Dos Coyotes – Whitey Mex in Full Attack Mode (2.5 stars)

Following the Del Taco disaster I needed to do something to cleanse my discerning palate.  My brother’s wife was stuck home watching the kidlet so we headed to Dos Coyotes to get her a taco salad.

Dos Coyotes is the very definition of whitey mex, and not even in a kitsch or ironic sort of way, but in a proud way.  Faux mexican architecture accents abound, but colored hallucinogenic peyote blue.  Take a look. It’s reminiscent of minimalist,  schlocky art from the 80s.  Likewise, a couple doors down is Jamba Juice.  A mexican restaurant near a Jamba Juice means chances are it’s whitey mex.

We split the Navajo Nachos and they ran over the ten buck mark after adding steak.  As prepared they’re pretty stock: blue corn tortilla chips, mildly sweet grilled steak, black beans, cheese, sour cream and guac (aka “the devil’s mayonnaise”).  However, we further loaded up the plate with tomatoes, fresh diced jalapeno, onions and cilantro. from their expansive salsa and condiment bar.

Probably the best feature is the use of both cheddar and jack cheese, which is how I make my own nachos.  It combines great taste while minimizing the tendency of the chips to stick together like a giant nacho roof shingle.

As strictly Tex Mex, they weren’t bad, bordering on good.  The real problem was the price.  They just weren’t eleven buck nachos, particularly when you consider this is a counter service restaurant.  Maybe they need to fire one of the Dos Coyotes to cut costs.

Dos Coyotes – 2.5 stars (out of 5)

Multiple locations in the greater Sacramento area


El Agavero – Maybe White Men Can Jump (4 stars)

One surprising thing about the search for the greatest nachos is they haven’t been where I thought.  Watching PBS, foodies travel to far-off lands, deep into cultural enclaves and even danger in search of the most authentic taste experiences.  Since it’s TV and therefore true I figured our treasure was hidden in some low-income neighborhood: the product of an undiscovered hole-in-the-wall filled with rough characters and honest cooking.  Who knows?  Maybe one day we’ll stumble upon that special place but all the collected scientific evidence points to the contrary.

The best nachos don’t seem to come from modest taquerias or the wrong side of the tracks.  With rare exception, when we waited to be seated and received a menu that actually folds open, the nachos were superior.  When we could park the car and not worry about the stereo’s fate they were more delicious.  When our “waiter” wasn’t wearing a hair net and wife-beater the nachos brought a smile to our faces.  All these observations were reaffirmed when Jake and I made our way to Montclair Village.

You wouldn’t think of Montclair for good nachos.  You see it’s, well, white.  It’s the part of Oakland where boomer-aged white people with money live.

So given Jake and I were in a part of Oakland with the cultural sensibilities of Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise we were surprised at El Agavero.  The ambiance and crowd of the place howled “whitey mex”, and I expected to see menu items like a “california burrito”, full of black beans, spouts, tofu, jicama and various “soulful, infused” things.  But no, it was all pretty standard mexican fare.

Our nachos with carne asada were a meal for two and maybe three.  Chips were piled high with shredded jack cheese, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, jalapeno and ample carne asada.  Intensely good.

The faults are minor.  Chip strength was definitely sub par, the biggest shortcoming, no doubt.  It’s the same old story: you grab a chip and >snap< it falls to pieces.  It’s like driving a Ferrari limited to 60mph.  You just know it wants to  do so much more.  Consequently, the chips were a little over-saturated with toppings, delicious though they were.  Finally, could the meat have been a bit more flavorful?  I think so, but still better than average – not gristly, gamey or dry.

What can I say but “Thank You Montclair” for challenging my ethnic preconceptions.

El Agavero 4 stars (out of 5)
2071 Mountain Blvd
(between La Salle Ave & Medau Pl)
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 339-3000

Hot Chicks who Love Nachos!

Question: What do Jenny McCarthy, Eva Longoria and Heather Locklear have in common?  Answer: They love nachos.
Jenny McCarthy:
 “I love nachos! I have my once-a-month nachos but with soy cheese and turkey chilli on it, so it’s somewhat safe. But it’s still a big vice for me, because I have a big bowl of it.”    The Evidence
Eva Longoria:   The Evidence
Jay Leno: You have $10 to spend at a fast food place. Where would you go?
Heather Locklear: Taco Bell. Nachos bel Grande with jalapenos and the bean burritos… that’s danger.

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Del Taco Macho Nachos (1.5 stars)

Toothless meth heads, government furloughs, foreclosures, indian casinos. Yes, friends, I’m in Sacramento.

That means Taco Tuesday at Del Taco: three tacos for $1.09. And you want to know something else? It’s been that way since the ’90s. I think they might have been a buck back then. Nevertheless, a whole decade has gone by and the price hasn’t gone up more than a dime. Don’t think too hard about how that’s possible, what with those pesky things like inflation and dollar devaluation. I have, and all logical considerations end in frightening soylent green conclusions.

Yet while tacos were definitely on the shopping list I couldn’t pass up a chance to see how well Del Taco’s nachos stacked up against the competition, namely Taco Bell’s Nacho Bel Grande. Yet, in retrospect, and amid considerable gastrointestinal distress as I write this, I should have limited my disappointment to the tacos.

