Them Jeans Takes Us on a Nacho Tour of Los Angeles
Them Jeans Takes Us on a Nacho Tour of Los Angeles
WORDS + PHOTOS BY: JASON STEWART
After some googling, I found that most “best nacho” lists were not only dumb, but upsetting. These lists are full of non- nacho items; waffle cut fries with cheese on them(?) delicious but non-nacho frito pies, nachos with kimchi, or cauliflower instead of chips–ugh. Don’t get me wrong I love an experimental food. I welcome a sensical fusion with open arms, but certain things are special and shouldn’t be fiddled with, like a tortilla chip covered with cheese and some other stuff.
The nachos listed here are just a compilation, there is no clear winner, as you’ll learn there are too many styles to chose one, so use the list for whatever mood you’re in.
Some people like nacho cheese sauce ladled over their chips, I don’t. If I’m going to be saucing, it’s a dip, not a drop for me. I prefer a melted cheese, sometimes just a non-melted shred can hit the spot too, if everything is singing that day. I like nachos because they’re all technique, like so many impossible-to-perfect foods, nachos are an orchestra, each instrument shouldn’t be fighting for attention. Dumping a pound of perfectly grilled carne asada on some mediocre nachos is like Kendrick hopping on an Imagine Dragons song, the Dragons, and the nachos, are still shitty.
This spot is well known in foodie circles for its bean n cheese burrito. It’s delicious, one of the most unassuming and simple burritos in town, and their equally simple nachos have found a spot on my list. Half the charm of A&B’s is it’s untouched for 50 years feel, you really get a feeling of what East LA on a hot summer in the 70s might be like. Not much to look at, but dirt cheap, their nachos are much more interactive than others (they call it a “snack plate” on the menu board if you have a hard time spotting it.) Chips and unmelted cheddar cheese sit in the large compartment of a styrofoam to-go box, the two smaller sections are an avocado sauce, or, guacamole with water mixed in to stretch it out, and the real star here: refried beans. It’s all about the beans here, you’ll notice they’re clearly made with lard, but it’s just somehow the right amount. They’ve perfected the ideal ratio of pork fat without being overpowering. If you order a snack plate, you’ll notice they call your number with urgency, as the final step of nacho preparation involves another styrofoam container in the form of a coffee cup, filled with hot salsa to be poured on top of the chips quickly, so the residual salsa heat melts the cheese. It doesn’t melt all of the cheese, and you won’t want it to. The unmelted bits offer a welcome contrasting texture you secretly want more than the others. Grab a chip and dip it around, embrace the balance of the sum of these humble ingredients.
PROS: The perfectly porky beans, very cheap, compartmentalized ingredients and interactive dipping is fun.
CONS: Even though everything was delicious and cheap, you can tell the quality of ingredients isn’t the highest–that may effect how you and your stomach feel after eating these.
Across the street from Paramount Studios, this tiny beloved lunch spot has been making comforting homestyle but not life changing Michoacan style Mexican food for 15 years. (Editors note, the mole is apparently fire.) I mean that in the nicest way of course, if you live or work nearby, it’s just what you want, not a destination, but exactly the spot you’d hit when you come back in town after a trip. Their nachos sit atop the favorite list of a few respectable connoisseurs so I checked it out. At first glance a nice looking pile of ingredients, all the normal guys are here. The main focal point is the guac at the top of the pile, surrounded by a sour cream moat. It’s primarily a cosmetic feature, But I thought it was cute. All in all the nachos are good, not eyes rolling in the back of your head level, but I was judging too quickly. After picking around for awhile I started noticing the chips were really holding their crunch, even after soaking in chicken water, and almost had a slight sweetness to them. I asked my lunch date if thats a thing, sweet tortilla chips, they said maybe. Shortly after telling myself I’d be eating no more than 1/4 of the nachos, I finished the entire plate. These nachos are not breathtaking, but they have a mystical power about them, luring you in to keep munching, I couldn’t stop myself.
PROS: Best chips in the group, ability to stop eating them oddly impossible, homemade salsa bar is self serve and solid.
