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Aug 17, 2009 02:33 PM

What's up with Houston nachos?!?

Every place (of 4) I've gotten nachos they were served in an unusual manner. Instead of what I think of as 'traditional' with a pile of chips and toppings on that, there were a few chips arranged on a plate with refried beans painted on and lots of mellted cheese. Think little plates of beans and cheese arranged around salsa, lettuce and guacamole in the middle.

Anyone know the history on this? Is it an all-Texas phenomenon? If you've had them, do you like them more? I don't.

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  1. My understanding is that the individual chip construction is the traditional Texas way. I grew up in the northeast where nachos are more of the pile of chips with lots of stuff slopped on, so I hadn't had them the other way before moving to Texas.

    I don't really think of the two preparations as the same dish, if that makes sense -- I like them both, but for different reasons, even though they involve more or less the same ingredients. The thing I like about the individual chip preparation is that it's easier to get the perfect proportion of ingredients with every bite. But, the pile of chips is more nostalgic for me. Still, I've grown to prefer the Texas way because it's not so overwhelming.

    I actually learned about the single chip preparation being a Texas phenom while reading the Homesick Texan blog. If you search the blog for the term nachos, the post will come up, just in case you're curious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mjust

      You're right, mjust.

      Here's the perfect explanation, complete with heartbreakingly mouthwatering photos of the original, traditional nachos and how to make them and why they are superior:

    2. I think it depends on where you eat. I have had nachos at Chachos, where it was a bunch of chips on the bottom and all kinds of stuff was heaped on the top. I think they gave you separate bowls of the guac and sour cream, but don't remember. They also serve them this way at Fajita Willies, or did when I had them there, but it's been a long time.

      4 Replies
      1. re: danhole

        Chili's, which is a Dallas based chain, serves nachos individually on a plate the way will9runner described. I see this in some mexican restaurants in Oklahoma City. I do not know if it is a regional thing or not.

        Bigray in Ok

        1. re: danhole

          Dani - Regarding Chacho's...

          Their thing is lots of food, quick and cheap, so they probably would be much more interested in serving the "dump" version than the more time-consuming original individual nachos. But also, they're open 24 hours and do a pretty good bar business with folks lingering out on that patio.

          The original individual-style nachos are better as an appetizer to begin a meal. That big pile takes quite a few people to dig through. It's better as bar food. Chacho's undoubtedly prefer that their bar patrons linger longer ordering drinks with the big pile of the upside-down chips & dips than they would with just one small plate of hot nachos that really need to be eaten pretty quickly.

          1. re: Jaymes

            Very true, Jaymes. In places that are trying to be fast you get the "stadium" style nacho's as fixer (down thread) called them.

            I did take a look at the on line menu for Taqueria Arandas, and from the description it seems that they are the individually made because it says "12 pieces of corn tortillas, etc." Next time I go I will have to try them, just out of curiosity.

            1. re: danhole

              Me, too. And if you want to drive out to Katy, I'll meet you there and we can try them together!

        2. Had Nachos like that at Cantina 1308(El Tiempo) the other night. I agree, I don't like this style. It seems like a rip off. Just enough cheese and meat to cover each chip. With a little lettuce, tomato and pico in the center. In fact their Nachos are priced by the chip. 10 chips is one price, 16 is another.

          Try Maria Selma on Richmond near Montrose. Great Nachos. They have a huge plate of chips piled with a ton beef and guacamole, lettuce, cheese, tomato, jalapenos, etc. Fantastic nachos!

          2 Replies
          1. re: fredeatshouston

            I just got back from El Tiempo on Washington, and got the crab nachos. I didn't consider it a ripoff at all, in fact they were some of the best I've had. They were covered with a huge topping of fresh lumb crabmeat, and we got the beans on the side, less they become soggy. Yes they have toppings in the center, that way you can customize your own. As far as them being priced by the chip, ok, but it's no different than enchiladas or tacos, one price for two, one for three. By the way, a couple across from us also got them, very nicely dressed, and I saw them running their fingers in the plate to get every last bit.

