Nacho Frenzy

Nacho ratings from in-and-around the city of Ann Arbor.
Ashley’s
(This is a repost now that I have a photo)
This is going to be a tough nacho to review, but I will try my best. I’m always affected by atmosphere and company at Ashley’s, so it makes it much more difficult to be objective about their food. Ashley’s is my regular spot on Friday nights and nachos are my go-to, so needless to say I’ve had them quite a few times. 
The chips they use are good (though not A2TF good) and never get soggy. A tiny bit too salty, but now I’m being picky. They have been always but once a little skimpy on the cheese, but let it be known that I prefer my cheese amount to be “a lot.” I order them without meat and black olives, which just leaves lettuce, tomatoes, and onions as toppings - which ends up being a little bare. I make it work with the sour cream, but sometimes I dare to dream bigger. The portion size is average, but it seems a little small without a lot of toppings. The regular salsa they give you with the nachos is not too special, I don’t usually touch it. There’s nothing outright bad about the plate, it’s just very average. I usually enjoy it more than I should because of the above mentioned atmosphere and because I’m usually two beers in by the time I get them. 
★★★☆☆

Ashley’s

(This is a repost now that I have a photo)

This is going to be a tough nacho to review, but I will try my best. I’m always affected by atmosphere and company at Ashley’s, so it makes it much more difficult to be objective about their food. Ashley’s is my regular spot on Friday nights and nachos are my go-to, so needless to say I’ve had them quite a few times. 

The chips they use are good (though not A2TF good) and never get soggy. A tiny bit too salty, but now I’m being picky. They have been always but once a little skimpy on the cheese, but let it be known that I prefer my cheese amount to be “a lot.” I order them without meat and black olives, which just leaves lettuce, tomatoes, and onions as toppings - which ends up being a little bare. I make it work with the sour cream, but sometimes I dare to dream bigger. The portion size is average, but it seems a little small without a lot of toppings. The regular salsa they give you with the nachos is not too special, I don’t usually touch it. There’s nothing outright bad about the plate, it’s just very average. I usually enjoy it more than I should because of the above mentioned atmosphere and because I’m usually two beers in by the time I get them. 

★★★☆☆

Wurst Bar [Ypsilanti]
What do you mean I have to use a fork! What do you mean I can’t use my hands like an animal! It’s nachos…but it’s also tots. Nacho tots. Nachos on tots. Tots with nachos on them. You have to use a fork.
If you are unfamiliar with the Wurst Bar, all their sides are variations of tots. So it’s kind of out of necessity that they have nachos on them. It’s a novelty. You should probably try it once and then you’ll stop feeling like you’re missing out. I dunno, they tasted good and all but there was a texture issue without having chips in there. It’s all mush. 
I like the Wurst Bar and most of their food, just not this. Separately, I like tots, and you KNOW I like nachos, but together the magic did not happen for me. 

★★½☆☆

Wurst Bar [Ypsilanti]

What do you mean I have to use a fork! What do you mean I can’t use my hands like an animal! It’s nachos…but it’s also tots. Nacho tots. Nachos on tots. Tots with nachos on them. You have to use a fork.

If you are unfamiliar with the Wurst Bar, all their sides are variations of tots. So it’s kind of out of necessity that they have nachos on them. It’s a novelty. You should probably try it once and then you’ll stop feeling like you’re missing out. I dunno, they tasted good and all but there was a texture issue without having chips in there. It’s all mush. 

I like the Wurst Bar and most of their food, just not this. Separately, I like tots, and you KNOW I like nachos, but together the magic did not happen for me. 

★★½☆☆

Isalita
I always said, “You can’t make Mexican food fancy.” Well, turns out you can. But maybe you shouldn’t.
I finally succeeded on my third attempt to even get in to the place. Nice looking on the inside, young hip crowd, decent drink list (if you’re not there for craft beer, but that’s a different story for a different blog). 
So the nachos: I’m rating them on the “fancy” scale. They were good! One of the largest plates on the menu, everything else is more or less tapas. Sturdy chips (though a little well done) with salsa, cream, jalepeño slices, sliced radishes, as well as cilanto n’ sprouts. No cheese! I know. That’s their thing I guess. Whatever. But they made it work, and it cut down on the persistent soggy-chip issue.
I will say, all the food I tried there was excellent. But it’s just…fancy Mexican food. An oxymoron to me. If I go out to a fancy place, I want escargot to be on the menu, not nachos (though they were decent nachos). So I will give them a hand, but maybe not a quick return visit.  
★★★★☆

Isalita

I always said, “You can’t make Mexican food fancy.” Well, turns out you can. But maybe you shouldn’t.

