Nacho Confidential

We need to talk about nachos. This is important. And I’m not talking about your basic ballpark nachos — the paper envelope full of stale, off-brand Tostitos with hot Cheez Whiz poured on them, no.

I’ve become something of a nacho connoisseur. Not exactly a world tour, but I’ve sampled nachos all around Maryland, Washington, D.C., and several places in Texas. And I’m here to share with you the secrets I’ve discovered of the best nachos:

1. Quality chips. The best nacho chips in the world are actually tostadas. A tostada is a thick, fried corn tortilla, usually cut into large, triangular pieces. It’s sturdy enough that it won’t fall apart under toppings, and most likely to stay crisp.

2. Refried beans. Yes, I have found this one ingredient to separate the best nachos from the only so-so nachos. Fresh, homemade refried beans are creamy, salty and highly addictive.

3. Individual chip coverage. All the best nachos I’ve ever had have all had toppings individually applied to each chip. This means it’s not a pile of chips with toppings dumped on them. Here is a photo of some nachos I ate this morning at Fajita Coast, which applies this principle:

Fajita Coast nachos

Note the refried beans, cheese and grilled chicken applied to each chip.

4. Condiments. The classic nacho condiments are guacamole, sour cream, jalapeno peppers and pico de gallo. Here’s the only reason you need a utensil for nachos, to add some of each of these to each chip. It’s worth it. Jalapenos can be dipped in sour cream to temper the spice (but watch out for fresh jalapeno seeds, unless you’re seriously hardcore).

Quick history lesson: The very first nachos ever made were created with corn tortillas, cut into triangles, fresh melted cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers. Their creator, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, was the maitre d’ at a restaurant called Victory Club in Piedras Negras, Mexico. One day in 1943, just after the restaurant had closed (and was short on supplies), the wives of about a dozen U.S. soldiers invited themselves in. Nacho was a very hospitable man, and quickly cranked out a platter of his new invention, based on what he had sitting around. He called them “Nacho’s especiales.” When Anaya passed away in 1975, a bronze plaque was erected in his honor in Piedras Negras, and October 21 was declared the International Day of the Nacho.

There’s plenty of ways to innovate on the nacho, but I still hold to the rules above as the best starting point. For instance, I’d love to try some shredded pork carnitas nachos. Why isn’t this a bigger thing?

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