Meet The Nacho Hunters
Three brave men on a quest to find the best nachos
With Cinco de Mayo here, plenty of gringo food types (bloggers, editors, Foodspotters, Ruth Reichl) will be reflecting on our United States of Tacos—those pork skin, beef tongue, barbecue lamb–stuffed and kimchi-spiked rolled cornmeal envelopes from heaven. These days it’s all LA vs. Chicago vs. Houston vs. I’M GOING TO SHOOT MYSELF.
Thankfully, there are a couple of Mexican food enthusiasts who have dedicated a great deal of time looking outside the boring. (There, said it). This ain’t Taco Talk with Linda Ramirez. We’re here to discuss NACHOS.
Christopher and Nicholas Schonberger run the website Nachohunters.com—a D.I.Y nacho travelogue documenting the coolest/weirdest things happening in the world of tortilla chip topping. There’s duck nachos from Newport, RI and Polish-Mexican found in London’s Shepard’s Market. The brothers also make their own spins, including a plate of larb nachos inspired by Christopher’s trip to Cambodia. This past Thanksgiving? Hell yes they made Thanksgiving nachos, made with roasted turkey from NYC’s Torrisi Italian Specialties.
Lee Frank is the man behind Nachos NY, which originates from the gifting of a yellow “I ♥ Nachos” shirt that was presented because Frank “wouldn’t stop talking about nachos.” Shortly after he launched the blog—which has reviewed over 100 NYC nacho varieties. The sometime tour guide also hosts an annual Guactacular—being held May 8 at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY.
We caught up with Frank and the Brothers Schonberger to find out about pairing beers/booze and song, the best fast food varietals, and the single worst nacho they have ever sampled.
Brothers Schonberger: They are the quintessential American foodstuff—a humble dish with infinite room for interpretation. They also promote a communal style of eating that we like a lot, so it's about the experience of eating nachos as much as the food itself. If you want to get to know the measure of a man, share some nachos with him and all the important stuff will come out by the time you get to the last chip.
Lee Frank: Nachos have been my favorite food since I was a kid. My family used to make nachos in the microwave after school or on a Sunday and it was always great. Since then, I've gotten out of the microwave and moved on to craftier methods of cooking, but I never stopped loving them.
How far have you traveled to sample nachos?
Brothers Schonberger: Christopher has traveled as far as Mongolia, where he had pretty horrendous nachos at a Genghis Khan-themed Irish bar. He also had phenomenal nachos with spicy lentils in Cambodia. Nicholas has had nachos in Barrow, Alaska, which is home to Pepe's North of the Border—the only place to get nachos anywhere near the Arctic Circle.
Lee Frank: While I haven't made it to Piedras Negras, birthplace of the nacho, I will get there. I have gone to El Cholo in Los Angeles, which is supposed to be the first place in the US to have nachos. I've also had nachos in Brussels and Copenhagen, and actually both places were pretty delicious.
Are nachos Mexican or Tex-Mex or neither?
Brothers Schonberger: Good question. Nacho lore places the invention of nachos in Mexico, but they clearly flourished in the States through the Tex-Mex connection. Anyone who's traveled in Mexico knows that only places like 7-Eleven are likely to serve nachos. But even the "Tex-Mexness" of the dish has dissipated over time. These days you can get anything from "Irish nachos" to "Siberian nachos." Siberian nachos are served at a Russian place inside the Mandelay Bay Casino, and are basically fried wantons with smoked salmon on top of them. If we're being academic, Siberian nachos aren't nachos at all. However, you should get the point that almost anything is possible when great culinary wits decide to tackle the nacho.
Lee Frank: Nachos come from Mexico, but have little to no history in Mexico. As soon as they were invented (just chips, cheese, and jalapenos), the idea came to the US, where we wanted to make it bigger and better than before with things like guacamole, salsas, and eventually and sadly, dry chicken.
Is there a nacho scholar you have studied under?
Brothers Schonberger: We are the only nacho scholars worth noting.
Lee Frank: I didn't study under anyone specifically, but early on I appreciated Lisa Fain's “Homesick Texan.” If there's a teacher or student out there looking for me, I'm ready.
What beer best pairs with nachos?
Brothers Schonberger: You might be tempted to grab a Mexican beer, but they generally taste like a spring breaker's urine sample. Since nachos have a lot of different layered ingredients, you want something well-rounded and versatile. Your best bet is to go with a hoppy pilsner or crisp IPA—the hoppiness will match up nicely with the heat of jalapeños. Victory Prima Pils and Sixpoint Sehr Crisp are both solid options. A good all-round Hefeweizen, like the one from Weihenstephaner, is also a good look.
