Just like comic book characters, every popular food requires an origin story. The story for nachos starts as many others do: hungry customers, limited ingredients and a soupçon of creativity. This story takes place 1943, in Piedras Negras, a Mexican town near the U.S. military base in Fort Duncan, Texas. Military wives, starved from a long day of shopping, descended on the old Victory Club, and maître d’ Ignacio (“Nacho”) Anaya Moreno promised to rustle something up for them from the closed kitchen. Fried tortillas, melted cheese and sliced jalapeños were assembled and baked, and the wives were thrilled. He named the dish after himself: Nachos Especiales. In 1975, when Moreno died, the town put up a plaque in his honor (Sadly, it was made of bronze, not nacho cheese).
No table of diners ever looks sad when a platter of nachos is placed before them. While traditional versions are always appreciated, many regions of the country have staked out their own unique claims on Moreno’s signature dish. In Memphis, for example, most barbecue restaurants serve nachos made with barbequed pork shoulder. In Hawaii, kalua pork and pineapple nachos are a standard menu item.
Mix it up
While the dish is historically defined as tortilla chips covered with melted cheese and garnishes, it has expanded in recent years to include ingredients that might surprise Ignacio Moreno quite a bit. New versions have bases made from tater tots, pasta and even deep-fried Brussels sprout leaves. Chocolate dessert versions have stretched the definition of the dish even further.
The expanding nacho category includes versions like the $62 nacho platter served at MAX’s Wine Dive in Texas, with house made potato chips, crème fraiche, chives and caviar. Chef Mike Brown of Minneapolis’ Travail cuts tortillas into long strips, covers them with a sauce of vanilla, cumin and Craisins, then tops the dish with equal parts sharp cheddar and Brie. The finishing touch is one perfectly melted slice of American cheese. Also in the Twin Cities, Chef Janene Holig of Hot Indian serves a dish called Naanchos that used Naan bread as the chip base, covered with a chickpea/chicken mix, tomato sauce, mozzarella and what she called “Quickles” – quick-pickled cucumbers, peppers and onions.