CONS: I ordered them with chicken tinga, don’t do that, the stewed meat watered down the plate, rough parking.
A favorite nacho spot of local legend Atiba Jefferson (listen to his episode of the New Rules podcast) Loteria sits dead center in the Farmer’s Market food court at The Grove. They serve high quality, clean Mexican food to tourists and hungover DJs who’s friends want to eat Brazilian food and a slice of pizza instead of Chilaquiles. The nachos here are also clean, and when I say clean, I mean fresh ingredients, of a higher quality, not dripping in fat and salt, just presented honestly, which isn’t always what I’m looking for in Mexican food tbh, but we’re here to sample every flavor of the rainbow. Oddly enough, I thought the diced tomato was the real star here, but we are in the middle of tomato summer. A presumably house-made chip is fine but thankfully it’s completely blanketed in melted white cheese. If you were careful, you could pull it all off in a single frisbee of Monterey Jack. A thin, translucent green sauce is poured all over the top of that, offering some tomatillo zing without much heat. Black beans are scattered around sparingly. This nacho is oddly satisfying though, an honest and simply presented plate. The lack of heavy handed flavors allow the perfectly summer-ripe tomato flavor to shine through.
PROS: People watching, your friends can eat somewhere else if they want to, your parents from out of town who are scared of everything will be down with these, great tomatoes.
CONS: Chip quality, you’ve gotta be in the mood to hit The Grove, a little pricey, and a little less boldly flavored.
All things taken into consideration, I feel like this one might be my overall favorite. It’s the kind of nacho I grew up on, nothing fancy, but every thing I want is there. Also one of the cheapest nachos on the list. House made chips are fried from their old tortillas right there in the truck, soupy refried beans and cheese are added before they hit the microwave (I know microwaves are looked down upon often, but sometimes they’re actually the best tool for the job.) The delicious but kinda shitty cheese creates a shiny plastic gloss all over, some parts have fused with styrofoam through osmosis, in a good way. Sour cream is liberally plopped all over, and a nice big portion of sliced-to-order avocado sits in the middle. The salsa bar has a solid selection, add your own onion and cilantro, a few ladles of your fave salsa, and some radishes on the side for a veggie break. These nachos are best consumed alone without anyone to judge you, don’t eat them with a friend. You’ll just passive-aggressively fight over the petrified cheese deposits, too embarrassed to pull stuck cheddar from parchment paper with your teeth in front of company. It’s blindingly apparent I have a connection with these nachos.
PROS: My kinda nacho. Cheap, fresh avocado slices, if you order chicken it’s actually a pretty clean and healthy stewed chicken breast.
CONS: Served to you in a truck at a gas station, presumably at 2:00am (that’s on me).
I had to do one cheese sauce nacho for all of you who scrunch your nose at the thought of a melted shred. I asked Eggslut chef and owner, Alvin Cailan what his favorite nachos were, and “Mexicali” was the word he DM’d me back with. It’s in a weird part of town where Echo Park meets Chinatown, on a strip of Figueroa that seems to not exist for any reason other than a freeway on-ramp, making Mexicali a chill stop with easy parking. Even though I chose this because it was sauced, the real star here are their meats. I’ve always been impressed by what they can do here, considering they don’t use wood or charcoal to grill with, just gas. The flavor they’ve managed to coax out of their carne asada left me very impressed. The Mexicali nacho is more of a blank gooey canvas for meat, and nothing more, in my opinion. If you’re a vegetarian, maybe this isn’t the one for you. Sadly the chip quality is pretty low here, on par with a baseball game nacho. It’s proximity to Dodger Stadium does add some much needed nostalgia points. The nachos are just three ingredients when served, but they have a fantastic salsa bar full of fresh and well-maintained bits to put all over your nachos. I’ve found their avocado salsa to be the thickest in town while still being free, and a fistful of cold cucumbers help balance their hotter salsas out.
PROS: Great carne asada, nacho sauce–if you’re into that sort of thing, great salsa bar, easy parking and chill vibe.
CONS: Chip quality was rough, no beans or sour cream, without the meat, it’s not really worth it imo.