The original recipe for nachos is probably not what you think it is.
In honor of National Nachos Day, the November 6 food holiday that sneaks up on us every year, we decided to set the record straight on some commonly misconceived facts about the beloved dish. File them away for your next cocktail party. You’re welcome.
Nachos were invented in Mexico. There's a widespread perception that nachos are a Mexican-American or Tex-Mex creation, but no, they were invented just across from the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. The wives of U.S. soldiers who were stationed at a nearby fort were in Mexico on a shopping trip and arrived at a restaurant after close. The maître d' whipped them up—you guessed it—nachos. The year was 1943, and the city was Piedras Negras.
Nachos were named after a guy named Nacho. The maître d' who came up with the dish was named Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya.
The “recipe” for original nachos was super simple. It only included freshly fried tortilla chips, shredded cheese and sliced pickled jalapeños. That’s it—no beans, no meat. So, if you think you’re a nacho purist, you probably aren’t. (If you’re a revisionist and comfortable with that, here’s a great nacho recipe for you.)
Tortilla chips (the foundation of nachos) were popularized in the U.S., not Mexico. Although the idea of the tortilla chip existed in Mexico and at restaurants in the U.S. at the time, they got legs as a packaged product in Los Angeles. There, a tortilleria started packaging them for the first time. They took warped and broken tortillas that were otherwise unsellable, fried them and sold them for 10 cents a bag. Tortilleria owner Rebecca Webb Carranza usually gets the credit on this one, although that’s also disputed.
Nachos were almost trademarked. Although Anaya never tried to copyright the recipe, his son contacted a lawyer in 1960 about it. Unfortunately, almost two decades after its creation, he was told it was too late.
The first U.S. restaurant to feature nachos is reputed to be El Cholo in San Antonio, Texas. The second is supposed to be the now-closed El Cholo in Los Angeles. Of course, these facts are hard to verify, but there they are, for what it’s worth.
Ballpark nachos rose to fame in the ‘70s when NFL sportscaster Howard Cosell couldn’t stop talking about them. Supposedly, the first iteration of ballpark nachos—the kind with the cheesy sauce we all know and love—was created in 1976 by Frank Liberto and served at Arlington Stadium in Texas. Cosell got ahold of them a couple years later during a Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys game, and the rest is history.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest nachos ever made was at the University of Kansas stadium. It took 80 people to assemble 860 pounds of nacho cheese, 860 pounds of beef, 1,200 pounds of beans, 315 pounds of jalapeños and 600 pounds of tortilla chips.