Saturday, July 30, 2011

El Burro (Campbell, CA): Nachos with Chicken

Most of the time, when you go to a sit-down Mexican restaurant, rather than a taqueria, you get a pretty darn nice plate of nachos (Chevy's has been the only exception so far).  El Burro, like Casa Lupe, builds each nacho with care, making sure that a nice helping of each ingredient makes it to your mouth with each bite.  Speaking of ingredients, there was a decided lack of color (and salsa) on these nachos, so I "customized" them with a spoonful of their yummy red salsa on each:
Much nicer to look at, and even better tasting this way.  Don't get me wrong, they were very good, even without the salsa, but that's how I roll.  The shredded chicken was very tender with good flavor, if not very juicy and I really like it when cheddar cheese is used instead of Monterey jack.  The chips were just ok, but so big that each nacho took about 3 bites to polish off, which made for some amusing, messy eating.  The guacamole was mostly avocado, which is always a plus, and the refried beans made for great adhesive to bring it all together.  Overall, a good bet if you're looking for a big plate of restaurant-style nachos.

This post is dedicated to the late Bob Johnson, a great guy that I worked with for 8 years during my industrial design career and who loved to eat at El Burro.  May you always enjoy delicious nachos wherever you are, Bob!

Rating: 3½ out of 5
Rating Notes: May possibly have been a 4 (3¾?) , but I had to add the salsa myself, and these were relatively expensive ($8.95)
Map to Location:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tortilla Flats (Soquel, CA): Small Nachos with Chicken

Ah yes, Tortilla Flats, a fixture in Soquel (near Santa Cruz) since the early 80's.  My family and I have been going to this excellent hole-in-the-wall gourmet Mexican restaurant since I was a kid.  This is no ordinary Mexican restaurant.  They have killer specials and great desserts.  My dad got mushroom tamales made with 3 different kinds of gourmet mushrooms.  One of the dessert offerings was mango cream pie (my wife and I were sad that we didn't have enough space left in our tummies for it after devouring our main courses).  My usual here is their amazing "Red Pepper Chicken Enchiladas".  Believe it or not, I'd never had their nachos!  Since I was there with a group (Mom, Dad, Wife, and Kids), we ordered nachos as an appetizer.  Predictably, they were very good.   The chicken was tender, the cheese was good quality, and the guacamole was excellent.  Best tomatoes that I've had on a plate of nachos, too!  These definitely weren't the best nachos I've had, but I was glad to see a solid showing from one of my favorite restaurants.
Rating: 3½ out of 5
Map to Location:
Footnote:  I thought it appropriate to share a couple more photos from my dining experience this evening:

 "Red Pepper Chicken Enchiladas"  My old standby.  So good!  The sauce is amazing.

"Watermelon Margaritas" Wow.  $9.50 each?  Wow!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chevy's (San Jose, CA): Nachos Grande

Lunch at Chevy's on a Wednesday afternoon with my good friend Karl.  It doesn't get much better than that!  Believe it or not, in the many times that I've eaten at Chevy's (and there have been many times), I'd never had their nachos before.  When I opened the menu, I was presented with 2 choices for nachos, the 1150 calorie "Fajita Nachos" and the 1910 calorie "Nachos Grande".  Against my better caloric judgement, I went with the Nachos Grande.  Why?  Because they come with "Salsa Chicken" instead of grilled chicken (fajitas are grilled, right?).  It was the right choice.  This is a good plate of nachos, albeit expensive as nachos go ($9.99).   All the right elements are there, including jack cheese, cheddar cheese (a rarity), refries, tasty chicken, a great red sauce (enchilada sauce?), and sour cream, guacamole, and salsa fresca (pico de gallo).  The only complaints at all that I have about these nachos are:
1. Why are they so hard to eat?  It's almost impossible to get a chip with every ingredient on it because they're so haphazardly thrown together. You've gotta dig to get to the chicken, too.
2. Why didn't they use their epic warm, crispy corn chips that they give you free with every meal?  As dipping chips go, they are my absolute favorite anywhere, and may have made it into my "Perfect" nachos post ahead of those from Taqueria Vallarta had I gone to Chevy's sooner.  Instead, they used some pretty average tasting chips that were and entirely to large.
Rating:  3 out of 5
Rating Notes: Take a little time to assemble a nacho with all of the ingredients and these are really great tasting. ½ a point was deducted because of the price, which should have yielded a slightly larger portion with more meat.
Note:  Not sure if you've been to a Chevy's before, but at the one in San Jose on Winchester where we ate, they used to have "El Machino", an ingenious device that would automatically fashion an awesome tasting flour tortilla from a little ball of dough.  Fascinating to watch!  Now, on the side of the front dining area where El Machino used to reside, they have a very generic looking tortilla press.  Lame.
Map to Location:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Del Taco (Campbell, CA): Macho Nachos with Chicken