I finally succeeded on my third attempt to even get in to the place. Nice looking on the inside, young hip crowd, decent drink list (if you’re not there for craft beer, but that’s a different story for a different blog). 

So the nachos: I’m rating them on the “fancy” scale. They were good! One of the largest plates on the menu, everything else is more or less tapas. Sturdy chips (though a little well done) with salsa, cream, jalepeño slices, sliced radishes, as well as cilanto n’ sprouts. No cheese! I know. That’s their thing I guess. Whatever. But they made it work, and it cut down on the persistent soggy-chip issue.

I will say, all the food I tried there was excellent. But it’s just…fancy Mexican food. An oxymoron to me. If I go out to a fancy place, I want escargot to be on the menu, not nachos (though they were decent nachos). So I will give them a hand, but maybe not a quick return visit.  

★★★★☆

Red Hawk
These are the type of nachos that exist on a menu for the common person who just wants to order nachos. Nothing surprising, nothing fancy. Just nachos. Good chips, good cheese, decent toppings. Next time I order (and encourage you to), ask for the toppings in separate cups, at least the salsa and sour cream. It turned into a mess. The toppings did outnumber the chips as well, which I have to subtract points for. I like the use of green onion though - very under appreciated in the nacho field. 
★★★☆☆

Red Hawk

These are the type of nachos that exist on a menu for the common person who just wants to order nachos. Nothing surprising, nothing fancy. Just nachos. Good chips, good cheese, decent toppings. Next time I order (and encourage you to), ask for the toppings in separate cups, at least the salsa and sour cream. It turned into a mess. The toppings did outnumber the chips as well, which I have to subtract points for. I like the use of green onion though - very under appreciated in the nacho field. 

★★★☆☆



Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery
AGHHHH JOLLY PUMPKIN IS TAKING OVER MY LIIIIIFE. Been goin’ for the sour beer. Been stayin’ for the nachos. 
These Red Chicken Nachos are fancy nachos. They’re a different breed than bar nachos. They’re gourmet. I get them with the chicken because it’s good chicken, not dog-food crap chicken you usually get. Plus tomatillo salsa (superior to regular salsa), plus pickled red onion (pretty much my number one food right now), plus cilantro make it a delicious nacho-competition-killer. They’ve recently updated to A2 Tortilla Factory chips (you know how I feel about those), so extra points. Good cheeses. Doesn’t even make me crave sour cream. Minus a few points for the dump-truck of black beans they put on as the base layer. Wayyyyy too many. Other than that - bravo!
★★★★½

Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery

AGHHHH JOLLY PUMPKIN IS TAKING OVER MY LIIIIIFE. Been goin’ for the sour beer. Been stayin’ for the nachos. 

These Red Chicken Nachos are fancy nachos. They’re a different breed than bar nachos. They’re gourmet. I get them with the chicken because it’s good chicken, not dog-food crap chicken you usually get. Plus tomatillo salsa (superior to regular salsa), plus pickled red onion (pretty much my number one food right now), plus cilantro make it a delicious nacho-competition-killer. They’ve recently updated to A2 Tortilla Factory chips (you know how I feel about those), so extra points. Good cheeses. Doesn’t even make me crave sour cream. Minus a few points for the dump-truck of black beans they put on as the base layer. Wayyyyy too many. Other than that - bravo!

★★★★½

Corner Brewery [Ypsilanti]
Ah, The Corner Brewery. Arbor Brewing’s little bro. Their nachos are true appetizer nachos, but I believe most of their menu is pretty easy-going bar food. 
These were pretty okay! Not as good as Arbor’s, but they do share some common characteristics - A2 Tortilla Factory chips. Again, these make the nachos. Thick chips that hold up to toppings! What tiny dream-boats. The nachos have a pleasant salsa topping and black olives that don’t taste like a bathroom stall (I’m looking at you, Ashley’s). I wussed around the jalepeños. A little skimpy on these cheese, however I think their overall “basic fresh” style dictates that. Good for what they are. 
★★★☆☆

Corner Brewery [Ypsilanti]

Ah, The Corner Brewery. Arbor Brewing’s little bro. Their nachos are true appetizer nachos, but I believe most of their menu is pretty easy-going bar food. 

These were pretty okay! Not as good as Arbor’s, but they do share some common characteristics - A2 Tortilla Factory chips. Again, these make the nachos. Thick chips that hold up to toppings! What tiny dream-boats. The nachos have a pleasant salsa topping and black olives that don’t taste like a bathroom stall (I’m looking at you, Ashley’s). I wussed around the jalepeños. A little skimpy on these cheese, however I think their overall “basic fresh” style dictates that. Good for what they are. 

