Published January 29, 2012
The Super Bowl is almost here and what better way to celebrate than with nachos.
For many, nachos are the ultimate indulgence — heaps of cheese atop a bed of salty chips, all of it weighed down with savory meats, rich dips, and a smattering of diced vegetables. But nachos are much more than greasy bar food or the ideal ballpark snack. They're actually an all-American gastronomic institution.
These ubiquitous munchies are alleged to have originated during World War II, when a group of American military wives stopped off at a restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico, after the kitchen had closed.
Supposedly, the restaurant's cooks, in an effort to feed the hungry group, came up with a quick and easy snack — tortillas cut into triangles, topped with cheese and jalapeños, and quickly heated. It wasn't long after that the popularity of those “Nachos Especiales” spread through the southwestern United States.
Sixty years later, the original recipe for nachos has been tweaked countless times, often with outrageous or decidedly unconventional results. Restaurants and amateur chefs alike have used the basic conventions of nachos to churn out dishes as saintly as kale chips topped with raw cashew cheese or as upscale as smoked salmon nachos served with caviar.
Nacho variations are so common, the snack can even be subcategorized into dozens of groups. Yuppie nachos, featuring sun-dried tomatoes or goat cheese, appetize diners on some menus. Other restaurants offer vegan combos with bean chili and soy cheese, or even sugary toppings like chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Of course, nachos are also vulnerable to America's favorite food trend: supersizing. A plate of appetizer nachos can pack more than 1,500 calories, according to Men's Health. Guiness even has an award for the largest platter of nachos. The winner? A Boston branch of 99 Restaurant, with their 3,900-pound entry made just last year.
From classy cuisine to a meat lover's dream, and from raw tuna to cashew “cheese,” here's a roundup of some of the most insane nachos gracing American menus.
Fine Dining: Duck Confit Nachos
At Seattle's Americana Restaurant, low-brow food favorites — mac and cheese, burgers, deviled eggs — are given the haute-cuisine treatment. And that includes the nachos. The restaurant's duck confit nachos combine rich, salty duck meat with diced tomatos, scallions, and sauce made from Saint André cheese.
Sweet Nachos: Ultimate Dessert Nachos
You're probably familiar with dessert pizza. But it's not the only greasy menu item getting a sugary makeover. At New York's Treats Truck, chef Kim Ima serves up the ultimate dessert nachos. Chips made of chocolate and vanilla cookies are topped with crumbled bits of brownie and and Rice Krispies squares, and then doused with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Ultra-Loaded: Hurricane Nachos
For the ultimately indulgent nacho experience, consider stopping off at New York's Cowgirl Seahorse Restaurant. Their “Hurricane Nachos” are a jumbled heap of just about everything: beef, pork, shrimp, chicken, black beans, grilled veggies, carrots, two kinds of cheese, and piles of salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. You're going to need a fork for this one.
Virtuous: Sun Nachos
Nachos aren't necessarily gut-busters? Who knew? At least, not if you eat those served at The Sun Cafe in Los Angeles. The raw food, vegan restaurant uses jicama instead of tortilla chips, and tops the crispy veggies with cheese made of cashews, fresh guacamole, and faux-chorizo made from dehydrated sunflower seeds.
Eccentric Eats: Pork Dumpling Nachos
Taking the definition of “nachos” to its very limit, the chefs at Do or Dine Restaurant in New York are serving up the most eccentric version you're likely to see. Most notably, there's nary a chip in sight. Instead, deep-fried pork dumplings are topped with more conventional accoutrements — cheese, sour cream, and salsa.
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