Mexicali Grill, Santa Clara, CA

Ok, um..huh. Where to start with my recent experience at Mexicali grill? The best I can say about it is that it wasn’t *all* bad. There were a couple of random highlights. But overall, it wasn’t good. In fact, it was all kinds of nacho wrong.

First of all, I’ll let this picture speak for itself. Let me pause here for effect. ….  You see the problem with this plate of nachos, don’t you, my nacho loving peeps?

Mexicali grill

Mexicali grill nachos

My jaw literally dropped when this plate was delivered to my table, and not in a good way. For a minute, I thought it was a dessert order intended for another table that was mistakenly placed in front of me. No, sadly, it was my nacho order.

What exactly is going on here? Puffed dollops of sour cream? Really, Mexicali? Really? Now, that alone is enough of a nacho offense that I was put off immediately. But then I took note of the chip to sour cream ratio and that didn’t help matters much. It was almost 1:1 – a poof ball of sour cream topping every chip. Who on earth would enjoy this much sour cream? It’s complete absurdity!

Look folks, nachos are meant to be messy. They are meant to be stacked, piled, drizzled, dripping. They are not meant to be structured and neat and cute.

Ok, now in fairness to Mexicali, and to turn this review around for a bit, let my deliver some well-deserved praise for a couple of things:

1) I placed my usual order with a special request for “no meat”. As soon as the server heard this, he notified me that the refried beans typically served on the nachos were cooked with chorizo so if I’m vegetarian, he can offer me whole pinto beans instead. Yes, please!! Thank you, thank you, Mexicali grill for this.

2) These nachos had Cotija cheese sprinkled on top. For those unfamiliar, Cotija is a hard cow’s milk cheese that originated in Mexico. And it’s pretty awesome. It gave the nachos a wonderful aroma and speaking purely olfactorily, I was impressed. Which was great because they needed something positive to offset their visual offensiveness. Ok, that’s a bit harsh, but I know you’re with me here.

So I know you must now be asking yourself, perhaps even uttering out loud, “but how did they *taste*?”. Here is a plate of nachos that looks horrible but smells great. Let’s let the taste be the tiebreaker. Well, I’m sorry Mexicali, but the taste just didn’t do it for me. The flavor was ok, but nothing special. It certainly didn’t live up to the amazing smell. And it certainly didn’t make up for the dollop insanity.

In summation: These nachos were all show and therefore I’m afraid I have to advise a no-go for Mexicali grill. I mean, c’mon, it’s a fluff nacho. And I’m a substance nacho kind of girl. As such, I can sadly only give these 1 lonely smiling nacho. (Poor thing! Just look at him. All alone, with no friends.)

And, as a final piece of evidence, let me present a second photo. You, my faithful readers, know that I rarely leave a nacho plate anything other than empty. This was a first for me: I didn’t eat any more than I needed to in order to assess these nachos for review purposes. Need I say more?

Mexicali grill finish

And... I'm done.

Mexicali Grill, 3149 Mission College Boulevard, Santa Clara, CA 95054

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La Paloma Restaurante, Santa Clara, CA

You can’t miss the brightly colored lemon-lime exterior of La Paloma restaurant as you drive down El Camino in Santa Clara. It looked festive enough, I thought, and maybe a restaurant with a Mountain Dew exterior would serve me up a winning plate of nachos. There’s no logic there. I know. But I went in with my usual nacho optimism in high gear.

la paloma nachos

La Paloma nachos, full order

They offer both a small order and full order of nachos at La Paloma. If you think I considered the small order for even a second, you don’t know me very well yet.

The chips were fresh and awesome. Definitely seemed as if they were made in house. I was thrilled to be served up some black olives (yay!) on this nacho pile, but if only there had been more. Black olives are perhaps my favorite topping and unfortunately I’m only treated to them on less than half of my nacho endeavors. (C’mon, people! Black olives is where it’s at).

There was no salsa on the nachos, but the salsa they brought with the previously served chips & salsa was good and I dipped into that as required. I missed having salsa on the nacho pile itself but to their credit, the salsa was thin and would haven’t worked well. Well played, La Paloma.

The beans were refried and let me just say I’m starting to think my preference may be for whole beans, either black or pinto. These refried beans had an ok taste, but I wasn’t crazy about them. There was something in the taste I couldn’t quite place, but it wasn’t good. The closest I can describe is that they were cooking on the bottom of the pan for too long. A little burned, and a little dry = this nacho reviewer is a little disappointed.

