Food & Drink

The Best Nachos Across America

Back in 1943, a couple of hungry US soldiers happened to drop by a popular hangout called the Victory Club just over the Texas-Mexico border in Piedras Negras, only to find it closed. And while he could have simply left the door locked, then maître d' Ignacio “El Nacho” Anaya, kind gentleman that he was, didn’t have it in his heart to turn the GIs away. According to family lore, he improvised with the few items he could find in the kitchen, gathering some tostados, smothering them with a fistful of Wisconsin cheese and a smattering of sliced pickled jalapeno peppers, and melting it all beneath a salamander. And just like that, our world changed forever.

Today Anaya’s legacy prevails across the globe each time cheese meets chip, whether you’re shoveling gooey queso sauce out of a plastic helmet or digging into tableside guacamole in an upscale cantina. Raise a glass to this moment of pure genius at one of these stellar nacho peddlers, each more indulgent than the last. Here’s where to find the 10 best nachos in America.

Bar Amá

Los Angeles, California
There’s some stiff nacho competition around Southern California, that’s for sure, but this sleek DTLA cantina manages to come out ahead simply by putting the iconic snack on the pedestal it so rightly deserves. Every weekday from 5:30 to 7pm, devotees flock to the sunny, rustic bar for Super Nacho Hour, a sacred after-work tradition featuring heaps of housemade tortilla chips dressed to impress in queso, tangy salmorejo salsa, avocado, and crema. A continuous flow of Amá’s signature margaritas, priced at just $8 a pop, sweeten the deal.

Chacho's

San Antonio, Texas
For the good people of Texas, Chacho’s nachos are the stuff of legend. They’re the ultimate late-night hunger fix, a party on a plate, a melt-in-your-mouth one-way ticket to high-cholesterol heaven. The regional counter-serve chain’s massive menu lists off dozens of options from simple single-layer bean and cheese to the “famous pile high” version stuffed with gobs of peppery picadillo beef, buckets of shredded cheese, and the best queso sauce west of Texarkana. True cowboys, however, head straight for the Monster Kong Nachos, a gut-busting display covering all the bases: beans, cheese, picadillo beef, shredded chicken, chicken and beef fajitas, guacamole, sour cream, and a virtual boatload of queso. The “full size,” priced at $24.99, is rumored to feed a family of eight. Everything really is bigger in Texas.

Gueros

Brooklyn, New York
This tiny Crown Heights destination is known borough-wide for their impeccably refreshing margaritas, made with real fruit juice and served Big Gulp-style in tall frosty cups. But, truth be told, the real MVP here is the nachos. It starts with a foundation of housemade chips, hot, blistery, and fresh from the fryer, dumped into a paper boat broad and sturdy enough to cross the Gowanus Canal (please don’t try this). Then there’s the meat. Forget the old steak and grilled chicken routine in favor of beef brisket (the rich tenderness!) or fried chicken (the buttery crispiness!). The rest is icing on the proverbial cake, a soothing bath of sour cream, cilantro-spiked pico, plump avocado, and finally, the almighty queso. Rich, creamy, and served hotter than $2 pistol, the eggshell yellow elixir contains some magical mystery spice combo that makes you want to drink it straight from the ladle. Go ahead and order that second margarita -- you’re going to need it to wash all that business down.

Brewery Vivant
Courtesy of Brewery Vivant

Brewery Vivant

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Everyone knows that beer and nachos go together like love and marriage, so it only makes sense to celebrate their glorious union at Michigan’s only chapel-turned-craft brewery. This Grand Rapids microbrewery pairs their funk-laced farmhouse ales, bold stouts, and Euro-style lagers with upgraded bar fare including, of course, some of the midwest’s absolute best nachos. Inside these hallowed walls, the Tex-Mex classic gets the full cheffy treatment, swapping the standard cheese sauce-and-chili combo for an edible symphony of velvety brie cream, crushed tomatoes, caramelized onions, and succulent duck confit brought to a crescendo with a sprinkling of crispy duck crackling. Can we get an amen?

