The History of the Nacho

Nachos, done right, can be quite tasty. Here's a little background on their origin, via the Saturday WSJ. - The Search for the Perfect Nacho
... According to nacho lore, it all began in 1943, when several military wives at Fort Duncan in Eagle Pass, Texas, decided to go on a toot in Mexico. This did not require much pluck. Eagle Pass is just a short bridge over the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras in the state of Coahuila. In Piedras Negras (black stones, from the coal once mined there), they took shelter in the Victory Club, demanding food as well as drink. The only employee present, the maitre d', grabbed some fried corn tortilla chips from the bar, melted Wisconsin yellow cheese on top of them and then set a slice of canned jalapeño peppers on each snack.

This Escoffier of la frontera was Ignacio Anaya, nicknamed Nacho. The Army brides gobbled his improvisation up and spread the word about the dish their leader Mamie had dubbed Nacho's especiales. Eventually people all over southern Texas were calling them nachos.

The evidence for this tale is less solid than what we might demand to prove that, say, George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. The most convincing account comes from Ignacio Anaya Jr., not a disinterested party, in an interview in the San Antonio Express-News in 2002. Long before then, the Victory Club restaurant had closed and Nacho Sr. had moved to the Moderno. He died in 1975, two years too soon to enjoy global fame.

In 1977, one Frank Liberto started selling nachos at Arlington Stadium, an early Texas Rangers venue near Dallas. Liberto made sure his nachos were on hand for sports broadcaster Howard Cosell to try when he came to town for “Monday Night Football.” Cosell talked up nachos on the air, and the rest is history, the history of a planetary pandemic.

...What bliss indeed to be present at the creation of a spicy Mexican bar snack. And how clever of Howard Cosell to see that this mosaic of cheese and chips and stinging pepper was the perfect finger food for the age of the couch potato.

Do I like nachos? Where do I stand on molten processed cheese? Do I object to beans and guacamole? Yes, I love nachos. I order them reflexively in airport bars. But, out of respect to Ignacio Anaya, I have to say that quality begins with first-rate ingredients -- real cheddar, real corn tortilla chips, plenty of jalapeño slices. And whatever else you want to throw on.

That's just what I found on the way south to Eagle Pass, at El Chile Cafe y Cantina in Austin, near the University of Texas. My guess is that this skillful kitchen, in the heart of the heart of Tex-Mex food, cooks nachos tongue-in-cheek. But they're delicious, because the ingredients are all treated with respect.

I rarely eat nachos at restaurants, however. Mostly, they just suck, or are soggy piles of glop. A few places make delicious nachos, mostly in Austin. The best nachos are made with one's own hand, using quality ingredients, as is true with most foods. Sharlot makes a pretty good nacho, if I recall correctly.

Note, though I won't be watching the “Big Game”, I do plan on eating nachos and drinking plenty of beer. It is Sunday after all.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on February 5, 2006 10:24 AM.

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