Above: Nachos complemented with a a draft from Victory Brewing at BBC Tavern in Greenville.
By Pam George
In 1940, shoppers from Eagle Pass, Texas, stopped at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras in Coahuila, Mexico. “Make us something special,” the ladies asked maître d’ Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. And, if the story is true, Anaya returned with fried corn tortillas, triangles topped with melted cheese and pickled jalapenos. The delighted diners dubbed them “Nacho’s Special.”
Fast forward to 2023. Although a staple in Tex-Mex restaurants, nachos have gone mainstream. Indeed, they are as ubiquitous in sports bars and casual restaurants as wings and burgers. But like tacos, nachos are even in upscale eateries, and the variations on this familiar dish are staggering.
More Than Chips & Cheese
Despite the dish’s popularity, making the perfect pile of crispy, cheesy deliciousness is not as easy as it looks. Just ask Xavier Teixido, who encountered a family of six’s disappointed faces at the new Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House & Grill in north Wilmington.
About two weeks after the restaurant opened, a kitchen worker didn’t assemble them to the guests’ satisfaction. “I said, ‘Let me get rid of this, and I’ll make you one,’” Teixido told them, and he did just that, melting the cheese in the oven until it was snappy in some areas and soft and pliable in others to please multiple palates. The family was delighted.
Indeed, when it comes to this shareable appetizer, the chip-to-cheese ratio must be perfect.
“We like using a low pan because by spreading the chips out into a thin layer, we can ensure that all the toppings get to every chip,” explains Jeff Matyger, corporate chef for Platinum Dining Group, which owns El Camino Mexican Kitchen in Talleyville. “We believe it gives the diner a better experience.”
At BBC Tavern & Grill in Greenville, David Dietz uses the oval serving trays he purchased long ago for Brandywine Brewing Company, BBC’s predecessor.
Finding the right chip is critical. “You would not believe what we went through with chips,” says Lee Mikles, co-owner of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, which has four locations. “Are they too thin? Are they too big? They must be thicker than a bag of chips to overcome breakage and carry all the toppings.”
Like many restaurants, Grain purchases premade tortillas and cuts and fries them in the kitchen, so they’re fresh, warm and crispy. “I’m proud that ours are as good as the last chip,” Mikles says of his number one seller.
The original sharable dish contained three ingredients, including Colby cheese, which was available during World War II. But as nachos have crossed cuisines, price points and regions, variations multiplied.
Tried & True
Not surprisingly, you’ll find the OG Nacho’s influence in Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. Consider the traditional nachos at Mexican Post in Brandywine Hundred. The dish keeps it simple: tortilla chips, melted Jack and cheddar, tomatoes, scallions, olives and jalapenos. However, you can beef up your order with ground meat, chili con carne and sides like sour cream.
El Camino Mexican Kitchen gives the traditional a twist with pickled chili, radishes and a choice of chicken, chili, chorizo or short rib for an upcharge.
On the list of places most likely to serve nachos, sports bars rank after Tex-Mex eateries. For instance, Stanley’s Tavern in north Wilmington has kept the same recipe since the 1980s.
“They haven’t changed a bit, and they’re still a top seller,” says owner Steve Torpey. The Tavern Nachos include cheddar Jack cheese, refried beans, tomatoes, jalapenos, olives, tomatoes and a dusting of queso. Those in the know order chili instead of refried beans.
Washington Street Ale House also delivers a standard version, but the appetizer includes chili at no additional cost.At BBC Tavern, Dietz uses Brandywine Brewing Company’s recipe. (He owned the Greenville eatery in the mid-1990s.) The dish — JamJoe’s Nachos — is named for Dietz’s father, dentist Joseph Budding Dietz, who wowed his sons with his dance move at a family wedding.
“Look at him go! He’s really jamming,” they hooted. The nickname JamJoe stuck, and Dietz surprised his dad with the nachos named for him.
