[tasty review + recipe] Nacho’s Nachos by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez

When you’re hungry for just the right snack, there’s nothing more satisfying than biting into a warm, crispy, zesty nacho.

Oh, that satisfying crunch! The gooey cheese and spicy hot hello of jalapeño! Go on, close your eyes as you relish the flavor. Lick your lips, then reach for another. 🙂

Did you know that tomorrow, October 21, is the International Day of the Nacho? Or that 2020 marks 80 years since nachos were first invented? Just who was actually responsible for this eye-closing mouthful of deliciousness?

In NACHO’S NACHOS: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez (Lee & Low, 2020), we learn how Ignacio Anaya, a resourceful restaurant employee from northern Mexico, fortuitously created this savory treat one fateful afternoon in 1940.

Ignacio, or, “Nacho,” for short, was essentially raised by a foster mother after he lost his parents at a young age. He was a boy with a good appetite who enjoyed his foster mother’s quesadillas, and it was she who taught him how to cook. He was a natural in the kitchen, and in his early twenties he got a restaurant job, performing many tasks such as seating guests, passing out menus, taking orders, and serving meals.

As Nacho went from table to table, people smiled. He had a special talent for making diners happy.

Apparently word got out about Nacho’s restauranting finesse. Sometime around 1939, Rodolfo de los Santos opened a swanky new restaurant called the Victory Club in the city of Piedras Negras, “right across the Rio Grande river from Eagle Pass, Texas, in the United States,” and he wanted to hire Nacho.

The Victory Club was quite a place: it “had its own orchestra, a Moonlight Patio for dancing, and four different menus featuring everything from steaks to seafood to Mexican specialties. Rodolfo wanted the best music, the best food, and the best people — and that included Nacho.”

Since Piedras Negras is a border town, customers from both Mexico and the United States frequented the Victory Club, and Nacho knew how to make everyone feel welcome. Mamie Finan was a regular guest — an American from Eagle Pass who was “known on both sides of the border for her outstanding cooking.”

One afternoon — during that quiet time between lunch and dinner —  Mamie wandered into the Victory Club with three friends. She asked Nacho whether he could serve them a new and different type of snack, since they were tired of the usual fare. Only too willing to oblige, Nacho headed to the kitchen, but there were no cooks there. He looked around for ingredients, trying to think of something he could whip up on the spot.

When he spied a bowl of freshly fried corn tortilla pieces, he had an idea. He placed some tortilla pieces on a platter, sprinkled them with Cheddar cheese, then topped each with a pickled jalapeño pepper strip. Remembering his foster mother’s wonderful quesadillas, Nacho warmed everything in the oven till the cheese melted.

Well. When Mamie and her friends tasted “Nacho’s Special” they were positively enraptured.

Hot, crispy tortilla. Melted Cheddar cheese. A slice of jalapeño.
So simple! So scrumptious! So spectacular!

They ordered platter after platter, gorging themselves. They told all their friends about Nacho’s Special. That evening, all the customers asked for it. When Nacho arrived at work the next day, “the waiters crowded around him,” wanting to know about his special dish. Nacho went to the kitchen and started to cook.

After Rodolfo saw how everyone loved Nacho’s food, he promoted him to executive chef. He added “Nacho’s Special” to all of his menus.

It didn’t take long for restaurants all over the U.S. and Mexico to begin serving Nacho’s Special, though many people still traveled to Piedras Negras in order to eat the snack right where it was first made. Eventually Nacho’s Special came to be known simply as “nachos,” and today there are many variations on Nacho’s classic recipe, to include ingredients such as beef, chicken, guacamole, sour cream, beans, tomatoes, and olives.

After the Victory Club closed in 1961, Nacho opened his own restaurant in Piedras Negras — and called it, of course — “Nacho’s.”

And to think it all began with a customer’s casual request and a quick-thinking cook’s ability to improvise. Today nachos are gobbled up all over the world, from New York to Tokyo; many versions are served as meals rather than as appetizers/snacks.

Debut author Sandra Nickel’s engaging text will likely have you salivating in no time. A lifelong nachos lover, she got the idea for the book while preparing a batch of nachos in her own kitchen.

