By Natalie B. Compton
The classic cheese-and-tortilla-chip combo has been transformed at these Food Network-approved restaurants across the country, where enterprising chefs are heaping on the hot chicken, piling on the poke and serving other surprising spins on this snack staple.
Chips All In
The simple combination of melty cheese blanketing a heap of crisp tortilla chips has long made for one magical dish: nachos. These days, chefs across the nation are working their culinary wizardry on the classic recipe by adding in unexpected ingredients such as Korean gochujang sauce, as well as cauliflower or cashew nacho cheese. Read on to find out where to sample stepped-up versions of the stadium staple.
Ghost Donkey: New York City
This Mexico-inspired spot first made a splash with its whimsical, mezcal-forward cocktails, but the bar’s sophisticated takes on the simplest of snacks — nachos — are fast becoming the sleeper hit. Chef Brad Farmerie went all in on luxury with the Truffle Nachos. Fried corn tortilla chips are doused in a three-cheese sauce made with queso Chihuahua, white Cheddar and Cotija cheese, then heaped with a flurry of grated fresh black truffle and finished with a dusting of chives. “We wanted a decadent addition to our all-nacho bar menu at Ghost Donkey, so we went for a reinterpretation of the classic truffle-cheese combo,” said Farmerie. “We also liked how they mirrored the simplicity of the original creation with very few ingredients that each bring something special to the finished dish.”
Photo by Max Flatow
Honey Butter Fried Chicken: Chicago
Crowds flock to this cozy nest of a restaurant in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood to get their fix of fried chicken. The high-quality, antibiotic-free birds come served in a bevy of craveworthy iterations, including the insanely good Fried Chicken Nachos. Juicy morsels of the signature Honey Butter Fried Chicken are loaded onto a mound of tortilla chips, then layered with melty pimento cheese, candied jalapenos, lime crema and corn pico de gallo until the entire creation stretches above the brim of the bowl. Insider’s tip: The Candied Jalapeno Margarita complements the dish marvelously, as this cocktail incorporates the syrup from the very same candied jalapenos used in the nachos.
Party Fowl: Nashville
In a town known for hot chicken, it’s only natural that the regional delicacy would make its way onto a plate of nachos. And Party Fowl is just the spot where chicken meets chip. Known as the Nashville Hot Chicken Nachos, this indulgent creation was dreamed up by Executive Chef Bart Pickens. To start, the New Orleans native fries the tortilla chips with bacon (yes, bacon), then tops them with an avalanche of white beans, avocado, jalapenos, green onions, lettuce, pico de gallo and sour cream. The kick, of course, comes from the spicy nubs of Nashville hot chicken sprinkled throughout. Temper that heat with one of the 20 local beers on tap.
Graze: Madison, Wisconsin
Just because Chef Tory Miller has won a James Beard Award doesn’t mean he can’t get down with comfort food like nachos. At his Madison gastropub Graze, Miller makes a mean nacho dish that reflects his personal roots. “I’m adopted from Korea, so these nachos really bring out my Korean heritage,” Miller said. He combines tortilla chips with local Hook’s pepper Jack cheese sauce, then pulls in a slew of Korean-inspired ingredients that include beef bulgogi, kimchi, sesame seeds, gochujang and pickled jalapenos. A generous squirt of Kewpie mayonnaise and a flurry of pea shoots finish the plate. “They have a totally different set of flavors from regular nachos but still the same elements of cheesy, crunchy and spicy,” Miller said of his Korean-Style Nachos.
Part corner store, part gastropub, Datz is worthy of a nacho pilgrimage. Don’t expect the classic tortilla chip-and-cheese combination, though. Executive Chef Keith Williamson switches out one chip for another to make a quirky, crunchy spinoff that may take nacho traditionalists by surprise. This dish is built on a base of potato chips — housemade Datz potato chips, to be precise. The chips are smothered in chili cheese, jalapenos, sour cream, blue cheese and scallions. Optional add-ons include pulled pork, chicken and short rib. And with its catchy name, Dachos is a dish that’s practically as fun to order as it is to eat.
The Poke House: Fort Lauderdale
Two Hawaiian traditions — poke and surfing — served as the inspiration behind Chef Jeremy Powell’s tropical take on the typical nacho recipe. Aptly named Pipeline Nachos (a seeming nod to Hawaii’s famous surf reef break, Banzai Pipeline), the dish features pico-marinated fish served on wonton chips with baby kale, avocado, cream cheese, chipotle mayo, black radish and masago (fish roe). “We cook our wontons in the shape of tortilla chips to give that sense of a nacho,” Powell said of his creation for The Poke House. Pro tip: Pair you Pipeline Nachos with an ice-cold Kona lager.
Gracias Madre: Los Angeles
In West Hollywood, plant-based powerhouse Gracias Madre churns out nachos that cater perfectly to the meat-free set. For the LA Vegan Nachos, Chef Chandra Gilbert brings together housemade tortilla chips with the standard toppings of black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa verde and cilantro, but then she gives the dish two major tweaks. She forgoes the typical meat and dairy in favor of tempeh chorizo and cashew nacho cheese, resulting in a dish that is cholestrol-free (and organic). This shareable happy hour snack is heathier than your typical bar fare, and it goes well with a boozy beverage. Gilbert has some words of advice when it comes to drink pairings: “You can’t beat our house margarita, the Purista.”
Petty Cash: Los Angeles
At Chef Walter Manzke’s self-proclaimed “semi-authentic taqueria” Petty Cash, he has transformed nachos from heavy to healthy, with the help of good-for-you ingredients such as kale and cauliflower. “The idea was to make a version that was lighter, healthier and vegetarian,” said Manzke. “Everyone seems to love roasted cauliflower, so why should it not be made into nachos?” In addition to using the namesake cauliflower (of the brightly hued rainbow variety), Chef Manzke pulls in kale, crema poblana, Jack cheese and pickled Fresno chile to make his Roasted Cauliflower Nachos. The cruciferous-centric dish appeals to both the appetite and the eye, as it’s bursting with both vibrant flavors and colors.
Brennan’s of Houston: Houston
The humble nachos get a high-end makeover at the iconic Brennan’s of Houston. Executive Chef Danny Trace channels his “Texas Creole” style into this luxe recipe. The Blue Crab and Caviar Nachos feature fire-roasted corn, St. Andre queso, alligator pear (aka avocado), mirliton pico de gallo, lime crema, and, of course, crab and caviar (an ounce of Petrossian caviar, to be exact). Such premium ingredients do add up to a dish that’s pricier than the norm for nachos, though, as this creation costs $100.