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The 21 Best Nachos in America

Anthony Humphreys/Thrillist

Nachos -- they're a combination of pretty much the best foods out there, and yet a truly transcendent plate of them is mysteriously elusive, like the Bigfoot of bar food, except (hopefully) less hairy. To make nachos great, there's gotta be something more than just loads of guacamole or tons of jalapeños -- a truism most nacho-serving establishments seem to forget when they go for quantity over quality.

Whether it's with all-over cheese coverage or the introduction of a seriously awesome unforeseen ingredient (smoked brisket, anyone?), the following taquerias, bars, and holes-in-the-wall have something that sets them apart from the pack and makes them truly supreme.

Here are the 21 best nachos in America:

Flickr/Bing

Sunset Cantina

Allston, MA
What you're getting: South of the Border Fiesta
Every once in a while, amazing nachos pop up in unlikely places. Allston, MA may not be one of the first places that you think of when you think of Mexican food (that would be nearby Somerville, DUH!), but it should be, thanks to Sunset Cantina. They've got incredible cheese coverage on every golden-crisp layer of their nacho plate, which is large enough to feed the nation of Monaco, and some freshly chopped lettuce on top adds an illusion of healthiness. For your health!
 

Taco Surf 

San Diego, CA
What you're getting: Build-your-own Torrey nachos
This Cali spot lets you choose your own cheese-smothered adventure (it's going to end well no matter what) with their build-your-own option. Starting off with chips and melted cheddar, you can add up to four toppings ranging from guac, grilled onions & peppers, and salsa fresca to hash browns, beans, and sauteed mushrooms & jalapeños.
Courtesy of Professor Thom's

Professor Thom's 

New York, NY
What you're getting: XL nachos
Even if you're not a Boston Red Sox fan, you can appreciate the craziness that goes on at Professor Thom's in NYC. That's because it manifests in nacho form -- specifically an entire pizza tray's worth of gooey cheddar cheese melted on top of a mountain of homemade chips that sits between similarly gigantic piles of sour cream, thick-cut jalapeños, pico de gallo, and guacamole. The sheer volume here can't be beat. Especially by the Yankees.
 

El Bracero 

Amarillo, TX
What you're getting: Nachos con carne
A big ol' pile of nachos on a plate is pretty great, but you know what would be better? Two piles of nachos. Or a bunch of individually composed (huge) tortilla chips, each with fajita beef and lots of cheese on top, for a perfectly portioned-out nacho experience, which is exactly what you'll get at El Bracero in Amarillo. They've got seafood nachos as well, but the nachos con carne are the real move here, if you're looking for something more out-of-the-box.
Tinga

Tinga

Los Angeles, CA
What you're getting: Cochinita pibil nachos
For a plate of nachos to stand above the rest in a tortilla-saturated city like Los Angeles truly says something, and the cochinita pibil nachos at Tinga are quite vocal. They start with spicy & sweet orange-marinated pork, habanero salsa, and Monterey Jack, and end with queso fresco and a helping of pickled red onions on top of some of the freshest tortilla chips ever to be deep-fried.
 

Velvet Cantina 

San Francisco, CA
What you're getting: Velvet nachos with chorizo
Velvet Cantina in SF layers their house-made tortillas with house-made chile con queso, black beans, sour cream, and guacamole, which alone is amazing. But add spicy chorizo into the mix and you've got a plate that truly can't be beat by any other Mission Mexican joint. And for those looking for a nacho nightcap, they also offer s'mores nachos for dessert -- chock-full of cinnamon, sugar, Mexican chocolate, crushed graham crackers, and molten marshmallow. Finally, there's a way to eat nachos for every meal!
Flickr/Garrett Ziegler

Taqueria Diana 

New York, NY
What you're getting: Carnitas nachos
Possibly the best nachos in NYC, yet still somehow cost-effective based on the size alone, these are a heaping metal tray's worth of fresh, crunchy chips blanketed in cheese, beans, and salsa. The best part is the juicy shredded pork throughout, but you can also go for other carnivorous action like chicken or steak. As a responsible nacho-eating citizen of the world, you should probably try 'em all.
 

Willimantic Brewing Company 

Willimantic, CT
What you're getting: First Class corn tortilla nachos
A seriously plentiful portion (have at least four people with you), you'll feast on perfectly layered, sog-proof chips drowning in shredded cheddar and Jack, diced tomatoes, scallions, and jalapeños with picante salsa on the side. You can top all that off with blackened chicken, veggie chili, or pulled pork too (go with that last one). It doesn't hurt that you can accompany this monstrosity with brews off their extensive list, either.
El Patron Cafe

El Patron 

Las Cruces, NM
What you're getting: Brisket nachos
El Patron is a family-owned Southern New Mexico joint that's famous for its slow-cooked brisket, so you've pretty much gotta get it on top of their also-legendary nachos for a combination that's out-of-this-world awesome. Locals swear by the smoky, flavorful meat when it's paired with refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole, and salsa on top of authentic, house-made tortillas, so you should, too. Damn.
 

