A Noble Nacho Quest

I set out to find the best nachos in Utah. Never had my mission felt so clear, my purpose so exact. The hungry people of our beloved state deserved to know where they can go to find the perfect combination of tortilla chips, cheese, guacamole, and various nacho paraphernalia, and I deserved to be the person to discover that perfect combination because no one else has, I guess. And so I bought and ate a lot of nachos, a selfless act to be sure.

I used a few different parameters to determine which nachos deserve the title of favorite:

  • I’m looking for the best nachos, not the best chips and queso. Chips and queso are delicious but I’m looking for cheese that was once in block form melted on top of tortilla chips, not tortilla chips dipped in a cheesy sauce. Queso may be added to the traditional nacho foundation, but as a topping, not the primary cheese source for the purposes of this study. So I did not test gas station or ball park nachos, even though I would never, ever say no to gas station or ball park nachos. I also did not try any dessert nachos, because how do you rank pastry and chocolate in a lineup of fat and salt? Don’t make me choose between my greatest loves.
  • There should be enough nachos in a single order to count as a meal. I’m not interested in four or five appetizer nachos. If I’m ordering nachos, I’m ordering them as my dinner, lunch, or heck, breakfast. Give me a lot of nachos. Give me so many nachos that if I eat them all I will be sick. The cheese should be the star of the nachos. Each chip should be buckling under the weight of cheddar. If the chip is the discarded door floating in the Atlantic as the Titanic drifts to the ocean floor, and the passengers are cheese, the chip should be supporting Rose, Jack, and at least three randos from steerage. THERE WAS ROOM ON THE DOOR, ROSE.
  • But the nachos should not be just chips and cheese! They should be served, at the very least, with a decent amount of meat, beans, guac, and sour cream.

Now, it’s important to remember every nacho is beautiful and deserves to be loved just for existing. Picking the best nacho is like picking the best Britney single. There are no bad choices. They are all bops. It’s just that our tastes differ, and while “Toxic” might be my jam, you may prefer “Lucky.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just personal preference. So while reviewing my hot nacho takes, consider the following and adjust the seriousness with which you take my opinions accordingly:

  • I don’t mind a soggy chip. A soggy chip indicates the nachos are properly topped. Remaining firm beneath a mountain of cheese and salsa is a big ask for a small chip. Not every chip should be moist, but those at the bottom of the heap, the Yurtle the Turtle chips, should be forgiven for mild limpness.
  • I’m zero percent interested in authenticity, which probably makes me an imperialist? At the very least it makes me a basic white girl? Maybe they're the same thing? It's just that if a nacho’s good, a nacho’s good, and a nacho does not need to be inherently Mexican to be good. Please don’t come for me, woke Twitter.
  • I did not try every nacho in Utah. I asked Twitter and Instagram for nacho recommendations and received over thirty responses. I’m just one woman with a deadline and a body that, sadly, can only handle so many nachos, so I narrowed the list down to the most recommended. Also, I did not try Red Iguana’s nachos, because there is just no way their nachos are as amazing as their chips and queso and I’m of the belief that if you’re going to Red Iguana you should be required by law to get the chips and queso.

Anyway, here are the places I tried, the good and bad of the nachos they serve, and some crappy photos of those nachos:

Hector’s:

Expert photography on my part

The Good:

  • Hector’s is a drive thru. As a parent to three children, there’s nothing I appreciate more than a drive thru. And that might be why the baby weight isn’t quite shedding off the way I had hoped. Or that could be because I’ve spent the last month ordering nachos 2-3 times a week.
  • Exceptional guacamole. Guacamole. Should. Be. Salted. Hector’s understands that.It’s a lot of nachos. Enough even to let exactly one other person have a nacho or two.

The Bad:

  • The cheese is not fully melted. And it’s not the highest quality cheese. But cheese is cheese and even crappy cheese is delicious. And I will always love Hector’s with my whole heart, mostly because it’s five minutes from my house. And it’s a half step up from Beto’s. You may use Hector’s as a stand in for Alberto’s, Rancheritos, etc. They are all the same.

Cafe Rio:

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case it's the word "woof" repeated 1,000 times

The Good:

  • Nothing. The Cafo Rio nachos are hot garbage.