The nachos were topped with a small scoop of great guacamole – my only complaint with it was the “small” part. I wanted more. The sour cream was good too and I liked it being a single scoop on top. Don’t try to get too fancy people, simplicity is best when it comes to toppings. (Consider this a foreshadowing for my next review when the sour cream display tactic goes horribly awry in another Santa Clara restaurant).

Overall, these nachos were pretty tasty and I would order them again. I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos. Your question for today, my faithful nacho-loving audience: what is your favorite nacho topping?

La Paloma Restaurante, 2280 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050

Como Esta Taqueria, Palo Alto, CA

Whenever I ask a dining companion what they feel like eating and the response is something along the lines of “a burrito”, I feel my nacho review juices start flowing. This particular evening brought us to Como Esta, a small taqueria in mid-town Palo Alto. I ordered the vegetarian nachos and waited with the tempered patience of someone about to receive a surprise gift. Now, I’ve discovered there are two phases to my nacho assessment: 1) the moment when I first lay eyes on the nachos and 2) the moment when I first taste them. I would be quick to say that phase 2 holds more weight in my reviews, if I weren’t acutely aware of the fact that I’m often swayed by phase 1. At Como Esta, this first visual phase held both positives and negatives for me.

Como Esta nachos

Como Esta Vegetarian Nachos

My first thought was positive – yay! lettuce! Then I noticed the sour cream applied from a squeeze bottle. Definitely negative. I don’t even know why so please don’t ask. It’s just a negative. I get it for the convenience factor. I just don’t like it.

Similarly, the second tasting phase also held highs and lows, ups and downs, good and bad. The chips were stale (boo!) but the guacamole was tasty. There was some good fresh salsa, but not nearly enough of it. I strongly dislike being forced to play favorites with some bites and not others. Will I give this bite a scoop of salsa? If I do, I know it will be at the expense of the next bite because there clearly isn’t enough to go around. The refried beans were good and were appropriately mixed with melted cheese throughout the lower layers. However, topping the entire pile was shredded cheese. Not melted. Not even warm. Just sprinkled shredded cheese. Odd. It mostly just fell off when I tried to scoop it up but what I did get on a chip I assessed to be on the hard side and cold. An ineffective strategy on their part. Just trust me when I say this was all kinds of nacho wrong.

I should mention that my companion, blissfully unaware of my nacho blogging tendencies, uttered “these nachos are amazing”. And the two of us did manage to almost clean the plate. So cheers there Como Esta. But – I now consider myself to be somewhat of a nacho-assessing expert, a connoisseur if you will, and I require just a little bit more. Overall, I give them 2 out of 5 smiling nachos and advise you look elsewhere for your nacho fix in my beloved Palo Alto. (Suggestions anyone??)

Como Esta Taqueria, 2605 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Faultine Brewing Company, Sunnyvale, CA

Happily back home in the San Francisco bay area, my nacho quest continues. A visit to Faultline Brewing Company in Sunnyvale was the next stop for this nacho train. Based on past history, I always operate with an implicit belief that nachos at a pub-type establishment will leave me disappointed. I see these places as more of a generalist, a kitchen that serves up many, many different types of appetizers, rather than someplace that will create a specialty-level combination of nacho-ey good ingredients. I’m happy to say that Faultline proved me wrong.

faultline nachos

Faultline Brewing Company nachos

Faultline nachos are vegetarian by default which alleviated my usual “no meat” special instructions. It’s amazing how much instant happiness little things like this can bring me.

I’m not going to save the best for last… I’m going to let you in on the highlight of this nacho experience right now: Faultline knows how to do salsa! This was some of the tastiest restaurant salsa I have had in the recent past. Just amazing – the combination of ripe tomatoes, tangy onions, cilantro and black ground pepper was pure awesomeness.

Some other details: Chips were tri-colored. My tastebud jury is still out on tri-colored chips but I liked them enough in this case. There was plenty of melted shredded cheese wrapping the jalepenos and hidden black beans in cheesy goodness for every bite. I’m a huge fan of green onions on anything so their presence alone instantly raised my opinion of these nachos a notch. Now, one thing I have to mention that was less than ideal – in addition to the shredded melted cheese, there was some (gasp!) liquid cheese. It was spicy and I’m partially ashamed to admit that I liked the flavor it added. but the texture I could have done without. My only other complaint would be not enough chips. My nacho assessing wingman and I were done with all the chips long before we had consumed all of the wonderful toppings. But here’s a tip: You can ask for extra chips and they will happily bring them to you.

Wait. did I mention the amazing homemade salsa?? Here’s a close-up.

