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!

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Take 2! – Tied House Brewery & Cafe, Mountain View, CA

My nacho friends, you are witnessing history. This is my first ever “Take 2” review. A “re-review”, if you will. And in summary, let me say: Yay! You go, Tied House!

Some of you may remember my first review of Tied House nachos. Although they were full of promise, they didn’t quite measure up. I previously took issue with the fact that Tied House nacho toppings were literally that – some tastiness sitting on top of the chips, but not interlaced well enough within and throughout the pile.

Yesterday I found myself at Tied House’s happy hour once again. And am I ever glad I gave their nachos a second chance! Now I don’t know if it was just coincidental that I had a much better plate of nachos served to me this time or whether they have made some nacho building policy changes. And I don’t care. I was just glad I was there to enjoy them.

Tied House nachos

Tied House nachos, Take 2!

First of all, the chips seemed fresher. They were still the store bought type, but they didn’t have that stale-ish crunch that I encountered last time.

And more importantly, there were layers and layers and layers of melted stringy cheese and yummy beans through and through this piled up nacho assemblage.

All of the other tasty parts that I enjoyed last time were still present. The guacamole was once again good as was the salsa fresca. And you know, even the cheese seemed more flavorful this time but perhaps I was so overjoyed with the layered experience that I transferred this positive bias onto the cheese. I don’t know and again, I don’t care. I was up to my elbows in scrumptious nachos and loving every minute of it.

And I may have mentioned it last time, but I feel the need to give props once again to the half priced nachos at happy hour. I don’t find this to be all that common. And at Tied House, they will serve you a huge, full order of nachos for only about $5.

I’m thrilled to report that I can now happily recommend Tied House to anyone in the Mountain View area wanting to get their nacho on. This time around, I’m giving them 4 out of 5 smiling nachos. Thanks for the yummy nacho goodness, Tied House!

Smiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nacho

Rock Bottom Brewery, Campbell, CA

Dear Rock Bottom Brewery, your nachos are a mixed bag. Love, Nachomission

“Brewery nachos” at Rock Bottom are listed with the following description on the menu: “Housemade tortilla chips with black beans, melted Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro and red onions. Served with salsa. Add guacamole, chicken or beef.”

Now you *know* I love a housemade tortilla chip so this was a great leadoff in the description. The idea of pepper jack was intriguing and I’m always on board with black beans. But wait, “add guacamole”? You know, guacamole really should be standard. Afterall, it is core to the goodness. Foundational, if you will. And it should be non-negotiable.

I arrived at Happy Hour time, around 4pm on a weekday, and took my seat at a table outside. My cheery mood quickly faded however when I found out there was no special on the nachos. They were $9.50. And I had to pay $1.25 more for the guacamole. What the….? And to make matters worse, as I was still simmering to a low boil over the lack of happy hour discount, I encountered a totally sticky table. And then something wet dripped on my leg from under the table. I don’t know what it was but it was blackish in color. I’m afraid this knocked my opinion down several pegs before even being served.

As I sat trying to get over the sticky, dirty liquid situation I found myself in, I was served my nachos. It was a presentation that is unparalleled. I have never seen anything quite like it. There was a large rectangle cutting board with parchment paper on top and a huge
Rock Bottom nachos

Rock Bottom Brewery nachos

amount of nachos topping that. These nachos were wrapped around a bowl of salsa like some sort of festive, colorful, tasty, culinary wreath.

The crispy homemade chips were indeed very tasty. They had the right crunch factor. The cheese was tasty, but it was pretty standard. There was some pepperjack but I couldn’t identify it in taste. It may just have been jack, actually, because I didn’t see any pepper pieces or taste any tang. I just noted some melted white along with the orange cheese. And regarding the cheese, there just wasn’t enough. Let’s face it – you are never, ever going to read a review of mine that reads “there was too much cheese”. As long as it is good cheese, the more the better!

The black beans were good but they suffered from the same issue as the cheese – they were few and far between. They were sprinkled rather than piled. Peppered rather than scooped. Every bite of these nachos was spicy and I suspect the beans for this fiery goodness even though there were also jalapenos. I’m going to guess the beans were cooked with chili powder as I took note of some red specs on them. Bold and tasty!

The guacamole was good but again there was a major stinginess factor here. 2 small scoops? Really, Rock Bottom?? That’s all

Rock Bottom Brewery nachos close-up

I get for paying $1.25 extra? I would have expected more than that if it had come complimentary. Especially considering the proportion to this large, cutting board slab of nachos. Only a few lucky bites involved a dip in the guacamole before it was gone.

