The Accidental 1940s Origin Of Nachos

Although the current incarnation of nachos is notably Americanized, the original version hails from Mexico — Piedras Negras in Coahuila to be precise. The tale behind the origin of the dish is one of creativity and an eagerness to please on the part of a local restaurant called Victory Club and its maître d' Ignacio Anaya. 

As the story goes, nachos weren't originally on the menu at the Victory Club in 1940. In fact, there wasn't a cook in sight when they were first placed in front of a group of military wives from Eagle Pass, Texas who entered the closed restaurant looking for a meal — but that didn't stop Anaya from whipping the guests up a bite to eat with ingredients he had on hand.

Anaya fried up some totopos (made from tortillas but thicker than American-style tortilla chips), and topped them with melted Colby cheese and sliced jalapeños to give the earliest example of what we've come to know and love as nachos. Even then, the dish represented a blend of the two countries, thanks to the distinctly U.S. government-issued cheese that was commonly found on both sides of the border after Americans traded, sold it, and gifted it to their friends and family in Mexico.

How nachos evolved from their humble origins

It's unclear how the military wives, who were on a shopping trip south of the border, found themselves at the Victory Club when the restaurant was closed. But they enjoyed the appetizer that Ignacio Anaya created so much that they ordered another round. They even called it Nacho's Special, naming it after the maître d' (nacho being short for Ignacio).

Whereas the original dish was made with shredded Colby cheese melted on top of totopos, today most plates are made with nacho cheese sauce slathered atop traditional tortilla chips. That change came courtesy of an American businessman, Frank Liberto, who invented the concoction to be sold at Arlington Field in the 1970s, then the home of the Texas Rangers baseball team. The cheese sauce was more shelf-stable and transformed how quickly nachos could be made at the stadium. Not only did it not need be melted, but it didn't need to be kept cold either — a win-win for busy concession stands.

The latest ideas for ever-evolving nachos

From the early simplicity of chips, cheese, and jalapeños to a more modern variety of fusion food pairings, nachos have come a long way since 1940. From crab rangoon nachos that substitute regular tortilla chips for fried wontons to "Irish" nachos that use one type of potato or another (rounds, tater tots, or french fries generally), the chips and cheese combination has evolved into almost limitless international possibilities. Calamari, carne asada, and BBQ pulled pork nachos are just a few more examples.

There are even breakfast nachos — chilaquiles — though technically speaking, they pre-date the 1940 invention by hundreds of years. First eaten by the Aztecs, a major tribe in pre-colonial Mexico, chilaquiles have been enjoyed in much of Central America for centuries and reached the U.S. in 1898. Topped with red or green sauce, crumbled cheese, fried egg, optional meat, and a variety of other toppings, they're also a lot like enchiladas thanks to the sauce, and may even be considered the best of both worlds. Still, regardless of which style of nachos is your favorite, they wouldn't exist without Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya and his eagerness to please.