The Commodore 

Brooklyn, NY
What you're getting: Cadillac nachos
A good serving of bar nachos is hard to find (and lord knows we've tried), but perfection does indeed reside in Brooklyn, where Southern dive The Commodore happens to be serving up a primo plate of crisp tortillas layered with creamy white queso, jalapeños, and radishes that might just make the other people at your table sorry they ordered fried chicken -- if such a thing is even possible.
Tap Bar & Restaurant

Tap Bar & Restaurant

El Paso, TX
What you're getting: Nachos (no need to get fancy on the name)
Not only is Tap Bar & Restaurant a glorious dive-bar paragon, replete with '90s memorabilia (and no jukebox, because that would be inauthentic), but it's also got a ridiculous plate of nachos. They are made fresh in the bar's kitchen, generously covered in white queso and spicy house-salsa, and are the ideal pairing for any of the $2 drafts they've got lined up.
 

Colima's Mexican Food

San Diego, CA
What you're getting: Carne asada chips
These babies are piled high with perfectly cooked and seriously seasoned carne asada, as well as classics like sour cream, jalapeños, and guacamole. They even give you the choice of nacho or shredded cheese, and, really, you can't go wrong with either. Because cheese. And nachos.
Flickr/BostonTx

Chacho's 

Multiple locations, TX
What you're getting: Pile High or Monster Kong nachos
This Texas chain has nacho diversity on lock, offering a ridiculous number of options. Get 'em loaded with refried beans, shredded cheese (or homemade spicy queso sauce!), and a selection of meats like shredded chicken or picadillo beef served up 24 hours a day, in case you have a 5:30am nacho craving. Which you do.
 

Graffiti Junktion 

Multiple locations, FL
What you're getting: Macho nachos
Presented on a pizza pan (we're still waiting for them to be on an actual pizza...), these nachos could feed a small nacho-loving village with their cheese-, beef-, jalapeño-, sour cream-, and pico de gallo-coated tri-color chips. The people of said village would definitely not be small, though.
Yucatan Taco Stand

Yucatan Taco Stand 

Multiple locations, TX & OK
What you're getting: Nachos
With just a few Lone Star locations and one Oklahoma spot, grab a group of friends and go to town on this gargantuan chip tower with both Chihuahua and queso fresco cheeses, chile con queso, and roasted garlic aioli, plus all the classic veggies and condiments. And don't forget (we know you wouldn't) the choice of meats like tequila-lime chicken or garlic shredded beef. You can also not grab friends, because who needs those when you have nachos?
 

Cecilia's Cafe 

Albuquerque, NM
What you're getting: Nachos grande
Tasty and authentic, these New Mexican nachos are bursting with flavorful ground beef, guac, beans, cheese, and more, all on crispy tostadas. After you scarf those down, you might as well go for some more traditional NM fare, so order their famous chicharones, which are hunks of stewed pork tucked into a warm tortilla with cheese and green chile sauce.
Cora's Grill

Cora's 471 Grill

Castroville, TX
What you're getting: X-large "Super"
This place bills itself as having "the best damn nachos in Texas," and while that may be a bold statement, it's based in one solid fact -- these nachos are bomb. You can get them in cheese, bean, or Super varieties and in four sizes ranging from small to extra large. They all come out on a cheese-covered cafeteria tray that's perfect for sharing. Or not, if you're feeling particularly hoarder-y.
 

Brewery Vivant 

Grand Rapids, MI
What you're getting: Duck nachos
Purists might turn their noses up at the stuff, but the duck nachos at Brewery Vivant have to be eaten to be believed -- Brie cream, tomato concasse (a fancy word for ground tomatoes), duck confit, caramelized onions, and duck cracklin' with citrus all on top of perfectly cooked tortilla chips. Try any of the beers on tap, and you'll be in nacho heaven, which is perfect, considering this place is in a converted church.
Rosa's Cafe

Rosa's Cafe & Tortilla Factory

Multiple Locations, TX & CA
What you're getting: #40 or #51 with extra jalapeños
Rosa's is one of those classic order-by-the-numbers Mexican chains whose unpretentious attitude is rivaled only by the quality of its food -- and the nachos are no exception. Get the #40 with beef or #51 (fajita-style) combo with extra jalapeños, and you'll realize that it doesn't get more authentically Tex-Mex than this.
 

Four Peaks Brewing Company

Tempe, AZ
What you're getting: Five-layer nacho dip with blackened chicken
A deliciously unique take on the classic, this thing starts out with your basic melted cheddar over tri-color chips, but then comes the timelessly tasty trio: five-layer black bean dip, sour cream, and salsa. Definitely add the blackened chicken, or if that's not for you, something like the spicy beef with jalapeños & onions might suffice. This all allows you to build each individual chip to your liking and totally avoids any chance of the cardinal nacho sin of sogginess. They even tell you which beer to pair them with. If that's not love, then, really, what is?
Little Goat

Little Goat 

Chicago, IL
What you're getting: Machos nachos
While everything on their menu is pretty damn unreal, the Goat's nachos are a game-changer. You get homemade tortilla chips covered with tender, flavor-packed BBQ pork, refried beans, pickled peppers, cheddar, sour cream, and guac. That's really all you need to know, right?

Adam Lapetina is a food/drink staff writer at Thrillist, and has absolutely no qualms about ordering an appetizer as an entrée (if that appetizer is nachos). Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.

Rachel Freeman is a food/drink editorial assistant at Thrillist, and has absolutely no qualms about bringing the ruckus if you try to steal her nachos, because she has very strong attachments to jalapeños and melted cheese. Follow her into the abyss at @rachelifreeman.

This article was originally published on April 1, 2014.

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