Now let’s get to the salsa in the middle. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I didn’t like the flavor at all. I couldn’t place the initial taste but it wasn’t good. Fruity? Sweet? I don’t know. I had two dips in an attempt to identify it and decided I wasn’t subjecting myself to any more dips to place the flavor. I’m willing to do a lot for my readers but that’s where I draw the line. I will gladly say that the salsa fresca sprinkled onto the pile itself was quite good and head and shoulders above what was in the bowl.

Now I wouldn’t be the nacho reviewer you’ve come to love if I didn’t make one more comment regarding this experience. As previously mentioned, I sat outside. And let me tell you, there were flies. Many, many flies. They were everywhere! Constantly swarming, and attempting to land on the nachos themselves! The horror!!

Overall, these nachos were tasty but they could use a few improvements. The portion was huge overall but the toppings were not proportional. And, in the end, I just couldn’t overcome the ambiance issues. Shoo-ing away flies while my elbow sticks to the table and drops of black liquid drip onto my leg somehow made the experience less enjoyable. Go figure.

 I give them 2 out of 5 smiling nachos.

Smiling nachoSmiling nacho

Rock Bottom Brewery, 1875 South Bascom Ave., Campbell, CA 95008

Max’s Opera Cafe, Palo Alto, CA

Oh, Max’s. How I love you.

First of all, the nachos are titled “Giant Nachos” on the menu. I was on board already. The description was short but sweet: “A plateful of crispy chips loaded with black beans and Mexican schtick”. There was a full order and half order available ($9.99 and $7.99,  respectively).

Interestingly, they also had a “Cheese Lovers” version for $1.50 more. The menu said “Loaded with extra cheese sauce”. Wait. Sauce? Uh-oh. I decided to steer clear of this option in the hopes of liquid cheese avoidance. I’m not a fan.

Now I know it is hard to believe, my nacho friends, but on this day my appetite wasn’t as enthusiastic as I would have hoped and I decided to go with the half order. You’ve got that, right? *Half* order. Ok, now check this out:

Max's nachos

Max's nachos, half order

I don’t know if this picture quite does it justice but your first reaction should have been “Whoa!”. I couldn’t believe this was the half order. It was enormous with a capital E.

And it was a mess. And I mean that in the best way. There was no ridiculous attempt at architecture here as I’ve encountered at other restaurants that shall remain nameless. (*cough* Pedros) It was just one, big, wonderful pile of unstructured, delicious nachos.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks – the nacho goodness details. Their menu description didn’t lie. The chips were indeed crispy. Crunchy awesomeness. The cheese was shredded and real and gooey and generously applied. Not a drop of sauce in sight. Phew!

The black beans were re-fried rather than whole. An unusual but delicious choice. I’m used to whole black beans or re-fried pinto beans but re-fried black beans? A risk, if you will, that completely pays off here. Another unusual choice was the use of cherry tomatoes. I wasn’t sure about them initially. Would the ratio of tomato to other ingredients in each bite be too much? But it wasn’t. They were tasty and juicy and just right. And, of course, there were the ever familiar pickled jalapenos. Always there to provide just the right amount of spice.

Max's close-up

Max's nachos, close up

There were three scoops haphazardly (again, compliment) applied to the nacho pile – salsa, sour cream and guacamole. The salsa was somewhat standard but had a nice flavor. The sour cream was also just your basic sour cream, there to apply it’s creamy goodness to selective nacho scoops.

The guacamole was super yummy. But as is typically the case, my only complaint is that there just wasn’t enough of it. Now, two of my all time favorite nacho ingredients, black olives and green onions, were absent from this dish. But it is a testament to Max’s that I barely missed them.

Finally, like the perfect cherry on this nacho sundae, a single sprig of cilantro sat atop of the summit. Precious.

Bravo, Max’s! The nacho force is strong with you. And this nacho lover is sure to return soon. I give them 4 out of 5 smiling nachos.

Max’s Opera Cafe, 711 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA, 94304

Tied House Brewery & Cafe, Mountain View, CA

Before I dive in to the details, let me sum up my overall nacho experience at Tied House in one word: “Meh”. Were they great? No. Were they terrible? No. Some parts were good, and some parts could have been better. The experience started out well, but unfortunately, it then took a gradual slide down a negative slope.

The menu description sounded great: “Smothered with house made black beans, melted cheddar & pepper jack, jalapenos, & Cascade Amber beer salsa; sour cream & house made guacamole”. I didn’t know what a Cascade Amber beer salsa was, but I was certainly game to find out. I always love seeing the term “house made” and viewing it twice in one description was double the pleasure. I was in.