Her research included traveling to Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras to watch the original version of the recipe being prepared, as well as corresponding with and interviewing some of Ignacio Anaya’s, Mamie Finan’s, and Rodolfo de los Santos’s descendants. She also located two newspaper articles for which Nacho himself was interviewed. Sandra has eaten nachos in some very cool places, too: England, Switzerland, France, Spain, Russia, Egypt, Dubai, Italy, and Thailand. 🙂

We are delightfully immersed in 1940’s Mexico thanks to Oliver Dominguez’s warm, earth-toned illustrations, rendered in acrylic, gouache, ink and colored pencil. It’s wonderful to see the vintage architecture, cars, fashion, and hairstyles of that era. Restaurant scenes depict people happily gathered for food, drink, and lively conversation, with attentive, genial Nacho nearby. The interior of the Victory Club looks like the type of supper club my in-laws used to talk about frequenting back in their day.

Of course I like peeking in the restaurant kitchen, with its professional equipment, food supplies, and terracotta pottery. The double page spread of Nacho’s nachos shows how three simple ingredients became a worldwide phenomenon.

Maybe it’s just me, but I liked how most of the men in the book had mustaches. 🙂 There’s also a wonderful cutaway spread of famous men tasting the nachos, including John Wayne and Lyndon B. Johnson. Most joyous spread? A toss-up between young Nacho eating his foster mother’s quesadillas and Mamie and her friends, with eyes closed, in a state of culinary bliss..

Kids will love this fun, informative slice of food history, and will inevitably clamor for a platter of warm nachos immediately afterwards. Back matter includes an Afterword, Author’s Notes/Acknowledgements, Quotation and Author’s Sources, and of course, the recipe for Ignacio Anaya’s Original Nachos.

Next time you have some nachos, whether in a restaurant, at a stadium or theatre concession stand, or at home, remember to thank the humble, hardworking man who first served it up.

Everyone, dig in. Feel free to smack your lips with reckless abandon. 😀

Original Nachos

  • Servings: five four-piece servings
  • Difficulty: easy, but parental assistance recommended
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 5 fresh corn tortillas cut into quarters and fried, or 20 large corn tortilla chips
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 20 pickled jalapeño pepper strips*

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Spread out the chips in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  3. Top each chip with a rounded tablespoon of cheese and one jalapeño strip.
  4. Bake the prepared nachos in the preheated oven for 4 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
  5. Use potholders or oven mitts to remove the nachos from the oven.
  6. Let the nachos cool for 2 minutes. Then dig in and enjoy!

*Jalapeños are spicy chili peppers. If you cannot find pickled strips of jalapeños, use pickled rounds. And if spicy is not for you, try something milder, such as pickled banana peppers.

~ Adapted from Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

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NACHO’S NACHOS: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack
written by Sandra Nickel
illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
published by Lee & Low Books, August 2020
Picture Book for ages 4+, 32 pp.
**Starred Review** from Kirkus

♥️ Learn more about Oliver Dominguez’s process at this blog post.

♥️  Check out the Story Time Activity Kit here.

♥️  More info at the Lee & Low Website.

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*Interior spreads from Nacho’s Nachos, text copyright © 2020 Sandra Nickel, illustrations © 2020 Oliver Dominguez, published by Lee & Low Books. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

21 thoughts on “[tasty review + recipe] Nacho’s Nachos by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez

  1. Fascinating! I had no idea they were the brainchild of a particular person. It’s interesting to me that he came up with them because someone requested something new. I am not generally a person who would ask that, but it makes me think that giving someone a nudge can have great results!

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    1. Good point — we have to credit Ms. Finan too for requesting a different kind of snack. What’s the old saying – necessity is the mother of invention? You’ll note that the female gender is cited in that saying. 😀

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  2. Way back when I was in high school, we heard about a Mexican restaurant that had just opened & there I had my first taco & we ordered a plate of nachos. I cannot remember how they were served except the luscious melted cheese & fresh chips. Ha! We thought it was such an adventure! What a wonderful review, Jama. Like Tabatha, I had no idea that the nachos are traced back to one man. Can’t wait to read the book! Thank you!

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  3. Years ago we were visiting Texas and crossed into Mexico for the day. We ordered a plate of nachos and cervezas, the nachos were so simple, but so delicious. They looked just like the ones in the book. I’ve raved about them over the years and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed nachos like those since. Jama, thanks for introducing us to these wonderful books.

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