The Bad:

  • Not pictured is the thimble of sour cream and guacamole thrown in the bag. Enough for like, one chip.
  • The nachos are mostly pork, which, in my case was sloppily plopped onto a sparse bed of generic chips, some of which had no contact with any cheese.  
  • I also ordered a pork salad and when I got home I discovered there was no pork on the pork salad. While this may not be an actual con about the nachos, it is an indictment of the Cafe Rio franchise. So add me to the list of haters, Rebbie.

R&R Barbecue

Those are brisket nachos, because that's what the internet told me to order.

The Good:

  • The chips are excellent. Thick and salty.  Fried to golden brown.The cheese is melted the way it should be. Right up to the edge of crispy.

The Bad:

  • There are not enough chips. I had some bites that were just melted cheese. And I mean, I’m not mad, but that’s not nachos.
  • These nachos are very spicy. Not only are there pickled jalapenos in almost every bite, but there are also raw jalapenos in the pico. Jalapenos should enhance flavor, not overpower it. I want a kick in my nachos, not an assault. This was an assault.

Costa Vida

I scarfed these just prior to recording three podcasts in a row and that was not wise. But it was worth it.

The Good:

  • The Costa Vida nachos are the freshest I tried. The pico really shines through and the guac is nice and chunky. I opted to have queso added on top, but they offer it on the side for those averse to soggy nachos.
  • At the Lehi location, Costa Vida has a drive thru.

The Bad:

  • I now have to cop to being a Costa Vida fan.

Rio Grande Cafe

Strong assist from the Diet Coke.

The Good:

  • The toppings are ample, and the house-made chips and salsa are baller.

The Bad:

  • These nachos are mostly refried beans. And look. I’ll take a plate of refried beans any day. I’ve been known to buy and eat cans of refried beans plain. But I believe black or pinto beans to better serve the overall nacho experience. Refried beans are too similar in texture to cheese, and the two elements together become a stodgy goopfest.

Lone Star Taqueria

But really, should I start offering mini sessions for my photography side hustle?

The Good:

  • I hadn’t been to Lone Star in a while. I used to live three blocks away and ate there...a lot. To the point where I couldn’t stand to eat there anymore. So I forgot how delicious it is. Very, very delicious.
  • And, a drive thru. I’m going to say it: the best thing about Utah is the abundance of Mexican places with drive thrus.
  • The Lone Star nachos are near perfect. Their chips are unbeatable. Their sour cream is seasoned. They really only have one flaw.

Cons:

  • WHY IS THERE LETTUCE ON THESE NACHOS LETTUCE DOES NOT BELONG ANYWHERE NEAR NACHOS THE PRESENCE OF LETTUCE ON THESE NACHOS IS WILDLY UPSETTING.

Chunga’s

I ordered these through Ubereats and ate them while watching Beyonce's homecoming and it was the best hour of my life.

The Good:

  • They use mozzarella cheese on their nachos which I didn’t think I’d be into, but reader, it works.
  • The nachos come with a side of cilantro ranch that adds a nice, tangy flavor.

The Bad:

  • The chicken is on the dry side. Saucier, shredded chicken would work better than the bite-sized grilled breast bits in these nachos.

I’m glad I had the chance to expand my nacho horizons and find out what a handful of local eateries have to offer by way of nacho dishes. I will certainly consider ordering nachos the next time I find myself at Hector’s, Costa Vida, R&R, Chungas, LoneStar, or Rio Grande. However, there is only one place I go specifically for the nachos time and time again. Because they are the best nachos.

Porcupine Pub & Grille

See the browned edges? A+

The Porcupine nachos are the ultimate Utah delicacy. Visit the Cottonwood Heights location at the mouth of the canyon between the months of November and April and you’ll find a restaurant full of raccoon-faced skiers just off the mountain, hungry enough to eat this double-decker chips and cheese behemoth, participating in the ultimate après-ski. And me, having not skied, and not particularly hungry, but still willing and able to eat most of the nachos on the plate. Because these nachos are a work of art.

They're baked in layers, so every bit of cheddar and monterey jack is melted just right, and the guac and sour cream are placed directly on top, making them accessible from every direction, a necessity should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation wherein you must share with another human.

There’s no one aspect that makes these nachos shine. Instead it’s like a team of competent, talented players working together to win a title. I would extend the metaphor here but we all know I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to The Sports. The point is, every part is good. Every bite delicious.

So in the end, I discovered what I suspected to be true all along. The real nachos are the friends we made along the way, namely, drive thru employees.

Just kidding. I suspected the Porcupine nachos would reign supreme, but I had to know for sure. And I was right.

But that’s my opinion, nachos.