Tied House nachos

And sure enough, upon delivery, I was impressed. What a beautiful plate of nachos they were… and piled mountain high! I immediately observed the whole black beans, tangled up with the melted shredded cheeses. On the side were good size scoops of sour cream and guacamole. And topping the pile of chips, beans and cheese was the yummy looking salsa. Oh, how the sight of salsa fresca

Tied House nacho close-up

thrills me. I saw chopped tomatoes and fresh green onions. And, always there to spice things up, there were pickled jalapenos.

I should point out that the (beautiful) plate of nachos pictured above is a full order ($10.25). They also offer a half order ($7.15). I was there for during happy hour when the nachos were half priced so why on earth would I select the half order? I wouldn’t. It would have been absurdity.

Brace yourself, faithful reader, because now we come to the point in our story where that gradual downhill slide starts. I grabbed a chip covered in topping, anxious to taste all the goodness. The first thing that deflated my hopefulness on the taste was the fact that the chips were *clearly* not house made. House made salsa, yes. House made guacamole, sure. The chips? Not so much. They were industrial chips. (And I can almost hear your collective gasp). I imagined a super-sized bag in the Tied House kitchen from a warehouse store. I don’t want to come right out and say they were stale, because that may be a slightly unfair statement. But I will say they were teetering on the brink of being past their prime.

The positives for the overall taste factor came from the guacamole, the cheeses and the green onions. Yay! You go, green onions! You never disappoint. The salsa was pretty good, and had a flavor I couldn’t place which must have been the Cascade Amber. But the flavor of the nachos as a whole was very mild. Maybe a little too mild. There was no flavor kick whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to mellow nacho flavor, as long as it is interesting. These were a whole lot of mellow with only a small dash of interesting.

And here is my other major complaint about these nachos – they take the word “topping” too literally. The tomatoes, green onions, and even the beans to some extent, were on the top layer and the top layer only. As I continued to dive in, I was soon left with only a stal…. ahem. past their prime, dry, pile of chips. Not good. Not good at all. I’m sympathetic to the fact that it’s tricky business to get the right amount of toppings intertwined throughout the nacho tower. But Tied House could use some improvement on this front.

So, once again, I’m left with a nacho experience that left me less than thrilled. It wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t quite good enough either. There is potential there and there were certainly some good elements. I’m optimistic that with a few tweaks, Tied House could serve me a winning plate of nachos in the future. All things considered, I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos.

smiling nachosmiling nachosmiling nacho

Tied House Brewery & Cafe, 954 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041

C CASA Taqueria, Oxbow Public Market, Napa, CA

Do you ever lie awake at night wondering if there is a highbrow version of nachos? An antithesis to movie nachos (read: pump cheese), if you will? Could it exist? A combination of my beloved traditional nacho-ey goodness with foodie creativity and deliciousness? Believe it or not, these are things that I actually think about. A sad statement, perhaps, but true nonetheless. And no need to continue to ponder this one, my fellow nacho lovers. C CASA Taqueria will serve you up a version of nachos fit for a true foodie on your next visit to Napa.

Oxbow public market is just pure awesomeness. There is no other way to describe it. Having visited before, it was no surprise to me when Frommer’s named it one of America’s Best Public Markets. Trust me, if you are in Napa it is not to be missed. The only downside of visiting is that I want to try so many different things that  I wind up cursing my stomach for how quickly it feels full. My desire to consume the food there often outlives my ability to actually consume it.

I’ve had fabulous meals at Pica Pica and Ca’ Momi previously and today I had my sights set on one place and one place only: C CASA. I did some pre-visit reconnaissance and knew they served nachos. So on this sunny, perfect, California morning, my mission was clear. My stomach was empty. I was good to go.

Listed under the “Small Plates” section of their menu, C CASA offers “Nachos Noti”. Upon reading the description I instantly realized that these are no ordinary nachos: “C CASA chips with our black beans or white beans, pico de gallo, goat cheese & chipotle aioli.” After speaking with the friendly staff, I learned the white beans are vegetarian while the black beans are not. White beans it is.

C Casa nachos

C CASA nachos

When my buzzing pager lit up and bounced around letting me know my nachos were ready for pick-up, I was filled with anticipation. And wow, was I impressed with these nachos at first sight! I knew from the menu description what the toppings were, but the presentation exceeded my expectations.

The house-made chips were so fresh and delicious. The perfect texture and crunch factor and a great vehicle for all the amazing goodness that was topping them.

When you take the first bite of these nachos, you get a wonderful flavor combination that packs a punch. Wow!