Lee Frank: I'll probably ask for a Tecate. I like my beers, but when I get nachos, they're my focus. [Tecate]'s cheap, simple, and nearly always comes with a lime.
What liquor best pairs with nachos?
Brothers Schonberger: With booze you're safe looking south of the border and grabbing some tequila. You can get as nerdy as you like—if you're eating nachos with chipotle chicken, for example, you might match that smokiness with a nice mezcal like Ilegal. But nachos are for the people, so taking down a novelty frozen margarita that's bigger than your head is perfectly acceptable as well. Don't drink Famous Grouse straight with nachos. We did this once, to disastrous effect.
Lee Frank: I hope it's not cliché to say tequila is the best liquor with nachos. But I like my margaritas spicy, so I'm a big fan of jalapeño-infused tequila.
What sport best pairs with nachos?
Brothers Schonberger: Football. Because the sport sucks and nachos provide a silver lining.
Lee Frank: Baseball, though I'm biased because it's my favorite sport. But there are a lot of bad nachos at baseball games. I don't want to name names, but the guacamole and nachos stands at Yankees Stadium are sponsored and not great.
What song best pairs with nachos?
Brothers Schonberger: Probably "Hey Ma" by Cam'ron and Juelz Santana.
Lee Frank: I'd be a liar if I told you I don't love mariachis. I'd have to say their songs best pair with every part of my life.
Favorite fast food nachos?
Brothers Schonberger: Qdoba has terrific fast food nachos. Solid meats, great cheese sauce, and some nice black beans. It should be noted that Qdobas in the Midwest tend to do a much better job than the East Coast ones. Chipotle will make you some nachos if you ask politely. The chips are salty as hell but their meats are even better than Qdoba's.
Lee Frank: My favorite fast food nachos must be at Qdoba. I wanted to say Taco Bell because I have a secret, very hidden crush on the Bell, but I actually don't like their nachos. At Qdoba, you can get a catered nacho bar, and that is just amazing.
Most non-traditional nacho you have sampled?
Brothers Schonberger: We have a larb nacho recipe that we developed on our own that we're partial to—we cook minced pork with a ton of lemongrass and Thai chilies, then we make a thin, spicy cheese sauce and fry up wonton wrappers in place of tortilla chips. As far as places in NYC, we recently had a pretty awesome riff called "pork-skin nachos" at R Lounge in the Times Square Renaissance Hotel, which is run by the Blue Ribbon guys.
Lee Frank: I've had my share of Buffalo chicken nachos, which you're always better off making yourself. But at Southern Hospitality in NYC they have a barbecue pulled pork nacho that will make you question why other nachos have no barbecue sauce. We once had hurricane nachos at Cowgirl Seahorse—they packed a decent portion of the animal kingdom on there. (Beef, pork, shrimp, chicken). Those were appropriately named.
Hands-down worst nacho you have sampled?
Brothers Schonberger: The Green Man Pub, which is in the basement of Harrod's in London (if you see the memorial to Princess Di and Dodi Al Fayed, you've gone down the wrong stairwell). Nachos in the U.K. tend to be pretty revolting, and these were by far the worst. Christopher actually complained to the manager and got them stricken from the bill.
Lee Frank: The movie theater. Every single time. It's always bad, but as I thought about this, I remembered the worst ones. I spent some time in China and found a movie theater that had nachos. They were so off it was crazy. Hard, very stale chips with a cheese sauce that never would have fooled anyone.
Favorite nachos-related YouTube clip?
Brothers Schonberger: There is this Midwestern dude that has a cooking show. He has a clip where he makes grilled chicken nachos and then describes them as perfect from when you've brought home a "DVD movie."
Lee Frank: My favorite nachos YouTube clip, hands down, has to be this iPad commercial made by Parry Gripp, where he goes into a lot of details about the specs of an iPad and has an interlude comparing them to nachos.
Favorite commercial tortilla chip?
Brothers Schonberger: The Xochitl corn chips that you can get at Whole Foods are very good. But if you really want to make good nachos at home you should make your own. Buy some round corn tortillas, quarter them, then fry them in oil and salt to taste.
Lee Frank: I like Mission chips a lot. We are huge fans of Xochitl too. Those are delicious, but not ideal for nachos given their fragility.
What’s the next food stuff you would like to focus on?
Brothers Schonberger: There are more nachos out there then we could ever dream of eating, so we'll stay the course. And to be honest, eating nachos and starting nachohunters.com was never really about finding a niche foodstuff to overanalyze. We actually just love nachos.
Lee Frank: I haven't considered any other foods much since I have so much ground to cover with nachos. I wouldn't mind sampling cookies everywhere, though. Can you help me get started with that?
What are the best nachos you've ever had? What's your favorite place in your hometown to get nachos? Talk about it in the comments.