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

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

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