C Casa close-up

C CASA close-up

The beans have a very smoky taste while the chipotle aoili gives a great kick of rich, creamy spiciness. The goat cheese is a delicious, genius, rebellious choice that I’m completely on board with. The tomatoes were fresh and delicious and found myself taking a surprising amount of enjoyment in the large pieces of cilantro. If asked beforehand, I would have thought I preferred it chopped up small with the tomatoes. But these are clearly no ordinary nachos, so why should their pico de gallo follow standard procedure?

The C CASA tagline is “An innovative kitchen” – a very fitting description. Innovative these were. They pushed the nacho envelope to the brink of bursting at the folds and I’m so thankful they did. Nicely done, C CASA! You made this nacho-loving foodie extremely happy. I give them 4 out of 5 smiling nachos (and I can’t wait to go back!)

C CASA Taqueria, Oxbow Public Market, 610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen, AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA

Take me out to the ball game, Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack, I don’t care if I never get back. Let me root, root, root for the GIANTS, if they don’t win it’s a shame. Cause it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.

AT&T Park

AT&T Park

I love the Giants. I love AT&T park. At how many other ballparks in the country can a vegetarian like me enjoy the baseball tradition of a (veggie) hotdog? It was no surprise to me that AT&T park recently topped Peta’s annual list of vegetarian-friendly ballparks. And whether you are a vegetarian or a hardcore carnivore, AT&T park serves up tasty and somewhat surprisingly gourmet food. And all baseball (and all food, for that matter) is only that much better when you enjoy it looking at the most beautiful view offered by any ballpark. Period.

Ok, now let’s get down to the nacho business at hand. Like all ballparks, AT&T park does offer the standard nacho fare – stale round chips, pump cheese and optional jalapenos. I wasn’t having it. Instead, I paid a visit to the Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen stand on the View Level.

Tres Agaves nachos

Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen nachos

They had several meat options but I ordered the simple cheese nachos. Ok, yes, the cheese was liquid – they are a stand in a ballpark afterall. They operate in somewhat primitive conditions so let’s cut them some slack. Most importantly, and I can not stress this enough, it wasn’t pump cheese. The consistency wasn’t gelatinously thick but was more thin and smooth. The color wasn’t neon orange but instead was a pleasing creamy color. And when the friendly server offered me fresh pico de gallo on top, I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic “yes, please!”. They had other options available in little to-go containers that looked to be jalapenos and various salsas. Unfortunately, my hands were full with culinary goodies already acquired at some other stands along the way so I was unable to take any of these additional toppings.

The chips were tri-colored and yummy. The cheese had a nice, spicy flavor. The pico de gallo was indeed fresh – the tomatos were juicy, the onions added just the right kick, and in my book cilantro can do no wrong.

Tres Agaves close-up

Tres Agaves close-up

Alright, look. Were these the best nachos I’ve ever tasted? No. But for ballpark nachos, they were incredible. Pure awesomeness. Leave it to AT&T park.

Sadly, my Giants didn’t win on this particular evening, but I left feeling victorious for discovering these nachos. Well played, Tres Agaves! I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos.

Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen, AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107

As a parting gift to you, my nacho peeps, I leave you with one more peek at my beloved ballpark:

AT&T Park

AT&T Park

Pedro’s Restaurant and Cantina, Santa Clara, CA

Oh, Pedro’s. It’s almost painful for me to write this review. I really wanted to like your nachos. But I’m nothing if not a nacho reviewer with honesty and integrity so brace yourself, because here comes the brutal truth.

When I first read the words “individually layered” describing the nachos on the menu, I knew something was amiss. I knew something was about to go terribly wrong. In hindsight, I should have left. But I was already there. I was already seated and sipping my drink. So against my better judgement, I kept moving forward through this nacho experience.

For those of you that aren’t already aware, individual layers is not my preferred nacho architecture. (See a recent review for an additional example of my disappointment with this particular structure). I think the nacho chef at Pedro’s went to the Mexicali Grill school of nacho making. And that is no compliment.

As is typical with this structure, the chips are few and far between. They are layered “individually” with toppings and the result is like a platter of appetizers that are meant to be picked up individually, in a horizontal fashion. This is completely at odds with my nacho schema and I’m sorry but it just doesn’t sit right with me. As if this negative architecture wasn’t bad enough, I immediately noticed that the portion size was on the small side. Not that I was interested in consuming many of these, mind you, but it was still a point of annoyance.

Pedro's nachos

I’m sure you all are immediately aware upon first glance of this image what else I noticed instantly, much to my mortification. Dollops. Sigh. More damn dollops! Dollops of sour cream, dollops of guacamole. The way to go is single pile, people. For the love of god, please stop with the dollops.