Sometimes, you go to a restaurant with low expectations, thinking that you are probably going to get something pretty mediocre, something that doesn’t taste great, but will do ok  because you’re so hungry.  Then you get there, order your food, it shows up and turns out to be a completely unexpected, awesome explosion of flavors and textures that you never would have thought you’d find in a fast food joint.  You end up eating it fast so you can whip out your smartphone or race home and jump on Twitter and Facebook as soon as possible to tell the world how amazing and unexpected the culinary experience you just had was.  After that, you call your mom, tell her about your meal and ask her, “Why couldn’t you possibly have cooked anything when I was growing up that vaguely approached the magic of the meal that I just ate?!”  She starts crying, runs into the family room where your dad is watching football, smacks him across the face, and asks him through tear-filled eyes how he could have raised such a heartless, unappreciative son.   Do you feel guilty?  No.  Do you worry that your dad is getting a beating?  No.  You don’t care, because you’ve just had the end-all-be-all version of your favorite food…

This was not one of those times.

Let’s just say that this “macho”-sized pile of canned/processed goo over chips tasted, smelled, and delivered exactly the dining experience you’d expect from a Taco Bell competitor.  The dark red spots you see all over them are “Del Inferno” hot sauce that I sprinkled on to punch up the flavor a bit.  Sure, they were a step up from a Taco Bell Nachos Supreme (see my first ever post), but the chicken would definitely have been right at home in a TB “Chalupa”, so don’t go rushing out to try these.  I really should have ordered beef instead, since the flavor would have been pretty expected (read ‘ok’) for this type of eatery, but as far as I know, Del Taco is one of the only fast food places where you can get chicken nachos, so I went with “pollo”.  Maybe I’ll try the Green Burrito for my next Mexican fast food outing…

Rating: 2 out of 5
Rating Notes: These nachos got an Extra ½ point for giving me inspiration for a silly, tongue-in-cheek introduction for this blog post.
Map to Location:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Special Feature Post: "5 Star Nachos?"

At this point, I've eaten 20+ plates of nachos at various locations.  I have no intention of stopping any time soon, especially since I haven't found the "prefect" nachos upon which I'll be able to don my highest possible rating of '5' upon.  If I were you, I'd be wondering, "Geez, what the hell kind of magical nachos is he looking for?"  And if I were me (which I am), I'd be saying this:  "Why don't I just show you, you cynical person, by using the nachos I've eaten so far to illustrate what I'd consider 5 star nachos?"  So here it is, bits and pieces of nachos I've eaten so far that together would create the "perfect" plate!  Now if I could only get all of these taquerias to get together for a corporate merger…

1. Meat:
Angel's Rock House (Finley, CA) Chicken Nachos: The best chicken I've had anywhere, by far!

2. Chips:
Taqueria Vallarta (Felton, Santa Cruz, or Capitola, CA):  Homemade (deep fried corn tortillas), thick and crispy at the same time.  Dangerous!

3. Cheese:
Pretty much Anywhere that uses the right amount of real cheese like Monterey Jack wins here, but I'm going to call out the Burrito Factory (San Jose, CA) on this one because their plate of  "Nachos Con Carne" with Chicken is so pretty and has just the right amount of cheese.

4. Salsa:
Taqueria Vallarta (see above) makes an excellent pico de gallo that I'd put on top of any nachos I've had so far.

5. Sour Cream:
Since pretty much all of the sour cream that I've had tastes pretty much the same, I'm going to go for presentation.  Tu Mero Mole (San Jose, CA) gets the nod on this one with their pretty grid pattern gracing the top of their Chicken Nachos.

6. Guacamole:
Andale (Los Gatos, CA) Grilled Chicken Nachos:  Who can beat that nifty little corn chip bowl of guacamole perched on top?  And the guacamole was the good stuff, mainly avocado, not all thinned out like some other places serve it.

7. Extras:
Orale (Campbell, CA) Small Chicken Nachos: The best simple combination of "extra goodies" on top of their nachos (black olives and jalapenos)

8. Presentation:
Casa Lupe Restaurant (Campbell, CA) Nachos with Chicken: Not just a handful of chips with the other ingredients piled on top.  These were individually "constructed" and placed onto a plate with care - easy to eat and every single one had all of the ingredients - nice!

