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!

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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