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

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Mexicali Grill, Santa Clara, CA

Ok, um..huh. Where to start with my recent experience at Mexicali grill? The best I can say about it is that it wasn’t *all* bad. There were a couple of random highlights. But overall, it wasn’t good. In fact, it was all kinds of nacho wrong.

First of all, I’ll let this picture speak for itself. Let me pause here for effect. ….  You see the problem with this plate of nachos, don’t you, my nacho loving peeps?

Mexicali grill

Mexicali grill nachos

My jaw literally dropped when this plate was delivered to my table, and not in a good way. For a minute, I thought it was a dessert order intended for another table that was mistakenly placed in front of me. No, sadly, it was my nacho order.

What exactly is going on here? Puffed dollops of sour cream? Really, Mexicali? Really? Now, that alone is enough of a nacho offense that I was put off immediately. But then I took note of the chip to sour cream ratio and that didn’t help matters much. It was almost 1:1 – a poof ball of sour cream topping every chip. Who on earth would enjoy this much sour cream? It’s complete absurdity!

Look folks, nachos are meant to be messy. They are meant to be stacked, piled, drizzled, dripping. They are not meant to be structured and neat and cute.

Ok, now in fairness to Mexicali, and to turn this review around for a bit, let my deliver some well-deserved praise for a couple of things:

1) I placed my usual order with a special request for “no meat”. As soon as the server heard this, he notified me that the refried beans typically served on the nachos were cooked with chorizo so if I’m vegetarian, he can offer me whole pinto beans instead. Yes, please!! Thank you, thank you, Mexicali grill for this.

2) These nachos had Cotija cheese sprinkled on top. For those unfamiliar, Cotija is a hard cow’s milk cheese that originated in Mexico. And it’s pretty awesome. It gave the nachos a wonderful aroma and speaking purely olfactorily, I was impressed. Which was great because they needed something positive to offset their visual offensiveness. Ok, that’s a bit harsh, but I know you’re with me here.

So I know you must now be asking yourself, perhaps even uttering out loud, “but how did they *taste*?”. Here is a plate of nachos that looks horrible but smells great. Let’s let the taste be the tiebreaker. Well, I’m sorry Mexicali, but the taste just didn’t do it for me. The flavor was ok, but nothing special. It certainly didn’t live up to the amazing smell. And it certainly didn’t make up for the dollop insanity.

In summation: These nachos were all show and therefore I’m afraid I have to advise a no-go for Mexicali grill. I mean, c’mon, it’s a fluff nacho. And I’m a substance nacho kind of girl. As such, I can sadly only give these 1 lonely smiling nacho. (Poor thing! Just look at him. All alone, with no friends.)

And, as a final piece of evidence, let me present a second photo. You, my faithful readers, know that I rarely leave a nacho plate anything other than empty. This was a first for me: I didn’t eat any more than I needed to in order to assess these nachos for review purposes. Need I say more?

Mexicali grill finish

And... I'm done.

Mexicali Grill, 3149 Mission College Boulevard, Santa Clara, CA 95054

La Paloma Restaurante, Santa Clara, CA

You can’t miss the brightly colored lemon-lime exterior of La Paloma restaurant as you drive down El Camino in Santa Clara. It looked festive enough, I thought, and maybe a restaurant with a Mountain Dew exterior would serve me up a winning plate of nachos. There’s no logic there. I know. But I went in with my usual nacho optimism in high gear.

la paloma nachos

La Paloma nachos, full order

They offer both a small order and full order of nachos at La Paloma. If you think I considered the small order for even a second, you don’t know me very well yet.

The chips were fresh and awesome. Definitely seemed as if they were made in house. I was thrilled to be served up some black olives (yay!) on this nacho pile, but if only there had been more. Black olives are perhaps my favorite topping and unfortunately I’m only treated to them on less than half of my nacho endeavors. (C’mon, people! Black olives is where it’s at).

There was no salsa on the nachos, but the salsa they brought with the previously served chips & salsa was good and I dipped into that as required. I missed having salsa on the nacho pile itself but to their credit, the salsa was thin and would haven’t worked well. Well played, La Paloma.

The beans were refried and let me just say I’m starting to think my preference may be for whole beans, either black or pinto. These refried beans had an ok taste, but I wasn’t crazy about them. There was something in the taste I couldn’t quite place, but it wasn’t good. The closest I can describe is that they were cooking on the bottom of the pan for too long. A little burned, and a little dry = this nacho reviewer is a little disappointed.

The nachos were topped with a small scoop of great guacamole – my only complaint with it was the “small” part. I wanted more. The sour cream was good too and I liked it being a single scoop on top. Don’t try to get too fancy people, simplicity is best when it comes to toppings. (Consider this a foreshadowing for my next review when the sour cream display tactic goes horribly awry in another Santa Clara restaurant).

Overall, these nachos were pretty tasty and I would order them again. I give them 3 out of 5 smiling nachos. Your question for today, my faithful nacho-loving audience: what is your favorite nacho topping?

La Paloma Restaurante, 2280 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050