Hypothetical Rating: 5 out of 5
Rating Notes: If only...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My House (Ben Lomond, CA): "Pretty Good" Rotisserie Chicken and Black Bean Nachos

Nice!  A lazy Sunday, hanging out at home with my sweetheart, doing nothing much.  For lunch?  Of course, - nachos!  On Friday, I'd stopped by Safeway for this and that and they were running a special on whole Rotisserie chickens for $5 each.  There was still some left over on Sunday and that gave me a great excuse to make a hearty batch of home made goodness.  This time, I put a layer of chips (Kirkland Signature), mild cheddar, black beans, chicken, diced onions, and a dusting of chili powder.  On top, a nice blob of guacamole, sour cream, and salsa (Pace - don't laugh - for a processed salsa, that stuff is pretty darn good).  While I still don't like these as well as most taqueria nachos, they are better than some that I've had (you hear that, Los Gallos and Fiesta Taqueria?).  As usual, I made and ate too many, but that's the kind of thing you're supposed to do on a lazy Sunday, right?  And how many times do I get to enjoy a Corona with my lunch?
Rating: 3½ out of 5
Rating Notes: Good, filling flavor, decent chicken, and got an extra half a point because I got to have a beer with 'em

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Angel's Rock House (Finley, CA): Nachos with Chicken

Ahhh - 4th of July weekend out of town with my wonderful family in the beautiful Clear Lake, CA area!  What better time to enjoy some tasty nachos?  After hanging out at our friends' house and trying to beat the 100 degree heat by downing sodas, cocktails, and numerous slices of watermelon, we decided to go to Angel's Rock House in Finley, which is just off of Highway 29 beteen Lakeport and Kelseyville (no, I don't expect most of you to know where those towns are ;-).  Aside from houses and farms, this tiny, sparsely populated agricultural town doesn't have much more than a grocery store and this great little Mexican restaurant - not even a single traffic light.   But this is a true diamond in the rough when it comes to great nachos!  I can safely say that out of the 20 or so different plates nachos that I've reviewed for this blog, Angels' Chicken Nachos had the best chicken I've had anywhere!  Savory, tender and full of flavor, the chicken practically forced me to keep eating these nachos, even though it was more food than I really should have stuffed into my stomach.  The chips were also very light and crispy - I definitely ate too many of them out of the free basket they gave us while we were waiting for our dinner to arrive.  If you're ever in the area around lunch or dinner time, be sure to stop off in Finley for some nachos!

Historical Note:  "Back in the day" as they say, Angel's Rock House was more of a bar and grill where a lot of locals and migrant workers used to hang out.  Rumor has it that it was also a brothel!  This, combined with there apparently being a lot of nasty fights and other questionable behavior, didn't exactly make it the best place to take your kids for dinner.  However, it's now a nice, clean establishment with good food (my kids loved the burritos), and a very warm, friendly staff that I'm pretty sure are all family from the area.

Rating: 4¼ out of 5
Rating Notes: Could have been a 4½ but for the lack of pico de gallo or tomatoes on top.  This would have given the extra color and fresh flavor that make a well-rounded plate of nachos.
Map to Location:,-122.875814&spn=0.027214,0.033345&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=56.06887,68.291016&z=15

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Urban Dictionary: "Rescue Chip"

From my "Urban Dictionary" 365 day calendar the other day.  Thought it was appropriate for this blog...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fiesta Taqueria (Campbell, CA): Super Nachos (Chicken instead of Beef)

Yay!  Yet another taqueria has opened in Campbell, and it's just a 15 minute walk from my office!  As I strolled down Union Avenue on a glorious summer day, my mind was full of high hopes for this festive-sounding taqueria.  When I got there,  no fiesta was happening (not even mariachi music playing in the background), but it was clean and bright inside and the woman at the counter was very nice.  How were the nachos?  Interesting.  Instead of melted cheese on the chips, a strange, crumbled cheese (and not very much of it) was sprinkled over the top.  The woman behind the counter, who also brought out the food said that was a Mexican cheese, kind of like parmesan.  My first thought was, 'Oh, so this must be the authentic Mexican way of making nachos.'  But a second later, I remembered my previous post about the origin of nachos and realized that couldn't be true!  Here is the breakdown:
- Cheap ($4.55 for "Super Nachos")
- Shredded chicken
- "Mexican Parmesan" is pretty tasty
- Good guacamole and pico de gallo
- Nice big bottles of tasty salsa (red and green) brought to the table with the food
- Chips from Costco (the ones that come in the giant bag - very easy to identify in the world of chips!)
- Chicken = just ok, somewhere in between Taqueria Vallarta in felton and Taqueria Los Gallos in Scott's Valley.)
 - No melted cheese (seriously?)
- Needed a healthy dousing of their excellent green salsa to punch up the flavor

The Verdict?  Not bad, but even though no melted cheese = healthier, no melted cheese also = not really nachos (the folks at Fiesta Taqueria should read my previous post!).

Rating: 3 out of 5 (would have been a 2½, but for how relatively cheap they were)
Rating Notes: As on the Food Network show, "Chopped", you definitely lose points for missing a key ingredient.
Map to Location: