Whether our team makes it or not, Super Bowl weekend is always a wonderful time of year. Mostly because it's an excuse to daytime drink on a Sunday while we munch down truly impressive quantities of bar snacks, which vastly enhances our viewing pleasure. The festivities wouldn't be complete, either, without at least one platter of nachos, either made by us or, preferably, ordered in a fine Denver establishment that makes a particularly excellent version.
Just in time for this sporting weekend (and in anticipation of the Best of Denver® 2012, coming March 29), we've updated our list of the city's best nachos. Here, in no particular order, are the ten best.
We're wary of breaks from tradition when it comes to nachos, because we think the corn chip-cheese-salsa combo is a holy trinity of bar-snack perfection. But we're glad we ventured out of our comfort zone, because it gave the Fainting Goat a chance to win us over with its Irish version, even if eating Irish nachos feels like sacrilege. Salty corned beef is piled atop homemade potato chips, then covered in Jack cheese, baked, drizzled with a delightfully biting horseradish Dijonnaise and sprinkled with scallions. These nachos also happen to pair great with a pint.
On top of a bed of freshly fried corn chips sits a hefty portion of typical nacho accoutrements: refried beans, liberal amounts of orange cheddar, a smattering of pico de gallo, orbs of guacamole, dabs of sour cream and plenty of pickled jalapeños. But what really makes this platter a standout is a side of the restaurant's thick pork green chile, which adds a smack of heat. Also, Tacos Jalisco makes excellent chilaquiles, which are the closest thing to good breakfast nachos we've found on a menu in this city.
The Pioneer Good nachos really rely on a solid chip-to-topping ratio. The kitchen at the Pioneer serves up a platter of chicken nachos on which every chip is loaded with white cheddar, chicken and black beans, then baked, then carefully arranged in a wheel centered by an ice cream scoop of guacamole. It's not the biggest plate of nachos, but it's choice. College Inn
This is near nacho perfection. Melted Jack and cheddar coat a bed of chips covered with fresh jalapeños, diced tomatoes and sweet barbecued pork. Out of the oven, the whole mess is smothered with a racy pork green chile, which plays nicely off the sweet-savory-tart flavors of the rest of the dish, and then topped with guacamole and sour cream.
The nachos at this trio of brewpubs come loaded with quality ingredients: savory black beans, cheddar melted over each chip, a hefty scoop of tart sour cream, chunky housemade tomato salsa, creamy just-mashed guacamole and diced jalapeños. We like them with chunks of tender chicken added -- though we like them even more when, during a rare lull, the kitchen lets us substitute bacon.
To get Lola's nachos, you've got to sit in the bar, but it's worth skipping the table to partake. White corn chips laden with smoky strips of pork marinated in bourbon, as well as diced onions and tomatoes, are covered with molten goat queso and topped with pickled jalapeños and onions for a combo that's unique, decadent and the perfect pairing for a Tecate or coin-style margarita.
Racines The nachos at Racines have long held a special place in our tortilla-chip-and-cheese-laden hearts. Homemade tortilla chips, toasted along the edges and coated with melted white cheddar, are piled high with black olives, refried or black beans, pickled jalapeños and a mess of pico de gallo; a dollop each of sour cream and guacamole quivers on top. Add steak or chicken, and you've got enough to feed a small army. Blake Street Tavern
Since nachos are one of the foods we associate with just about every sporting event around, we'd expect them to be decent at just about every sports bar in town. But the nachos at Blake Street Tavern transcend any other versions in the Ballpark neighborhood. The secret? Four kinds of cheese: Jack, pepper Jack, cheddar and muenster. The gooey mess that results is topped with black olives, pickled jalapeños, biting red onions, tomatoes and sour cream -- and served with housemade salsa and guacamole.
The nachos at Billy's Inn are an orgy of toppings, a massive heap of corn tortilla chips smothered in cheddar and loaded with black olives, black beans and pico de gallo, drizzled with sour cream, sprinkled with scallions, and served with salsa and guacamole. And if you add meat -- chicken, steak, pork, shrimp or mahi mahi -- it's piled high, guaranteeing that each bite is protein-packed.
1. El Camino
Our award for Best Nachos in the Best of Denver 2011 went to El Camino, where the chips are housemade, each stacked with refried beans and tasty marinated meat, smothered with melted cheddar and Jack, then topped with pickled onions, slices of jalapeño and pico de gallo. They're best paired with a house margarita.
Have other favorites? Tell us about them below.
More Best of Denver® Lists - Denver's five best restaurants for blind dates
All of these lists are also available on our Best of app; see it in action at http://bestof.voiceplaces.com/denver-boulder.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.