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!

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

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