★★☆☆

Bagger Dave’s [Brighton]
I’m back, and I’m expanding my Nacho reaches to in-and-around the Ann Arbor area. Let’s start with my recent trip to Bagger Dave’s. I got a burger there once and it was pretty good. Then I got the nachos there, not so much. To be fair, I got their standard order, which includes their chili. Big mistake!
Their chili was too spicy, and it overpowered everything else on the nachos (except the jalepeño slices which I’ve been growing to dislike). They used shitty chips - within five minutes the bottom ones were soggy (probably in part the chili’s fault). Gotta use thicker chips if you’re gonna use thicker ingredients! Come on. Then there was some liquid cheese or “queso” involved - no no no. The guacamole and sour cream was okay. It’s hard to ruin that. I’m sure if they tried a little harder they could though. 
I dunno man! If you like spicy chili and queso and shitty chips, you should go for this plate. But not me. Ever again. I’d be willing to bet this goes for all their locations, since they are indeed a chain. Bummer. 
★☆☆☆☆

Bagger Dave’s [Brighton]

I’m back, and I’m expanding my Nacho reaches to in-and-around the Ann Arbor area. Let’s start with my recent trip to Bagger Dave’s. I got a burger there once and it was pretty good. Then I got the nachos there, not so much. To be fair, I got their standard order, which includes their chili. Big mistake!

Their chili was too spicy, and it overpowered everything else on the nachos (except the jalepeño slices which I’ve been growing to dislike). They used shitty chips - within five minutes the bottom ones were soggy (probably in part the chili’s fault). Gotta use thicker chips if you’re gonna use thicker ingredients! Come on. Then there was some liquid cheese or “queso” involved - no no no. The guacamole and sour cream was okay. It’s hard to ruin that. I’m sure if they tried a little harder they could though. 

I dunno man! If you like spicy chili and queso and shitty chips, you should go for this plate. But not me. Ever again. I’d be willing to bet this goes for all their locations, since they are indeed a chain. Bummer. 

★☆☆☆☆

Arbor Brewing CompanyShame on me, there is a place in town that uses A2 Tortilla Factory chips in their nachos. Thanks to those who alerted me to the fact that Arbor Brewing Company had recently upped their nacho game with their recent menu revamp. I got the “loaded” option with black bean “meat” instead of the chicken they offer. They also have a smaller black bean appetizer version, I have not yet tried that. 
As I suspected, the A2TF chips were excellent. They are the best chips for nachos: they’re not overpoweringly salty, they’re thick, super crunchy, and great for rounding up the toppings. The chips didn’t wilt under the toppings by the end either. The cheese was straight forward, a good amount and pretty tasty. I love the black bean meat they use in their vegetarian tacos, that really helped out the overall taste and texture of this dish. The toppings were mostly fresh save the jalepeños, but the combo was pleasant. Man, that salsa verde was excellent! I’m not a fan of salsa on nachos, but I did dip a few naked chips into that though and really dug it. My only complaint was that I got a lot of tiny crushed chips instead of the pristine top-of-the bag ones, which got tricky to eat at the end with the rest of the toppings. 
So far, this is one of the best plates I’ve had in Ann Arbor, I would recommend it, hands down. 
[Year-later update: I’m bumping these up to a 5. If I ever eat a greater nacho, I will expand the ratings to be on a six-star scale.]
★★★★★

Arbor Brewing Company
Shame on me, there is a place in town that uses A2 Tortilla Factory chips in their nachos. Thanks to those who alerted me to the fact that Arbor Brewing Company had recently upped their nacho game with their recent menu revamp. I got the “loaded” option with black bean “meat” instead of the chicken they offer. They also have a smaller black bean appetizer version, I have not yet tried that. 

As I suspected, the A2TF chips were excellent. They are the best chips for nachos: they’re not overpoweringly salty, they’re thick, super crunchy, and great for rounding up the toppings. The chips didn’t wilt under the toppings by the end either. The cheese was straight forward, a good amount and pretty tasty. I love the black bean meat they use in their vegetarian tacos, that really helped out the overall taste and texture of this dish. The toppings were mostly fresh save the jalepeños, but the combo was pleasant. Man, that salsa verde was excellent! I’m not a fan of salsa on nachos, but I did dip a few naked chips into that though and really dug it. My only complaint was that I got a lot of tiny crushed chips instead of the pristine top-of-the bag ones, which got tricky to eat at the end with the rest of the toppings. 

So far, this is one of the best plates I’ve had in Ann Arbor, I would recommend it, hands down. 