These nachos were lacking in many places: No salsa. No olives. No jalapenos. No green onions. No lettuce. They were completely void of any crunch factor. The refried beans had a flavor I wasn’t crazy about.  The monterey jack cheese was fine, standard. There was some sprinkled Cotija cheese, but not much. And even all the cheesy goodness of Cotija couldn’t put a dent in my displeasure.

Pedro's closeup

Closeup of Pedro's nachos

Ultimately, these nachos were a miscalculation of epic proportion on Pedro’s part. Here’s the harsh but accurate bottom line: I could have easily made these nachos in my kitchen. With some stale chips, a can of refried beans from Trader Joe’s, and some type of cookie press contraption that would make perfect dollops of sour cream and guacamole (Oh, the horror!). Assemble, place in the microwave for 2 mins, and voila! Pedro’s nachos.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I go to a restaurant, I expect much, much more than what I could throw together myself. (And, if I may briefly toot my own horn, I’m a decent cook!) I want something that makes me say “Yum, how did they achieve this flavor explosion?” or “If only I could make nachos like this!”. I want to wonder what their secret is or what exact combination of things they used to make such a wonderful nacho experience.

So Pedro’s, I now bestow you with the (dis)honor of being only the second restaurant to receive 1 (out of a possible 5), lonely, smiling nacho. He may be smiling on the outside, but on the inside he is one sad, sad nacho.

Smiling nacho

Pedro’s Restaurant & Cantina, 3935 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA 95054

The Hopyard, Pleasanton, CA

As luck would have it, I recently found myself in the east bay with a couple of hours to kill and a hankering for nachos. Ok, let’s face it, when do I *not* have a hankering for nachos? After finding a menu online with an enticing nacho description (they had me at pico de gallo!), I decided to give The Hopyard a try. And boy, am I glad I did!

The place wasn’t much to look at but I’m no atmosphere snob. Alright, maybe I am a little, but I decided to power on and place a nacho order. I sat at a table outside to bask in the lovely bay area weather. This would have been very enjoyable were it not for the flies pestering me the entire time. What is it?? My shampoo? My hand lotion? Exactly WHY are you flying around me nonstop at an uncomfortably close distance? But I digress.

The server was friendly and took my ever hopeful nacho order. Delivered to my table in just a short period of time was an amazing looking plate of nachos. Behold!

Hopyard nachos

Hopyard nachos

Don’t they look delicious?? There were generous globs of refried beans, lots of gooey stringy melted cheese and pickled jalapenos. There was a nice size scoop of sour cream sitting atop of it all like the crown jewel that it is. The salsa fresca / pico de gallo was wonderful – fresh chopped tomatoes and onions with cilantro.

Ok, wait. This picture doesn’t quite do them justice. I was worried about this possibility so luckily I snapped a close-up just in case.

Hopyard close-up

Close up on Hopyard nacho-ey goodness

And no, your eyes don’t deceive you. Those are fresh green onions sprinkled around like a culinary version of fairydust. They somehow just make everything better and all seem right in my nacho world.

Let me tell you, my friends, the taste measured up! I’ve seen some good looking nachos before that teased and enticed me only to ultimately disappoint me in the taste department. Not these. These nachos were yummy, delicious, flavorful, and dare I say scrumptious.

Now, I wouldn’t be the nacho reviewer that you know and love unless I offered The Hopyard at least a couple of areas for improvement. So here goes: It was pretty obvious the whole plate had been in the oven and this left the chip edges a little burnt. I thought this would add some additional complexity to the flavor and with certain bites it did. But with other bites, not so much. They just tasted, well, burnt.

And let me now share with you this little story. Brace yourselves because I am sure you will be as appalled as I was. A fellow diner at the table next to mine noticed my impressive nachos and when her server arrived (a different server than mine, mind you) she ordered them as well. To which her server responds: “Would you like a side of guacamole with those? Our guacamole is really great but it doesn’t come with the nachos”. WHAT? I did a double-take like a Looney Tunes character. What just happened? How could my server have not made me the same offer? I would have been all over that guacamole side order. Do they have *any* idea who I am? Do they *know* what influence I possess in the nacho reviewing world? Apparently not.

But, in the end, I forgive them. Because these nachos were tasty with a capital T. I give them 4 out of 5 smiling nachos. Now, had they brought me some amazing guacamole on the side? Who knows what might have happened. They may have just earned my first ever 5 smiling nachos rating. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

Smiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nachoSmiling nacho

The Hopyard American Alehouse & Grill, 3015 Hopyard Rd, Pleasanton CA 94588

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