Feature Image courtesy of Abuelo’s Taqueria