            1. re: James Cristinian

              I have to ad, the only thing I could think of when the plate came was the Frank Barrone line from "Everybody Loves Raymond." "Holy crap," in a good way.

          2. Well, to each his own, eh? And how nice they have both kinds so we can each get what we prefer.

            But personally, I really hate the pile of chips laden with all kinds of crapola. To me, that reeks of "El Torito" fakey plastic cactus Disneyesque "Mexican-themed" chain restaurants and happy hour in the bar.

            Nachos began as a good pre-fried crispy corn tortilla topped with cheese and a few slices of jalapenos. The individually-smeared with refried beans version came pretty soon after. But the "pile of crap" method came considerably later. Possibly because they were trying to impress you, like the mile-high Reuben sandwiches or something. Not to mention that they're much easier for the kitchen to make. With the traditional ones, you can't prepare them ahead of time. You can't sprinkle them with cheese, or spread the beans over or they'll get soggy. So you have to prepare them to order. You must construct them individually after getting in the order. You need to prefry a few good corn tortillas, then spread them individually with beans, arrange them individually on the plate, add the cheese, pop them into a broiler or salamander for just the right amount of time and no longer, add jalapenos and perhaps a few garnishes, and then get them out to the table piping hot. Pretty hands-on and time-consuming. Compare that with throwing some premade chips from a bag onto a plate and then dumping a bunch of goop over the top.

            I suppose I shouldn't say I "hate" the "pile of crap" ones. That's a little strong. When I'm in some chain restaurant bar sucking down the mediocre frozen margaritas and having a good time and not paying that much attention to what I'm eating, they're fine. Acceptable and tasty bar food. And although I never, ever order them, and undoubtedly never will, I have to admit that I eat my share when someone else does.

            But that's sure not my favorite.

            And that's not how nachos got their start, either.

            Which, by the way, was several decades back in the little Mexican town of Piedras Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. So since they were invented down here, I think native Texans have more of a leg to stand on when we talk about which kinds of nachos are, and which are not, "traditional."

            11 Replies
            1. re: Jaymes

              According to the Tex Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh, he has a full 2 pages about the origins of nachos and the are supposed to be served individually with the beans, cheese, broiled to make the cheese melt and topped with a piece of jalapeno. And this came out of Mexico, as Jaymes said. Thought that was an interesting little nugget.

              And I think Jaymes is right about the piled up nachos - it is a lot faster than doing the individual ones, which is why places such as Chachos serve them that way. I wonder how Taqueria Arandas does theirs.

              1. re: danhole

                "I wonder how Taqueria Arandas does theirs."

                Good question. I eat there often. I'll have to find out.

                Although I think the Taqueria Arandas folks come from farther into Mexico than the 'frontera.' So it's possible they don't serve nachos at all.

                And they cater to a primarily Mexican clientele. If they do serve nachos, I'd bet money they're not of the gringo 'cold pile of chips' variety.

                I'll get back to y'all.

                1. re: Jaymes

                  Just went to Taqueria Arandas and ordered their nachos.

                  Interesting experience.

                  Their nachos are a cross between the traditional, original hot individual nachos and the pile of goo. There were 12 hot nachos arranged around the edge of a large oval serving platter. The nachos had the smear of beans, topped with melted cheese, but instead of some version of cheddar, it was white. I was in hopes that it was one of those wonderful Mexican white cheeses, but it was just jack. And then in the middle of the platter was the pile of the various goos.

                  They were fine. At least they were hot and the cheese was melted, but they were nowhere nearly so good as the best of the traditional versions. I won't order them again.

                  Like I said, I think the people that own Taqueria Arandas are from farther down in Mexico than the frontera and I'm pretty sure that nachos are not their tradition. And the majority of their clientele is Mexican and they probably don't order nachos. But the gringos that come in there do. It seems like TA felt like they had to offer something and came up with a hybrid.

                  I eat there often and always order some sort of traditional, authentic Mexican dish, like the mojarra or the grilled shrimp or the chilaquiles or something. I think that's a far better plan.