Faultline salsa

Faultline Brewing Company salsa

Lastly, I will say that there is a debate going on  in my own head around whether I prefer things like salsa, guacamole and sour cream separated on the side or proudly topping the nacho pile itself. Stay tuned for additional thoughts on this in future posts.

Overall, I give Faultline 4 out of 5 smiling nachos. Keep it up, Faultline. Something tells me I’ll see you again soon.

smiling nachosmiling nachosmiling nachosmiling nacho

Bay area peeps: Can you recommend a favorite nacho place for me to try?

Faultline Brewing Company: 1235 Oakmead Parkway, Sunnyvale, CA 94085

Bukowski Tavern. Cambridge, MA

Next I headed to Cambridge, MA. A friend and I went in search of a sandwich shop he was anxious to try after seeing it on a Food Network show. We walked past a tavern on the way that struck me as a place that would have some seriously piled high nachos and one glance at the menu confirmed my suspicion. After watching my friend devour his highly praised pastrami sandwich, we marched on back to the tavern and he watched me evaluate nachos with the precision and seriousness of a skilled food critic.

Bukowski Tavern nachos

Bukowski Tavern nachos

I wasn’t quite as enthralled upon first laying eyes on these nachos but I could instantly assess that there was once again no liquid cheese and this gave me hope. Again there were tasty chips, loads of melted cheese, black beans and sour cream. No guacamole, black olives, or lettuce, much to my disappointment. But they did contain some pickled jalepenos that added a nice spicy flavor to various bites. My one main complaint – a serious enough complaint that it potentially tainted my whole experience – jarred salsa. People, I implore you. Please, please, please cut up some tomatoes and onions, toss in a little garlic, cilantro. A splash of vinegar. Perhaps some ground pepper. Keep it on hand for when you serve nachos. It won’t add much effort and frankly, may even be cheaper than jarred salsa although that’s an uneducated guess on my part. Here’s what I do know: Soggy tomatoes and tasteless limp onions in some type of red liquid do nothing but ruin an otherwise perfectly good plate of nachos.

Overall, I give them 2 out of 5 smiling nachos. If they had used fresh salsa they would have received at least 3, if not 4. The next time I’m in Cambridge, I’ll be seeking out another option to satisfy my always intense nacho craving. Can anyone out there recommend a good nacho place in Cambridge, MA?

Bukowski Tavern: 1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02139

Acapulcos. Milford, MA

So my journey begins, with a business trip to Boston. My pre-trip research, aided by iPhone apps like Urbanspoon, Yelp and Foodspotting, led me to two very different places. The first of which is a mexican restaurant named Acapulcos in Milford, MA.

Acapulcos nachos

Acapulcos Nachos Supreme, no meat

Ok, I admit. Coming from San Francisco, I had the bar set pretty low for nachos in Milford, MA. Turns out, they were quite good! I was pleasantly surprised upon first sight of them when the waiter placed them on the table. I didn’t know what to expect – stale chips? salsa from a jar? or god forbid, some type of liquid cheese that came out of a pump? But no. What I saw was fresh chips, smothered with a generous helping of melted cheese, topped with a little shredded lettuce (often unexpected, yet one of my favorite toppings for that cool crunch factor it provides), refried pinto beans, fresh salsa, a tasty guacamole that seemed homemade, and sour cream.

Overall, I really enjoyed these tasty nachos give them 4 out of 5 smiling nacho chips. I can recommend them to anyone spending time in suburban MA and looking for a place to get their nacho on.

Acapulcos: 231 E Main St # D, Milford, MA 01757

So there you have it. My first nacho review. I hope you enjoyed it. I’d love to hear from you! Tell me where you’ve found the best nachos.

5,4,3,2,1…. blastoff

Hello there, blogsphere. Allow me to introduce myself. I consider myself to be somewhat of a foodie. My childhood dream was to be a chef. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years and religiously buy organic and local whenever possible. I never miss an episode of Top Chef nor an issue of Food & Wine magazine. I feel fortunate to live in the San Francisco area and have access to so many incredible restaurants and delicious cuisine. But here’s my secret: I love nachos. Cheesy, greasy, low-brow, tasty nachos in all their glory.

I love them so much, in fact, that when my life took a difficult turn and I needed something to focus on, I decided to shift my attention to nachos. I will seek them out for the purposes of assessing them, like some kind of baseball-watching, nascar-loving, tanktop-wearing food critic and then blog about it so the 3 people on the planet who might actually care can consume my wisdom.  You’re welcome.

While you anxiously await my first review, please do tell: Do you share my love of nachos?