This Is the Only Ingredient You Need for the Best Nachos (Other Than Chips & Cheese)

The original nachos use just 3 ingredients, and honestly, that's all you need. 

close up on a baking sheet of super nachos
Photo: Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

I never met a nacho I didn't like. Microwave nachos? I'll take 'em. Stadium nachos? Yep! Happy hour nachos? Definitely. Broiler nachos? Sounds like dinner to me. But there is one ingredient that I need to have on the stack for them to really feel like nachos to me: pickled jalapeño.

The vinegar tang cuts through the rich cheese and salty chip with that brief and subtle kick of heat from the jalapeño. Plus, the soft bite is the perfect companion to the gooey and crispy textures of the pile.

Well, it turns out there is a reason this combination tastes perfect to me: Because it's the way nachos were originally designed to be eaten. I stumbled across this article by Pati Jinich (one of my favorite Mexican chefs) in the New York Times about the history of nachos, and suddenly my nacho worldview clicked into place.

When and Where Were Nachos Invented?

Before we can answer this question, let's be clear: There are many different types of nachos, most of them with heavy American influence. But the very first ones were born in Mexico in 1940, in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

According to the New York Times, a group of women stopped by the Victoria Club restaurant looking for a bite to eat, but the kitchen had already closed. The maître d', Ignacio Anaya, decided to whip them up something himself with what the kitchen had on hand. He topped corn tortilla chips with some colby cheese and pickled jalapeño slices and warmed it in the oven.

The dish was an instant hit. It made its way onto the Victoria Club's menu, as well as many other restaurants' menus in the region.

Over time, the dish spread to Texas and eventually got the Tex-Mex treatment most Americans recognize today: Many more toppings like meat, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, etc. and sometimes even a cheese sauce instead of the melted cheese originally used.

By the 1970s, Texas businessman Frank Liberto introduced stadium nachos (the kind with orange cheese sauce straight from a pump) at Texas Rangers baseball and Dallas Cowboys football games, and the rest is history.

Why are Nachos Called Nachos Anyway?

Anaya went by the name "Nacho," a common nickname for Igancio in Spanish. On that fateful night when nachos were born, the women eating them lovingly called them, "Nacho's Special." Anaya later opened his own restaurant called Nacho's and the name has stuck ever since.

The Bottom Line

All you need for true nachos—the way they were originally created in Mexico—are three ingredients: tortilla chips, cheese, and pickled jalapeños. Pop it in the oven to get melty and you have an appetizer that's sure to be devoured.

According to the International Nacho Festival, also known as Nacho Fest, held in Piedras Negras each October, for nachos to be "nachos" they must have tortilla chips, cheese and "some kind of chile." Personally, I'll be sticking to pickled jalapeños to meet this requirement.

Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love