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Nachos are a much more versatile food than you might think. Sure, they are a great snack during the game, or a hero for late night munchies. But they can also be a terrific dinner if you handle them right and can get seriously elevated if you use a few simple tips and tricks to make your nachos perfect! Whether you are keeping things simple with just cheese, or loading on the toppings, there are some ways to tackle your nacho build that definitively improve the eating experience. 

Tips for the chips

For starters, look for a restaurant-style chip, preferably lightly salted and without extra flavorings. My personal holy grail bagged chips are Fiesta Grande, a small company in Michigan that makes the single best tortilla chip I have ever eaten. While I used to have to rely on Michigan pals to keep me stocked, thankfully they now ship! You can also up the ante by making your own. Buy corn tortillas, cut the stack into wedges, and deep fry in peanut or avocado oil until golden brown. Cool on a rack over a sheet pan, and lightly salt as soon as they come out of the oil.

Tips for the cheese

You have a few choices here, and happily, none of them are bad. If you like a super melty sticky sort of nacho, you will want to go with a queso. If you are feeling sciencey, try making your own queso it with sodium citrate, which creates an intensely flavored sauce, with the texture of a classic melty cheese, but all the punch of aged cheddar, smoked Gouda, or peppy manchego.

If you prefer an old-school version, melt the American cheese of your choice with a can of tomatoes with green chiles. If you like your nachos to have more of a frico, baked-on cheese coating, you can use a freshly shredded cheese of your choice. Pro tip: If possible, avoid pre-shredded bagged cheese, which has anti-clumping agents added to it that can have an unpleasant sandy texture. 

Tips for the toppings

The sky is the limit, but the more you load on, the harder they are to eat. I like to limit things a bit. I do often lean into an optional protein (think seasoned ground beef, sauteed chorizo, carnitas, or pulled chicken) if I want nachos to be dinner but leave it off for snacking or entertaining so that I can keep things vegetarian friendly.

  • I always add crema, a loose sour cream that is easy to drizzle, to add tart cooling creaminess.
  • A bit of salsa adds some heat; I prefer the ones that are more liquid but use what you love.
  • A briny item adds acidity: pickled jalapenos or onions work well, as do green or black olives.
  • Fresh produce for crisp balance is always welcome: thinly shredded iceberg or green cabbage, julienned radishes or jicama.
  • Finally, if you like avocado, add either dollops of guacamole or pieces of cubed avocado.

Tips for baking

This is my time-tested method: Heat oven to 450° and put a rack in the middle of your oven. Arrange chips in an even layer on a sheet pan (or two) overlapping slightly but not stacked on top of each other. If you are using shredded cheese, scatter it in an even layer over your chips. Bake for 6-8 minutes until chips are crisp and hot and beginning to color on the edges, and the cheese (if you are using shredded) is melted and bubbly. Remove from the oven.

Tips for assembly 

If using queso, heat it up while the chips are baking. Spoon it over the chips evenly—you want each chip to get some, but not a soaking which will sog them out too quickly. If you are adding a protein, scatter it about lightly—again, you are trying for every chip to get its due! Salsa goes next, followed by crema. Then add your avocado, if using, followed by your fresh vegetable. Lastly, add your briny item, dotting them around here and there. And serve it up!

Nachos made in this way allow for every bite to have a little bit of most of the toppings, while still providing some variation as you move through the platter. Importantly, every chip at the very least will have cheese, without any of those sad naked orphans at the bottom of the bowl.