People lie about nachos. They don’t mean to. But when friends tell you where to get the best nachos, their choices almost always reflect two misleading factors — proximity to their home/work, or availability at drunken hours.
Nachos are ordered with the best intentions. The experience commences with a burst of unrivalled satisfaction from warm, melty cheese over salty, crispy chips, only to quickly downgrade into a quagmire of diminishing enjoyment from shoddy layering, hidden guacamole costs, tomato-sogged chips, and cheese that is either insufficient or too quickly congealed.
Living with a nacho addict, however, I understand the quest for the next hit, the deluded expectation that doing the same thing again will achieve different and better results. So off we ran, to taste-test some of Toronto’s most beloved nachos, which seemed like a fun project until the food came to the table.
The city’s best nachos
Sneaky Dee’s, 431 College St.
The passion of Sneaky Dee’s nacho fans is inversely proportionate to the number of people who will admit to eating them sober. And if you’re in no condition to legally drive a car, you’re in no condition to judge nachos. Yes, the kitchen is open until 4:30 a.m. on the weekend. And if I were eating the veggie nachos ($17) after last call, with a head full of whisky, maybe I would be so impressed by the size of the mound that I wouldn’t object to the cold lettuce on top, an obfuscating garnish accelerating the cooling of cheese, a top layer cloak hiding an interior as empty as a campaign promise.
Prohibition, 696 Queen St. E.
If you’re going to fancy up a pub by calling it a gastropub, and fancy up nachos ($17.95) by serving them with “salsa rojo” (they mean salsa roja), you’ve got to roast the tomatoes and chilies, not just chop them with some onions. Spreading the chips and cheese over a small baking sheet doesn’t make them look more sufficient any more than a comb-over makes a bald man look like he has hair.
Cadillac Lounge, 1296 Queen St. E.
Adding smoky, juicy pulled chicken ($4), is advised. It’s a welcome distraction from the double layer of cheese on these nachos ($10.95), a textbook example of poor dispersal, resulting in a congealed puck that must be pulled apart like taffy. And it’s legal to make salsa with canned tomatoes. But it should not be done.
Hair of the Dog, 425 Church St.
They fry their own chips here. And from thick tortillas, giving a lot of weight to the heavily toasted nacho base layer. On top sits a blend of mozzarella and cheddar thick enough to be a fondue. The ratio of black olives and thick-cut pickled jalapenos, spread evenly over the single-layer nachos ($14), make the whole plate good to the last bite.
The winner: Triple A Bar, 138 Adelaide St. E.
Cheese is an expensive ingredient. Frugality with it means nacho platters ending with a leftover pile of naked chips is a common problem. The nachos at Triple A Bar ($16) contain so much cheese that I worry about their food costs. There’s nothing fancy in the tomato, onions or jalapenos on top. But the generous layering — caverns of mozzarella, aged cheddar and smoked cheddar throughout — is sublime.
The city’s weirdest nachos
These creations were a little too quirky to qualify in our hunt for the city’s best nachos, but their creativity deserved a taste test nonetheless.
Bar hop, 137 Peter St.
Can a pig’s head ($36) be plated with chips and be called nachos? Yes, if the kitchen also adds cheese, in the form of melted cheddar blended with milk, beer and Dijon, to top the rich pile of brined and slow-roasted pig cheek, tongue and crackling.
Scotland Yard, 56 The Esplanade
Scotland Yard’s squid, which could be a welcome addition to nachos ($19), is rubbery and, when touched, sheds its batter like a moulting reptile. Worse, it sits over stale chips and a miserly sprinkling of cheese.
Intersteer, 357 Roncesvalles Ave.
In the realm of crisped items proposed as corn chip replacements — pita chips, wontons, zucchini — pierogis are a great idea. The fried dumplings ($12) have enough surface area for the runny cheese sauce to get a grip, while containing bonus cheese inside.
Grand Electric, 1330 Queen St. E.
Chilaquiles ($11) — chips tossed in salsa rojo, covered in queso fresco cheese, chilies, avocado and a fried egg — have not gotten enough love in Canada. What does Grand Electric have to do, call them “breakfast nachos”?
Lucky Red, 318 Spadina Ave.
This Korean appetizer ($8) departs heavily without losing sight of the source material. Fried won ton dumplings, filled with pork, deliver the necessary crunch, their concave surface a perfect vessel for kimchi/tomato salsa, a drizzle of kimchi mayo and a sprinkle of mozzarella to tie it all together.
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