Expatriate's famous nachos

Social life is back (at least for now?) and along with that comes one of our favorite snacks for sharing with friends: nachos. They’re best eaten on the spot rather than in a to-go container, and go down great with beers or cocktails. In our fair city, you’ll find classic bar nachos with add-ons like melted shredded cheese, beans, jalapeños, and sour cream, as well as more unusual toppings like Kay's Bar's mole with chicken tinga, Grind Wit Tryz's ahi poke, Nacheaux's fried crawfish, and Expatriate's lemongrass ground beef. And nachos aren’t just for omnivores—there are some excellent vegan nachos out there, too. Read on for our top picks.

Breakside Brewery NE Dekum

Breakside Brewery's steak nachos, left, and buffalo chicken nachos, right

Sip on lagers, pilsners, and IPAs while you chow down on nachos at this Woodlawn brewery. The most unusual offering is the buffalo chicken nachos, topped with chunks of white meat, melty shredded cheese, green onion, guacamole, sour cream, and drizzles of buffalo sauce. But our favorite was the classic nachos: a fairly standard combo of three-cheese blend with black beans, roasted jalapeño, guacamole, and sour cream that stood out with the addition of steak. You get to choose how you’d like your steak cooked—a first atop nachos for me—and these sizable bites of juicy steak are succulent, savory, and make you want to keep eating more.

Expatriate

Expatriate's famous nachos

Image: Rose Lee

When Portland-based worldwide food hound Gary Okazaki, a.k.a. Gary the Foodie, says that the Expatriate nachos is one of his favorite dishes in all of Portland, you run, not walk, to the eight-year-old bar to get those nachos. And these nachos are certainly unlike any other: super-crackly won ton chips with the sneaky heat of the über-creamy Thai chile cheese sauce, fragrant lemongrass ground beef, sour cream, makrut lime and tomato salsa, and sprigs of fresh mint. Get ready to question everything you thought you knew about nachos. Even our nacho-averse arts editor Conner Reed was converted by these beauties, which go great with Expatriate’s meticulously crafted cocktails.

Grind Wit Tryz

Hawaiian nachos with ahi poke, top left, and kalua pork, bottom left

Meet nachos, island-style. This Alberta hotspot is known for its rice plates heaping with proteins like fried chicken, poke, shortribs, and garlic shrimp, sided with scoops of mac salad. But don’t sleep on the Hawaiian Nachos, which top won ton chips with a pile of ahi poke, a heap of fatty kalua pork, and drizzles of unagi sauce, spicy mayo, and furikake. Like all of the massive plates at Grind Wit Tryz, these nachos are best shared with a crowd—you might need at least three people to demolish these.

Kay’s Bar

Kay's Bar at night

Image: Gabriel Granillo 

Oaxaca Nachos at Kay's Bar

This Sellwood-Moreland haunt is overflowing with ambience, from the vintage glass lamps to the indoor shingled roof to the old-school beer signs boasting brands like Schlitz and Old Style. But the Oaxaca nachos are leaps and bounds above standard fare: housemade thin, crisp tortilla chips dusted in mysterious smoky-spicy “magic powder,” black beans, jalapeño, queso blanco, tomato, onion, cilantro, and—best of all—nutty, earthy mole. 

Surprisingly, the cheese is almost undetectable in these nachos, and while we’re suckers for massive amounts of melted cheese or orange cheese sauce, these nachos were among our favorites. Try with chicken tinga on top for extra oomph. 

Low Tide Lounge

An impressively tall cone of nachos from Low Tide Lounge

Presentation is everything with these nachos, which are piled into an impossibly high cone and loaded with sour cream, guacamole, onions, tomato, cilantro, cotija cheese, and sliced black olives, with a toasty ring of melted cheddar blend around the edges. Nothing innovative here other than the shape, but they go great with a beer on the outdoor patio.

Nacheaux

The fried crawfish-topped nachos from Nacheaux

Southern-meets-Mexican eatery Nacheaux from couple Anthony and Stephanie Brown has made the move from teal food cart on 82nd to brick-and-mortar restaurant inside The Alameda Hop, and its success is well-deserved. Who else combines proteins like crispy carnitas, Cajun fried chicken, or cornmeal-fried crawfish with deliciousness like red beans and rice, mac and cheese, Hot Cheetos, or hand-pressed Cajun-spiced tortillas? No wonder they were featured in our Taco Chronicles: PDX Edition roundup for their excellent fried catfish and shrimp tacos. But as its name might suggest, Nacheaux also serves nachos that are an adventure in texture and flavor: housemade tortilla chips dusted with a Doritos-inspired spice blend and topped with crispy carnitas, red beans and rice, salsa, and a whopping five cheeses, then garnished "Nacheaux-style" with a creamy Cajun-spiced sauce, purple cabbage slaw, and pickled red onions. On our visit, the carnitas were sold out, so we got ours topped with cornmeal-fried crawfish—a welcome substitution, if you ask us.

Sharks Cove

In the same vein as Kay’s Bar—but in a very different way—the entirely plant-based cart Shark’s Cove, located at the standout new CORE pod on 82nd, proves that you don’t need cheese, or even dairy, to make a great plate of nachos. The tropical nachos combine housemade tortilla chips with vegan nacho sauce, pinto beans, tomatoes, and purple cabbage, plus punchy chunks of pineapple and mango that make these sweet-savory nachos hard to stop eating. What makes these nachos even more special: they’re topped with super-tender barbecue jackfruit,  cilantro-lime dressing, and a fresh orchid that'll inspire beachy, happy feelings.

Xico

The Totopos Deluxe from Xico topped with adobo pork

The Totopos Deluxe plate is Xico’s take on nachos-meet-chilaquiles. These nachos start by perfecting the base: the tortilla chip. Xico is one of only a couple restaurants in Portland—and one of only a handful in the country—that nixtamalizes corn for their tortillas and other handmade masa items in-house. The thick, housemade tortillas get fried to order until the corn becomes fragrant and toasty, then tossed in a chile guajillo salsa and topped with adobo shredded pork belly, sour cream, guacamole, onion, and cilantro. No deluge of toppings here—these nachos allow the chips, the true stars, to shine.

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