While we may not be able to find a nacho hat in Tucson, fortunately our nacho options aren’t limited to processed cheese from a six-pound can.
Invented by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya in the early 1940s for a group of American soldiers’ wives shopping just across the Texan border in Piedras Negras, Mexico, it wasn’t until the 1970s when the snack rose to its current pinnacle of familiarity. Frank Liberto began to market the snack at concession stands in Texas during sporting events, reformulating the cheese for better shelf life in the process. When Howard Cosell and Monday Night Football came for a visit, that was all she wrote. Cosell loved the unique snack so much, he made it a point to mention “nachos” during his broadcasts for weeks following the visit.
Fast-forward to modern day Tucson and we have Mexican cheeses, such as cotija and queso Oaxaca. We also have Sonoran carne asada. And while pico de gallo is often a must, the salsas distinct to each restaurant are usually what help them stand out.
Queso disclaimer: though ‘queso’ translates literally to ‘cheese,’ in the context of this article, it’s referring to the Tex-Mex chile con queso, which is a creamy cheese sauce with chopped peppers.
Here’s the list:
The Big Dude Nachos feed eight to ten people, so bring a gargantuan appetite or a posse. These red chips are topped with melted cheese, beans, carne asada, Chef Maria Mazon’s signature chopped cabbage, pico de gallo, guacamole, and an assortment of salsas. Since the salsas change daily, you’re always in for a pleasant surprise.
For more information, visit bocatacos.com.
These are different. They’re sweet, since the barbecue is the star here. Your meat and sauce of choice are scattered across some seasoned tortilla chips with pico de gallo, jalapeños, cheddar cheese, and sour cream.
Learn more at brushfirebbq.com.
Although the chips and salsa at Calle Tepa are fantastic on the side, make it a meal with protein and guacamole. The salsa bar has heat ranging from mild to habanero-grade, so be careful. The house infused tequilas also make this worth a trip.
For more information, visit calletepa.com.
The Charro Nachos are topped with beans, jalapeños, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, and ground beef or pollo arizona, which is their slow-cooked shredded chicken. You’ll want to share this as an appetizer so you have room to order their signature chimichanga with carne seca.
For more information, visit elcharrocafe.com.
Frog’s nachos features a generous pile of cheddar along with your choice of homemade salsa, chicken, sausage, bacon, guacamole, or additional toppings.
For more information, visit frogandfirkin.com.
The Picacho nacho towers with layers of Jack cheese, black bean dip, queso, peppers, onions and house-made salsa. The combination of Jack cheese and queso brings both stretchiness and gooeyness to the table. It’s available from the bar menu after 4 p.m. in the Tap Room, Lobby bar, Club Congress bar, and on the Plaza. Weekdays 4-6 p.m. are happy hour.
For more information, visit hotelcongress.com.
The Nachos Gracias are heavier on vegetables than cheese, which makes it easier to eat in large quantities. The slices of peppers are a unique touch that add to the fresh flavor profile. You wouldn’t know the veggie chorizo was meatless unless somebody told you, since it’s packed with flavor and texture.
Keep up with La Botana Fresco Grill & Cantina on Facebook.
Tucked away at the northwestern end of downtown, La Cocina has a gorgeous patio and colorful nachos. Topped with house queso, black beans, jalapeños, tomatoes, guacamole, salsa, and crema, it’s a wide spectrum of color and flavor. While you’re riding the color momentum, you might as well order a hibiscus margarita.
For more information, visit lacocinatucson.com.
The supreme nachos here don’t have any sour cream, so ask if you want it. The chunks of avocado and tomato provide bursts of contrasting textures. You’ll definitely want one of their raspados for dessert while you’re here to combat the summer sun. Everything here is cheap, so you can afford to treat all of your friends if you’re that nice.
For more information, visit lafresitatucson.com.
The President’s Plate gets most of the love here, but the nachos are worthy as well. The chips are piled on a base of refried beans, while the enchilada sauce provides a savory quality not found in common salsas. Mounds of guacamole and sour cream are in the center for your dipping pleasure.
For more information, visit minidito.net.
The nachos grande at Seis are on the snack portion of the menu, but don’t consider it snack-sized. House-made tortilla chips are covered in cochinita pibil, which is a Yucatan specialty of pork marinated in citrus juice and annatto, then slowly roasted. They’re then topped with cheddar and jack cheese, sour cream, guacamole, red onion, and cilantro.
For more information, visit seiskitchen.com.
If the canned nacho cheese tickles your fancy, try Tosti-Loco’s cousin, “Tosti-Nacho.” The Salsa Verde flavored Tostitos add another level of flavor, while meats such as barbacoa and adobada are available for an extra charge. Eating the chips straight out of the bag also provides middle school nostalgia. The raspados are a must while you’re here.
Keep up with Sonoran Delights on Facebook.
The pineapple in al pastor isn’t something you’d typically find in nachos, but the sweet tang actually works, similar to a Hawaiian barbecue pizza. Everything is assembled as you order, so it’s easy to pick what you want or don’t want. A massive array of tequila is present if you’re feeling wild.
Keep up with Street Taco and Beer Co. on Facebook.
Try the chicharron as the meat on the nachos at Taqueria El Pueblito. The little chunks of spicy fried pork are pleasantly chew and pack some smoky chile pepper heat. These nachos are lighter on the cheese, but generous with the other toppings such as guacamole, onions, and pico de gallo.
Keep up with Taqueria El Pueblito on Facebook.
Watch the game while chomping their nachos, which include local tortilla chips, cheese, onions, tomatoes, black olives, jalapeños, sour cream, green onions, and salsa.
For more information, visit tridentgrill.com.
Where are your favorite nachos in town? Let us know in the comments.
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran’s Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...