Happy National Nachos Day! Although the nacho may have Mexican roots, I consider it a uniquely American dish.

The nacho was reportedly invented in the Victory Club, located in the small Mexican border town of Piedras Negras. This club was a popular spot for the wives of U.S. military servicemen stationed across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, TX.

As the story goes, several women from the base dropped by the Victory Club one day for a bite to eat. Although the restaurant was closed, the maître d’, Ignacio (“Nacho”) Anaya seated them anyway. Ignacio headed back to the empty kitchen and using the only ingredients he had on hand, threw together pieces of tortillas, shredded cheese and jalapeño slices, calling the dish Naco’s Especiales. These “nachos” were a hit and were soon coopted by other restaurants serving their own take of the dish.

The biggest growth in nachos’ popularity can be attributed to a man named Frank Liberto. Frank sold nachos at Arlington Stadium (former home of baseball’s Texas Rangers). Although the elements of the nacho remained the same (chip, cheese and jalapeño), Frank’s nachos introduced a new take. There were was no room for a broiler at the stadium, and real cheese hardens when heated for an extended period of time. To make a product that fans would enjoy, Frank replaced shredded cheese with a cheese sauce that would stay semi-liquid at room temperature and would not separate when held in a warmer for the duration of a game. The jalapeño peppers were also replaced sliced pickled peppers, and the tortillas were pre-fried well in advance of final preparation.

This introduction resulted in an explosion of popularity and the nacho became a global iconic food. Although the original nacho is a simple, honest product, today’s cooks have developed creative, impressive concoctions that take nachos to the next level.

You can make some rather imaginative creations yourself; in my world, it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute flour tortillas, fried wontons skins, even French fries or tator tots for the traditional corn tortilla chip. Any of these will give a unique base to your nacho creations.

Some past Formaro Files recipes can even be incorporated into your custom creations; from short ribs, roast pork and pot roast to the sauce featured in my mac and cheese blog. Try some of the following approaches for a unique spin on nachos – I was able to assemble everything in these photos from items off Gateway Market’s shelves!

  • Pulled short rib tossed with Korean chile paste or Korean BBQ sauce, with shredded cheese, cheese sauce, charred scallions, diced red onion, pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, jalapeños and Sriracha mayo.
  • Roast pulled pork shoulder, red chile salsa, guacamole, cheese, cheese sauce, cilantro sour cream, sliced black olives, sliced jalapeños, green onion, diced onion and chipotle mayo.
  • Ground beef seasoned with garlic and onion with cheese sauce, chopped onion, green onion, black olive and sour cream.
  • Sautéed shrimp with garlic and ground chile, chipotle cream sauce, diced tomato, sour cream, shredded cheese, green onion and corn and black bean salsa.
  • Smoked brisket or pork tossed in sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, cheese sauce, sliced jalapeños, green onion and cheddar cheese
  • Sautéed seasoned chopped spinach, feta cheese, sautéed leeks, green onions, diced onion, diced tomatoes and Alfredo sauce and sliced grilled chicken.
  • Shredded chicken tika masala with sauce, yogurt, feta cheese, diced tomatoes and green onions.

Italian Nachos

  • 2 packages flour tortilla chips; cut into triangles, fry, and salt (for a simpler approach, just use two bags corn tortilla chips)
  • 1 quart Alfredo sauce
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 bunches green onions, chopped
  • 1 lb. shredded jack cheese
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • Chipotle sauce

Place chips in oven-proof baking dish. Top with Italian sausage and shredded jack cheese.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and add your desired amount of Alfredo and chipotle sauce.

Finish with diced tomatoes and red and green onion.

If desired, take this one to the next level by adding salsa, shredded lettuce, sliced black olives, sour cream and pickled jalapeños.

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