BBC Tavern adds a pop of color with blue and yellow chips, but, interestingly, the first layer is black beans, so those who don’t like them can easily avoid them. The kitchen then adds two layers of chips and cheese.
Sour cream, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo are on the side. Why? Again, not everyone likes all the accoutrements, Dietz says. Protein options include Buffalo chicken, bacon, ground beef and crab.
Like BBC and Stanley’s, Kid Shelleen’s doesn’t mess with success. The restaurant, whose original location is in Trolley Square, features traditional ingredients, but freshness is a must. A half-plate for more modest appetites is a welcome option.
A Little Something-Something
Nachos are so ubiquitous that many restaurants go the extra mile to spice things up — literally and figuratively. For instance, corn-and-black bean salad adds interest to the Crooked Hammock Brewery’s Longboard Nachos, which come with chipotle crema on a 14-inch pan so everyone can get a scoop. Chicken, chili and pulled pork are additional toppings. Vegetarians will appreciate a smashed avocado extra.
Forget jalapenos, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant uses serrano peppers to turn up the heat. For more, add the fajita-spiced chicken.
Order the traditional nachos at Two Stones Pub or opt for the stacked nachos: layers of spicy crumbled chorizo, Carolina pulled pork, avocado crema and chipotle puree.
Going with the Flow
Restaurants specializing in a specific cuisine have made nachos their own. For instance, Nora Lee’s French Quarter Bistro in New Castle offers diced Cajun chicken or crawfish nachos with a spicy Cajun Sauce.
Wilma’s in downtown Wilmington also follows a Cajun-Creole theme, so the restaurant’s nachos include house-made gumbo, andouille sausage, cheddar, jalapeno and roasted peppers. This dish is one way to “let the good times roll,” before bellying up to a duckpin bowling lane.
Limestone BBQ & Bourbon’s version includes brisket and sassafras white sauce (white BBQ sauce, also called Alabama white sauce, is made with mayonnaise, vinegar and spices).
Since Makers Alley is about sips and noshes, nachos are a natural menu item. But these aren’t your usual Tex-Mex versions. They come with Cajun chicken, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar, pico de gallo, lettuce and ranch dressing. Chelsea Tavern is known for its beer selection, so, unsurprisingly, the nachos come with a beer-cheese sauce. A grilled corn-and-black bean salsa and avocado-lime sour cream also take things up a notch. For an extra price, you can add beer-braised beef or grilled chicken.
Nachos aren’t usually found in higher-end establishments, but Banks’ Seafood Kitchen on the Riverfront serves seafood nachos for two with big eye tuna, crabmeat and shrimp.
The riverfront restaurant isn’t the only one bringing a nautical flair to America’s favorite shareable. Crab nachos are a bestseller at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen. Instead of chips, the kitchen uses wonton chips, and the lump crab is accompanied by diced cucumbers, pico de gallo, the proprietary OMG cheese sauce and a dusting of Old Bay. The restaurant also sells a traditional version with tortilla chips.
And now for something completely different, consider the Trash Can at Klondike Kate’s, fried corn tortilla chips with French fries, chicken fingers and onion straws. It comes with honey-mustard dipping sauce and a blue cheese drizzle.
The Newark restaurant is also home to Buffalo chicken nachos with blue cheese crumbles and hot sauce; BBQ chicken with ranch dressing; and cheesesteak nachos with fried onions and peppers, cheesesteak meat and American cheese.
While Home Grown has traditional nachos, you can get Tater Tots with a hot pepper cheese sauce, pico de gallo, scallions and chipotle-ranch sauce. Call them “Tot-chos.”
And nachos aren’t just for lunch or dinner, as evidenced by Chelsea Tavern’s breakfast nachos — featuring chips with scrambled eggs, home fries, hollandaise, spicy ketchup and a choice of breakfast meat — including bacon, sausage, scrapple or turkey bacon or sausage.
Thanks to all these Delaware restaurants, you can have nachos morning, noon and night — and most hours in between.