Nachomission test kitchen, San Francisco bay area, CA

Happy National Nacho day peeps! (Wait. Is it National Nacho day or National Nachos day? I’ve seen it both ways all over twitter and have spent some time questioning which is grammatically correct to no avail. But I digress…). Did you get your nacho on today?

In honor of this wonderful occasion, I decided to write up something a little different today for your reading pleasure. It’s really easy to be a critic – to sit back and critique what someone else has done – so this time I put myself to the nacho test. That’s right. I whipped up my own batch of nachos at home and will now share with you both the positives and negatives of that experience. I learned a few things, and am anxious to try again soon with the wisdom of experience in my pocket. On one hand, I have a new respect for restaurants who make nachos because sheesh, it isn’t really all that easy to get them just right. But on the other hand, I feel even more qualified to maintain a high standard with my reviews. I believe that with just a few tweaks, my nachomission test kitchen nachos would be every bit as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant.

First, I had to decide on the ingredients. A no brainer given that I have clear preferences for my nacho basics and toppings. I chose: extra thick chips (you need a good solid chip that won’t give under the weight of the beans and cheese), refried pinto beans, whole black beans (as a vegetarian, I picked two proteins. Why not? Most nachos with meat also include beans so there is nothing to stop me from getting my double protein on), shredded cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, green onions (of course), black olives (of course, again) and shredded lettuce (a somewhat rare but awesome nacho topping that provides the perfect combination of coolness and crunch).

Nachomission test kitchen, precook

Nachomission test kitchen, pre-cook

First, I assembled the chips, beans (both kinds) and cheese in an oven-safe dish. Layer chips, beans, cheese. Repeat. Repeat again. It’s so important to integrate the beans and cheese throughout the chips so every bite contains tasty goodness. There is nothing worse than a sad, dry, empty chip.

After baking for about 15 minutes, the cheese was bubbling and the beans were sizzling. I was so excited to now pile on the nacho toppings. First, I sprinkled on the green onions. They are most tasty when just slightly warm and they settled nicely into the piles of melted cheese. Next, I scattered the sliced black olives, also better when a little warm. Next in line was the shredded lettuce. And finally, the topping trifecta – pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. I positioned them in an almost triangular fashion with generous scoops of each oozing into one another. And……Voila!

Nachomission test kitchen, post cook

Nachomission test kitchen, post-cook

Now, regarding the things I learned and would do differently next time, do you see the problem with this picture? I used a rather deep dish pyrex dish and the edges were so high, that I had a hard time getting at the chips. Note to self has been taken – use a dish with low sides next time.

But don’t you fret, my nacho readers, it would take a lot more than high dish sides to keep me from diving into these nachos head first. And, if I do say so myself, they were super tasty! The flavors blended nicely and I was really pleased with the combination of both refried pinto and whole black beans in the same bite. The toppings were all incredible and the pico de gallo provided quite a spice punch. I didn’t second guess my decision to omit jalapenos for a second. I’m about as happy as I can get when I have a mouthful of nachos covered in green onions, black olives, guacamole and pico de gallo.

Nachomission test kitchen, post cook close-up

Nachomission test kitchen, post-cook close-up

A couple of additional learnings – somehow I used cheese that wasn’t full fat and that was all kinds of wrong. You need full fat, stringy, gooey, greasy cheese for nacho perfection. Believe you me, I won’t make that mistake again. In addition, the top layer of refried pinto beans got a little dry while in the oven. The piles underneath were more moist and the proper consistency but the top layer had problems. Perhaps they need to be in the bottom layers only? Or, they need to be covered in that gooey cheese to stay moist. I’ll be making some modifications in this area on my next attempt.

Well, there you go, my friends. Considering it was my first homemade attempt – not bad! Could they be improved? Absolutely. But did my nacho loving co-eaters and I devour every last one of them? You better believe it. Stay tuned for Nachomission test kitchen’s second attempt at some point in the not so distant future.

And again, Happy National Nacho(s) day. I never need an excuse to eat nachos but if you do, you have the perfect one today. Enjoy! And if you find an especially tasty nacho spot, don’t keep it all to yourself. Let me in on it!

The Old Pro, Palo Alto, CA

The first thing that struck me about the nachos at the Old Pro was their price. $11 just for the veggie version (pulled pork, chicken or steak for an additional $4). I’m willing to pay a price for good nachos, as long as they measure up. The description on the menu had my nacho-loving mouth watering so I placed my order with high hopes.

Old Pro nachos

The Old Pro nachos

Upon delivery, they looked promising and I was ready to dive in. Immediately I saw the black olives (!) and single good-sized scoops of sour cream and guacamole (hello mexicali grill! take note). There were gobs of gooey, stringy, melty cheese. The jalapenos were raw rather than the usual pickled variety. Interesting choice on their part, albeit risky.

The only ingredient that had me worried at first glance was the salsa. What was this juicy, thin, liquid-like substance topping my Old Pro nacho tower? Sure enough, one bite validated my salsa concern. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I don’t think it was made in-house. You know what it was like? That big tub of Chevy’s salsa they sell in a 2-pack at Costco, for those of you that find meaning in that reference.

As I kept eating, I was pleasantly surprised to find some beans buried in the layers of my nacho pile. Well, hello whole pinto beans! Where were you hiding? You sure are tasty and they shouldn’t hide you or be so stingy with your quantity.

The chips were ok. Meh. Not special. Not home made.

And here is how the raw jalapenos played out – every bite of these nachos was spicy. Every. Single. Bite. It may have been the salsa, but I’m looking at you Jalapenos. Now, I like a bit of spice so this didn’t dampen my experience. But for those of you who place yourself more in the mild category (the spice slow-lane, if you will), I’d suggest skipping these nachos or at least requesting no jalapenos.

Overall, these nachos had all the right ingredients, but somehow the taste just wasn’t there like I expected it to be and they fell a little short for me. It was like… the nacho sum wasn’t greater than the nacho parts?… There was no nacho gestalt? … Ok, forget it.

Let’s face it: I’m apathetic about these nachos. If I’m back at the Old Pro, I may order them again. But they definitely won’t be the thing that gets me back in the place. (For some, that honor may go to the mechanical bull. A story for another time…).

I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos.

Smiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nacho

The Old Pro, 541 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301