Kona Brewing Co. Pub & Brewery

Kona, Hawaii
Nachos might not be the first dish that comes to mind when considering Hawaii’s top eats, but where there’s beer, it seems, there’s an insatiable need for cheese-laden chips. And Kona’s eponymous brewpub, thankfully, has both in spades. Surf on over to the breezy downtown hideaway and hang ten on some Naalehu Nachos, an ultra-cheesy typhoon of mozzarella, cheddar, black bean and corn salsa, green onions, and beer-spiked queso crowned with a halo of fiery Portuguese sausage, herbed chicken, or butter-soft Kalua pork. Not sure you can handle it? As a wise man once said, “If you want the ultimate rush, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.” Good thing that price is only $14.50 for a full-sized platter.

Lonesome Rose

Chicago, Illinois
Outfitted with pale unfinished wood, drenched in sunlight, and littered with potted greenery, this Tex-Mex hipster hub is almost as visually appealing as its mouthwatering Truck Stop nachos -- almost. Each order arrives tucked into a shallow rimmed dish reminiscent of a Mexican cazuela bowl, a mess of thin, crispy chips topped with unctuous house-made queso, gooey black beans, dabs of cooling crema, slow-roasted beef brisket, and, to finish it off, a heavy-handed dash of the holy pickled trinity: red onions, jalapeños, and banana peppers. It’s the perfect way to pregame before hitting the stage at Golden Tears, the spot’s subterrainain honkey tonk speakeasy, for Thursday’s infamous karaoke and dollar beer night. Yippie Kay Yay, mother truckers.

Manuel's Tavern

Atlanta, Georgia
Opened in 1956 by former Dekalb County CEO Manuel Maloof, AKA the “Godfather of Georgia Democratic politics,” this homey old-school neighborhood joint has long been a refuge for Eastsiders in search of rousing conversation, personable bartenders, a diverse clientele, and, funnily enough, the best damn nachos in all of Georgia. Platters come out blazing hot, nestled under an avalanche of homemade jalapeno cheese sauce, diced tomatoes, crunchy shredded romaine, green onions, jalapenos, sour cream, and your choice of BBQ pulled pork, chicken, chili, or black beans (hint: you want the pulled pork). Spring for a side of fresh guac, grab a cold craft beer, and prepare to stuff your ballot box.

Central BBQ
Courtesy of Central BBQ

Central BBQ

Memphis, Tennessee
AutoZone Park, home to the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, is the only pro MLB stadium in America where hot dogs aren't the top-selling concession -- it's BBQ nachos. In Memphis barbecue is king, and BBQ nachos are the greatest thing to come out of Graceland since Elvis. There are a few different purveyors (hey there, Rendezvous), but for our money, Central BBQ, a local chain with counter-serve outposts scattered around the city, does it best: bite-sized chunks of slow-smoked pork, straight off the pit and tender as a country ballad, resting atop a raft of fresh, crunchy tortilla chips amid a sea of zesty tomato-based BBQ sauce, jalapenos, thinly shredded cheese, and thick, delicious cheese sauce. The coup de gras? A sprinkling of the Central’s world-famous BBQ Shake, a savory seasoning with a peppery bite that makes everything taste just that much better.

Ole Biloxi Fillin' Station

Biloxi, Mississippi
Don’t let this converted auto shop’s industrial exterior fool you -- the only thing getting filled here is your belly. And not with just any nachos, mind you. Down in the Gulf, it’s all about crawfish, those neon orange mudbugs coveted for their buttery, briny bite. As it turns out, the delicious critters fare quite well deshelled and dumped onto a pile of hot tortilla chips, especially when they’re layered with melted cheddar, jalapenos, green onion, fresh pico, and a sweet, spicy cream sauce. If you’re feeling adventurous, follow up that first course with an order of the traditional Cajun-boiled version and ask a local to show you how to suck the heads clean…

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Meredith Heil is a former National Food & Drinks Staff Writer at Thrillist.