The best places for na­chos

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Lau­rel Glad­den I For The New Mex­i­can

Coy­ote Cafe’s na­chos to­to­pos are some­thing akin to a na­cho Napoleon, with smoky pulled pork, black beans, avocado-tomatillo and red chile sauces, cheese, and additional fresh chiles lay­ered between whole fried round tor­tillas.

In the canon of Amer­i­can bar food,

is any­thing more quin­tes­sen­tial than na­chos? They’re an ideal snack for a group gath­ered to watch a foot­ball, basketball, or base­ball game on a gi­ant TV screen, and they sat­isfy a range of pref­er­ences — you can en­joy a per­fect chip of cheese, gua­camole, and beans, while your friend can be con­tent with his fa­vorite blend of meat, sour cream, and jalapeño.

Leg­end has it that the in­fa­mous as­sem­blage of cheese and chile on top of chips orig­i­nated in the 1940s. Na­chos are said to have been cre­ated by Mex­i­can restau­ra­teur Ig­na­cio “Na­cho” Anaya, who used slim pick­ings from the kitchen to sat­isfy hun­gry Amer­i­can pa­trons vis­it­ing his res­tau­rant af­ter it had closed for the day. He chris­tened the dish “Na­cho’s Espe­ciales,” and the rest is his­tory.

Even the most run-of-the-mill of today’s na­chos are far from that sim­ple com­pi­la­tion of chips, grated cheese, and jalapeños. To sam­ple the vari­a­tions Santa Fe chefs have dreamed up, I toured the city’s bars and ca­sual res­tau­rants — which turned out to be a daunt­ing, gut­bomb­ing task, given that nearly ev­ery spot with chips and beer on the menu of­fers some vari­a­tion on the theme. But in the name of re­search, I sol­diered on in an at­tempt to pro­vide at least a cur­sory sur­vey of what’s avail­able — and to re­veal the few kitchens that aren’t afraid to break with tra­di­tion.

Several pop­u­lar bars around the city serve per­fectly de­li­cious, though not ground­break­ing, plates. Per­haps the most sim­ple are the na­chos at Maria’s, where a mod­er­ate amount of cheese is melted over sturdy chips and then gen­er­ously strewn with pleas­antly mouth-sear­ing pico de gallo that’s heavy with diced jalapeño and onion — this is not an ap­pe­tizer for a first date, but it makes a nice ac­com­pa­ni­ment to one of Maria’s fa­mous mar­gar­i­tas.

Río Chama builds an impressive mountain topped with a blan­ket of cheese, gua­camole, a gen­er­ous ra­tion of sour cream, diced to­mato, and ei­ther earthy smashed black beans or your choice of meat. My only beef is the use of whole slices of fresh jalapeños, which can be dif­fi­cult to bite and are of­ten mouth­sear­ingly hot. The de­light­fully smoky fresh green chile makes things a lit­tle juicy, but that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing, pro­vided you’re OK with fin­ish­ing your na­chos with a fork.

Cow­girl’s na­chos have some­thing for ev­ery­one, with the highly pre­ferred pick­led jalapeños, a smoky to­mato-based salsa, black olives (a nice retro touch), sour cream, chopped red onion, black beans, and gua­camole on the side. Nat­u­rally, there’s plenty of cheese that’s bub­bling and some­times de­li­ciously scorched on the edges — but that also trans­lates to several chips get­ting un­ap­pe­tiz­ingly black­ened as well.

Thun­der­bird — an­other pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for sports fans on the town — serves a plate of red and yel­low chips that’s a lit­tle less eye-pop­ping than the oth­ers, but still sat­is­fies. The kitchen trades black beans for fibery pin­tos, and fan­cies things up with a driz­zle of crema over the pico de gallo, gua­camole, and plen­ti­ful pick­led jalapeño.

Del Charro, the self-pro­claimed “sa­loon” at the Inn of the Gov­er­nors, is a warm, friendly place that’s pop­u­lar with tourists and lo­cals alike. Their killer na­chos are a gen­er­ous mound of chips thor­oughly lac­quered with cheese and crowned with plenty of pico de gallo and pick­led jalapeños. Note, though, that the ad­di­tion of sour cream or any pro­tein at all, in­clud­ing black beans, will re­sult in an up­charge.

Na­chos at Sec­ond Street Brew­ery can be daunt­ing — blue and yel­low chips ut­terly buried be­neath a bl­iz­zard of cheese, guac, pico de gallo, and sour cream (if you’re in the mood to gild the lily, you can add one of several meats, in­clud­ing ba­con and pork belly). Some­how, they stay crispy al­most all the way to the bot­tom of the pile.

Three spots stood out, how­ever, for their cre­ative spin on the tra­di­tional na­cho mountain. Coy­ote Cantina’s na­chos to­to­pos are some­thing akin to a na­cho Napoleon, with smoky pulled pork, black beans, avocado-tomatillo and red chile sauces, cheese, and additional fresh chiles lay­ered between whole fried round tor­tillas. The stack is blan­keted in more salsa verde and dol­loped with sour cream and gua­camole. It’s an in­sanely rich, com­plex plate that could eas­ily feed four.

A few blocks away, at the re­cently re­vamped La Fi­esta Lounge at La Fonda, na­chos have been “de­con­structed.” This re­ally just means that what ar­rives at your ta­ble are a bas­ket of chips, a smol­der­ing-hot dish of molten queso fun­dido with beans and your choice of meat, and a small oval plate crowded with other typ­i­cal na­cho top­pings: pico de gallo, sour cream, pick­led jalapeños, gua­camole, and shred­ded ice­berg — and you as­sem­ble each chip in­de­pen­dently. If you’re din­ing with a group of in­di­vid­u­als who have dif­fer­ing opin­ions about what con­sti­tutes an ideal na­cho, this is the way to go — each chip for each per­son can be dif­fer­ent.

Af­ter down­ing so many plates of na­chos, a girl just needs a salad. Ac­cord­ingly, I power-walked to Vinai­grette, but even this veg­etable-for­ward kitchen has hopped on the na­cho band­wagon. One re­cent spe­cial ap­pe­tizer was a kale-and­black-bean na­cho — a small, un­daunt­ing plate of just four siz­able, house-made corn chips. These fall squarely in the Texas-style “com­posed” na­cho camp, with a ded­i­cated amount of each top­ping ap­plied to a chip rather than be­ing ran­domly strewn over a pile of them. There’s soft, but­tery avocado here, too, and a salty, citrusy dress­ing. Two make for a sat­is­fy­ing snack that’s rel­a­tively healthy but still feels in­dul­gent. Now if I could just watch the Cubs game at Vinai­grette ...

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