                  I just moved to Houston fairly recently and have yet to try many of the best restaurants. I'm looking forward to El Tiempo - which sounds really good - among others. This thread has been a huge help in guiding me in the right direction.

                  1. re: Jaymes

                    I'm usually just a cheese and jalapeno guy, but those crabmeat ones at El Tiempo must be tried.

                    1. re: James Cristinian

                      I really appreciate the tip, James. I'm going as soon as feasible. So thanks!

                2. re: danhole

                  I love the piled up nachos. When we make them at home we don't paint each one like a canvas.

                  A single nacho with a bit of melted cheese with two chunks of fajita versus a plate of hearty nachos layered with beans, meat, cheese, and veggies. A nacho lasagna! No contest.

                  1. re: fredeatshouston

                    As far as your "No contest" comment, on that I think we can all agree.

                    I just wish they had come up with a different name for the pile monstrosity, because they're not nachos. They're more like chips & dip. Cold chips with a TexMex layered dip. Except that they've piled the cold chips onto a plate and dumped the dip over the top.

                    I actually do like layered TexMex dip. Although even that is better than the pile-of-crap style nachos because when the chips are served separately from the dip, at least the chips stay crispy.

                    But when you talk about the "real" nachos and you add in "two chunks of fajita," it's clear that you still don't get it. With the traditional nachos, less is more.

                    Next time they're forced on you, slow down. Instead of sitting there feeling robbed of your pile of goo, approach them like you would any other new dish. Try them with just the cheese and jalapenos, or with the schmear of refried beans and cheese and jalapenos. Savor the flavor of the corn in the crispy hot tortilla, complimented by a dab of beans, the warm melted cheese, the cool spicy pepper.

                    Rather than just using the tortilla chip as simply a vehicle to shovel in the dip. Leave the "how much can I cram onto this chip" approach for the pile thing.

                    Here - did you read this?

                    1. re: Jaymes

                      You're kidding, right?

                      "Pile-Of-Crap." "Pile-Of-Goo." We're not feeling a little self-righteous are we?

                      Thanks for the lesson on how to eat.

                      BTW - That is the second time you've linked to that article in this thread...

                      1. re: fredeatshouston

                        I know it's the second time I linked to the article. The second time was specifically for you, Fred. The first time was up pretty high in the thread and when you were still talking about adding 'fajita meat' and a bunch of other stuff, I thought you must have missed the first link to the photos that show the original nacho.

                        Which is sublime simplicity itself.

                3. re: Jaymes

                  Jaymes, I'm not going out on a limb and saying I hate the pile of goo nachos, I do hate them. If anyone is in the McAllen/Valley area, go to Arturo's in Nuevo Progresso. They serve the Eagle Pass style nachos you mentioned, just cheese and jalapenos on some really good tostados. They also have exceptional margaritas, with none of the sweetness that infects US margaritas. The best nachos in Houston I've found are at Merida on Navigation,(the same Navigation with Ninfa's which I will not go back to, another story), the super nachos with chorizo. I get them with cheese, chorizo, and jalapenos. You can get them with guacamole and refriitos if you must, to me it turns them to mush, kinda like the original post.

                  1. re: James Cristinian

                    I love the nachos at Arturo's in Nuevo Progreso also. And in Austin, they're great at El Patio and at the original Rosie's Tamale House out in Bee Cave.

                    I like just getting a big plate of those traditional hot nachos for my lunch. The only problem is that if I'm dining with other people, they're so accustomed to those nachos being for the whole table that they feel perfectly comfortable helping themselves.

                    And I wind up with practically no lunch at all.

                4. I often see the "pile of chips" nachos refer to as "stadium nachos" as they are similar to the kind served at the ballgame. I have found this to distinguish them from the texmex nacho you described as painted with beans. Nachos are served this same way in Dallas texmex estblishments. If a restaurant is not "texmex" then they may be more likely to serve the "stadium nacho" type of dish. I think stadium nachos are more bar-food than texmex.