Nachos have always been my “I’m too tired to cook after grocery shopping” dinner. We’ve all been there, am I right? You’ve spent a fair amount of your paycheck on groceries, but you’re so tired you need a quick meal to throw together.
Nachos have it all: protein, carbs, veggies, and—the most important thing—cheese! They’re also fully customizable to suit a solo diner or a group gathered for chow.
The History of Nachos
I live 4 1/2 hours from the birthplace of nachos. Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya created the binge-worthy dish for a group of U.S. Army wives in the border town of Piedras Negras, Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.
The women loved it and Nacho’s especiales turned into the nachos we all know and love. As a former Army wife myself, I can just imagine sitting down to experience this Tex-Mex staple for the first time with my friends.
What are the best toppings for nachos?
Toppings for nachos can run the gamut of your imagination, but I prefer to keep them classic.
My recipe has a beef and refried bean mixture—which not only makes the nachos easier to eat, because the beans help the beef stick to the tortillas, but as a newlywed, it stretched the protein to give me more for my dollar as well. It provided ample meat for topping our nachos and then some.
A mix of cheddar and Colby Jack cheese, which I shred at home, is melted over corn tortilla chips. Yes, you could use pre-shredded cheese, but if you want that stringy-gooey cheese, you have to grate it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is coated with an anti-caking powder that prevents it from melting to its gooiest potential.
Pico de gallo (store bought or fresh), guacamole, sour cream, sliced jalapeños, diced onions and tomatoes, and fresh cilantro are classic fresh nacho toppings to sprinkle over top.
Ways to Adapt This Recipe!
If you’re craving variety in your nachos or don’t have all the toppings I give below, try swapping out some of the ingredients!
- Shredded grilled chicken or brisket are two of my favorites. Sliced steak, grilled tofu, or seasoned pork are also great suggestions.
- I’m also a sucker for crumbly cotija or queso fresco. Both are mild Mexican cheeses that are very nacho-friendly.
- For cheeses with a little heat, try a Monterey Jack or a habañero cheese. (With all of the amazing cheeses that are now available, I think we can eliminate the use of canned “cheese” product, don’t you?)
There are an exhaustive array of salsas, guacamoles, and even tortillas chips that will add a mix of colors and flavors to your plate of nachos. I recommend experimenting with one, or all, on at least a monthly basis.
What are the best chips for nachos?
While I don’t know if it’s the perfect chip, I do believe that a corn tortilla cut into wedges and fried at home is the sturdiest. Here’s how to make your own tortilla chips!
But let’s be real, many of us don’t have the time or desire to fry homemade tortilla chips. Many grocery stores now sell bagged tortilla chips that were fried in-house or locally. Check out your supermarket’s bakery section to see if they have them. They tend to be thicker and sturdier, which makes them great for nachos.
If those are unavailable, regular store-bought triangular corn tortilla chips also work great for nachos—just definitely avoid the thin kind. You want thick tortilla chips so they don’t break when you lift them!
If you have younger children, or older grandparents who have trouble eating, I recommend using round tortilla chips since the pointed ends of the triangular-shaped chips can sometimes be cumbersome for those diners.
How to Avoid Soggy Nachos
I take my nacho baking seriously. It’s irritating to prep for a loaded nacho only to have the toppings crash onto the plate because the tortilla chip wasn’t built for the task or have quickly gone soggy.
To avoid a nacho nightmare, I toughen the chips up with a quick pre-bake in a 350°F oven, and then sprinkle a protective layer of the shredded cheese on them to create a buffer between the chips and the rest of the toppings. The cheese will melt slightly.
No, the chips won’t stay crispy forever, but this will give you a good amount of time before the chips begin to grow soggy.
Prep Ahead For Easy Assembly
On top of everything else that makes nachos great—their versatility, their low cost, their deliciousness—nachos are quick to make. You’ll spend more time preparing your toppings than baking them, which only takes about 10 minutes.
If you want to keep the prep easy, top your nachos with store-bought ingredients (pico de gallo, guacamole, salsa, etc.). If you’re not a fan of store-bought toppings, you can shred the cheese, brown the meat, or make the salsa up to three days in advance.
The only topping I recommend making the same day is the guacamole, just to prevent it from browning excessively.
Tips for the ultimate nacho set-up
- Bake nachos on an oven-safe platter or quarter sheet-pans. I can set up the cheesy chips, top them with the beef and bean mixture and bake. This means you can go from the oven to the table and everyone can top their nachos according to their preference. The pans act as a baking dish and a plate. (See our Loaded Sheet Pan Nachos for the ultimate experience, which uses only one sheet pan!)
- Overlap the tortilla chips and keep it to only one layer per sheet pan. This ensures every chip has toppings on it.
- Set out your toppings in ramekins allows everyone to customize their own pile of nachos with the least amount of mealtime stress.
What about leftover nachos?
Let’s face it: Nachos taste best right after they’re made. Leftovers become soggy, stale, and just plain disappointing.
Because they’re so easy to scale up or down, I recommend making only enough to eat in one sitting. It’s also not advisable to reheat any nachos that have been topped with sour cream.
WANT MORE NACHO RECIPES? CHECK THESE OUT!
- Mexican Street Corn Nachos
- Grilled Chicken Nachos
- Loaded Sheet Pan Nachos
- Blue Corn Chicken Nachos
- How to Make Homemade Tortilla Chips
The Best Nachos Recipe
For the spice mix:
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
For the nachos:
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 pound ground beef (80:20 lean-to-fat ratio)
- 16 ounces (2 cups) refried beans, canned or homemade
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups), plus more for topping
- 4 ounces Colby Jack cheese, grated (about 2 cups), plus more for topping
- 1 cup pico de gallo, store-bought or homemade, plus more for topping
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 sliced jalapeño (pickled or fresh)
1 Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2 Make the taco spice blend: Combine all of the spices (chili powder through cayenne) together in a small bowl.
3 Make the beef and bean topping: Heat the vegetable oil on medium high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the ground beef to the pan and season it with all of the taco spice blend. As the meat cooks, use a spoon to break the meat up into crumbles.
Cook for about 8 minutes until the meat has browned and drain the fat using a colander.
Return the meat to the pan and add the refried beans and the water. Heat the mixture until the beans are smooth and warmed through. Reduce the heat to low and keep the beef-bean mixture warm while you prepare the chips.
4 Toast the chips: On a 13x18-inch oven-safe platter or sheet pan, arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer, overlapping them slightly. Toast the chips in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, or just until you begin to smell their aroma.
5 Assemble and bake the nachos: Carefully remove the pan from the oven and top with one half of the shredded cheeses. Allow the heat from the chips to melt the cheese slightly before topping the chips with the beef and bean mixture.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the beef and return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has fully melted.
6 Top and serve: Top the nachos with the pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, jalapeño slices, or any of your preferred toppings. Serve hot.
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