I’m going to make a major confession: I love nachos. In fact, if I had to choose my last meal, I’d bypass the traditional foodie standbys—filet mignon, red wine, duck confit gnocchi—and reach for my cheesy platter of tortilla chips, thank you very much. There. I said it.
I love nachos for all that they are and all that they are not. They’re the ultimate comfort food, party food, sporting event food, late-night food. They remind me of my youth: when I would come home from high school, and finding myself alone until my parents came home from work, I’d pop a plate of chips topped with queso in the microwave for 30 seconds for an instant afternoon snack. They remind me of late nights in college (or shall we say early mornings?), spent at diners like Swingers and Izzy’s Deli, where all of my girlfriends would gobble down the gooey goodness to sop up the alcohol we had just consumed hours before. They are my go-to food when I’m feeling sorry for myself. And yes, I know—they’re not the most sophisticated (or nutritional) of eating choices.
Now that I’ve gotten my “Ode to Nachos” off my chest, you’ll understand why I’m doing my happy dance today. It’s National Nachos Day. Yes, it’s a real thing. And no, I’m not on a nachos-fueled high. For all of you wondering, nachos originated in Piedras Negras in Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas in 1943. This guy—Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who was maître d’hôtel—decided to invent a new snack for the wives of U.S. soldiers who were visiting from Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass. He used what little he had available in the kitchen at the time, cutting the tortillas into triangles, frying them, adding shredded cheddar cheese, quickly heating them and adding sliced pickled jalapeño peppers on top. Can we all take a moment and thank Anaya for inventing such an awesome comfort food?
While you do not need an excuse to celebrate nachos (shouldn’t every day be National Nachos Day?), we’ve decided to canvas the state in search of restaurants serving the most elevated versions of the gut-busting appetizer in honor of the holiday. Buen provecho!
Petty Cash Taqueria
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Two words: Pig ears. Two more words: crema poblana. The pig ear nachos at Petty Cash Taqueria are dripping with sublime Mexican magnificence—thanks to crema poblana, a soft runny egg, and a heavenly collaboration between Chef Walter Manzke and restaurateur Bill Chait. With two locations in West Hollywood and downtown’s Art District, PCT has been delighting L.A.’s serious foodies and nacho connoisseurs all year.
118 West 4th St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Chef Josef Centeno has basically discarded everything you once knew about the nacho at his popular downtown Tex Mex joint, Bar Amá. He’s substituted melted shredded cheese for mornay sauce (a French cheese sauce based on rich and creamy white béchamel), guacamole for a sharper and thinner avocado salsa, and sour cream for a rich crema. His lasagna-style nachos completely satisfy with layers of toppings and chips with an even distribution of sauce.
The Pony Room
5921 Valencia Circle
Del Mar, CA. 92067
Outside of bacon, lobster is one of those ingredients that can take a great dish to sublime in one bite. The Pony Room, one of two restaurants at the Rancho Valencia luxury resort, elevates their nachos with lumps of lobster top fried-to-order tortilla chips along with shredded jack and cheddar cheese, diced avocado, a slightly sweet housemade corn salsa, lettuce and drizzle of guajillo aïoli. Order with the bar’s signature Sassy Sangrita (made with Herencia Blanco Tequila, Cointreau Noir and our house made sangrita), and you’ll understand what it means to taste a little slice of heaven.
3349 23rd St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Velvet Cantina’s house-made tortillas with house-made chile con queso, black beans, sour cream, and guacamole are nothing short of awesome. And if you throw in some spicy chorizo? We’re pretty sure the nachos at this Mission Mexican joint cannot be beat. If you’re looking for something sweet, you can also try the s’mores nachos for dessert, chock-full of cinnamon, sugar, Mexican chocolate, crushed graham crackers, and molten marshmallow.
Puccini & Pinetti
129 Ellis Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Whoever thought Italian red sauce and nachos were food enemies have been boldly proved wrong at downtown’s Puccini & Pinetti. Executive Chef Avery Holt’s Pasta Nachos begin with deep-fried wonton wrappers topped with crumbled house-made fennel sausage, classic pomodoro sauce and melted mozzarella, followed by a pile of diced tomatoes, red onion and serrano chiles. They’re finished with shredded basil. Let’s just call them…. “Nachos Italianos.”
The Living Room
13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court
Truckee, CA 96161
What could be a better apres-ski snack than nachos? (Granted, it’s only November—but just file this one away for the winter ski season). The Living Room at the Ritz-Carlton’s southwestern-inspired nachos, with hot chips, rich wild boar chili and a blend of three Mexican cheese, are a popular choice among Lake Tahoe’s weary skiers and snowboarders. Queso fresco, Cotija and Oaxacan cheese melt over chips, while a hit of lime-infused creme fraiche and a sprinkle of pickled Fresno chiles and chopped cilantro take it truly over the top.
From all-over cheese coverage to unusual ingredients like pig ears and Italian red sauce, these Cali taquerias, lounges and restaurants offer nacho dishes that make them truly supreme. Of course, there are many other hotspots throughout the state that offer their own take on the Mexican staple. Where are your favorite nachos served? Sound off in the comments below.