[Year-later update: I’m bumping these up to a 5. If I ever eat a greater nacho, I will expand the ratings to be on a six-star scale.]

What Makes A Good Nacho

I suppose now’s the time to tell you what I look for in a nacho, before I get too far into my reviews and feelings get hurt. So the below are the qualifications that separate the good from great, and the so-so from the “on second thought, I’ll just fill up on beer instead.”

Chips
Do not ever try to pass those round, yellow, Meijer brand chips on me (Dominick, I’m glaring straight at you). I like a chip that’s hearty, a chip that’s crunchy, a chip that will bail me out of jail, a chip that will not get soggy under the ingredients after a few minutes. At home I really only eat Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory chips, and have lengthy discussions about those being used for nachos in the (Ann Arbor restaurant scene) wild. Each time, the mutual conclusion has been that the plates would cost $25, due to material costs alone. I do enjoy other chips, but only if they fulfill my above requirements. 

Toppings (Meaty)
Meat: some people like it, other people hate it, but everyone should be aware of the fact that 95% of the time, it is rubbish on nachos. Do restaurants ever put good meat on nachos? Their best selection? Or do they slap on some dog-food and dry chicken? I think you know the answer. To address the nuh-uh exceptional 5%, twice have I had nachos that used good meat toppings. Once was at home using left-over fillet mignon from a steakhouse, the other was at Brighton’s Leaf Barley & Vine restaurant, where I shared an appetizer portion of duck confit nachos* (that they have since took off the menu - let’s picket ‘til they bring it back). For most people and places, gourmet nachos are just not available, so to make it easy, I’m only reviewing the vegetarian nacho variety.

Toppings (Other)
Cheeeeese, Gromit! None of that stadium cheese-liquid. That stuff’s an abomination. Different shredded cheeses are fine, as long as they’re properly portioned over the chips and melted well. I am not a huge fan of black olives so I usually order nachos without them, but I’m okay with all the other veggies. I prefer fresh ingredients to cooked or jarred. And sour cream. Guacamole is okay too. Also a bonus if everything is equally portioned - the toppings to chips ratio. It’s a drag to end up with either a bunch of naked chips or a pile of toppings at the end. 

Value
Secondary to the taste, but good to be aware of. Am I getting ten pounds of nachos, or a teacup saucer of them. Good to know if you just want an appetizer, or if you’re stumbling around town at midnight and have The Hunger. 

Overall Appeal
When was the last time you had nachos that were presented well, and not dumped on your plate looking like something that was pulled out of the trash. I’d like to eat my carb pile with a little dignity, please. Those duck confit nachos were the only ones I’ve ever had that were artfully presented. Definitely not as important to the rating as everything else, just a little something to think about.

Nacho Mini-Review:
*Leaf Barley & Vine
Duck Confit Nachos - This won’t be a true review since they’re not in Ann Arbor and I had to have them with the duck. Just as a reference, and since I mention them a lot in this post. (It’s also been over a year.) It was a very small portion, but since they were working on a small scale, they actually arranged the chips and toppings as a presentation. Harvarti cheese was a great compliment to the duck and made it very savory overall. They lasted about two minutes so the chips didn’t have time to deteriorate, and were good from what I can remember. They were pretty pricey for being so small, however, but due to ingredient costs it was understandable. Very very very good. I won’t give a star review, that’s an Ann Arbor establishment privilege. 

 
I hope this was informative. Remember, I’m mostly judging nachos by what I like. Maybe you like soggy chips covered in black olives, hey that’s cool, just keep in mind that’s not my style. I’ll try to include pictures from here on out as well. I’m always open to questions, comments, and suggestions for places to go next as well. 

I’d like to thank Damn Arbor for the write-up. I’ll do my best to work on my chip description adjectives from here on out.  

The Ghosts of Nachos Past

I’ve probably ordered nachos at a good six or seven places in and around Ann Arbor in the last year or so. I want to be clear that I’m not reviewing restaurants, just nachos. I will revisit a number of this restaurants to give a more accurate review of their nacho plates when I get a chance, but there are two I just can’t bring myself to go back to and order again.

Dominick’s 
Really bad chips, very so-so toppings, bleh cheese. I’ve had their nachos twice (I forgot how shitty they were the first time) and regretted it both times. They have other excellent food and drinks, and are an Ann Arbor institution - just don’t get the nachos.
★☆☆☆☆

Old Town
These looked very promising when brought to me, but alas, the chips could not hold up for the few minutes it took me to get started on the pile. Good toppings etc, but the chips make the nachos, and their chips are just not good. Again, great place, awesome atmosphere, just don’t get the nachos. 
☆☆☆