These are really bad nachos, let’s just get that out of the way. In fact, they’re even worse than the Oakland Raiders nachos, and the only saving grace is Del Taco isn’t charging you eight bucks for them. And comparing them to a Nachos Bel Grande is like comparing Blues Brothers 2000 with any other movie ever made.

The Del Taco Macho Nachos experience begins with some of the worst tortilla chips I’ve tasted since the granny goose value-pak days of 3rd Grade. They weren’t stale, not too salty, too thick or too thin. They simply tasted really, really bad. And that’s strange because even the cheapest tortilla chips are generally decent. You almost have to make an effort to locate lousy tortilla chips. It’s like if you wanted to make the worst home videos possible so you searched high and low for a video camera from 1986. Why try so hard to make something so bad?

The cheese sause offering is notable in that it’s virtually tasteless. There is just the barest hint of flavor in it. It’s just there, I guess because we expect it to be, but if it wasn’t I’m not sure I would have noticed. I’ve not had a more disappointing sauce outside of a school cafeteria. In my mind I pictured two Del Taco employees preparing the stuff behind the restaurant using a garbage can and a fire hose.

Each chip I put in my mouth continued to beguile and frustrate me. Had my tongue gone numb somehow? The meat and beans were as flavorless as everything else. If nachos are heroin, Del Taco’s nachos are methadone. They might stop the shaking but there is no pleasure involved.

Unless you’re in a 12-step program to kick your nacho habit (I’ve flunked out of several), there is not one single reason to eat these awful nachos. They’re as low rent as you can get, and their blandness achieves the odd accomplishment of making eating them a laborious and tedious task.

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In the News

Love and Nachos
"Two days after their first online correspondence, Kerry and Sean met at The Ale House for chicken nachos and a beer."
Tacos vs. Nachos: Woman Jailed
"According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, after her arrest, Lindsey said she wanted tacos for dinner, and her boyfriend wanted nachos.

She said her boyfriend threw his food across the room and pushed her down, and that she didn't know how he came to be cut.

In the end, police didn't swallow Lindsey's story, and took her to a place with fewer menu options."

Fire and Burn Risks Prompt Recall of Commercial Nacho Cheese and Chili Dispensers

"About 115,000 Gehl’s nacho cheese and chili sauce dispensers are being recalled because the commercial products may catch fire, cause property damage, and burn consumers.

Gehl Foods has received 12 reports of the dispenser's fan blade malfunctioning and coming into contact with the heater coil, including one report of a fire that caused property damage. No injuries have been reported."

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God Save the Nachos – Nacho Patrol in London

The Nacho Patrol girls at it again, this time across the Atlantic in London. 
I must admire their tenacity; Boston nachos are a pretty sorry lot on the whole, but the stuff from England looks downright scary – like a guy stumbled out of a pub and threw up on the Queen's face.  Not only that, the exchange rate pushes the price well into double-digits.  I think they're being overly nice to these nachos in their review, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder so to each their own.

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Macho Nachos: Quite Possibly the Greatest Nacho Cookbook Ever Written (4 stars)

However, quite possibly the only one as well.
The other day I was going through my mail and besides the usual coupon paks, offers to switch my internet service to the one I already subscribe to, collection notices, and the usual restraining orders, I picked up a thick brown parcel.  I looked at it quizzically for a moment and held it to my ear to see if it was ticking when suddenly I remembered an Amazon order the week prior.  My pulse immediately quickened; I threw all the other mail onto the porch and ran upstairs.  Macho Nachos had finally arrived!
I wasted no time in ripping open the package, though as excited as I was I kept my expectations in check, having paid the princely sum of 65 cents for a used copy on Amazon (and it’s hardcover no less).  The shipping was $3.99 – more than six times the price of the book itself.  I’m no collector, but that sounds an awful lot like the 99 cent DVD bin at Walmart, featuring such classics as “Some Black and White Movie Even Your Parents Never Heard of”. 
So is Macho Nachos some cheap cash-in attempt or the real deal?  According to the book, the author, Kate Heyhoe, grew up in Texas and that definitely implies some street cred.  After all, Nachos were invented just on the other side of the Texas-Mexico border and are extremely popular in the southwest.  Texas is to nachos what Philly is to the cheesesteak.  
Still, one can no doubt find a Subway sandwich shop in Philly selling something called a “Philly Cheesteak”, which is anything but, and if the locals saw you eating one my guess is they would beat you within an inch of your life.  Likewise, there is no doubt plenty of whitey mex to be found in the Lonestar state.  When it comes to Macho Nachos, I guess we’ll have to see which side of the tracks the author grew up on.
Let’s start with the good.  The photographs are positively mouth-watering.  While flipping the pages I was simultaneously snacking on some chips and yet the photos made me feel hungry anyway.  Even if the rest of the book turned out to be junk, the pictures alone are good coffee table fodder.  The only way they could be better is if they were scratch-and-sniff, or if Macho Nachos was a pop-up book.  Scantily clad females never hurt a picture either.
The first several pages are pretty handy it turns out.  There’s some history, quite a lot of nacho specific cooking tips (temperatures, surfaces, etc), a homemade tortilla chip recipe and information about different cheeses.  Overall this is the best part of the book.  If you’ve ever wondered why your nachos just never seem to turn out right, like if the cheese is burnt but the meat is cold, or the flavors just don’t come together, this will probably help sort it out for you.
From there it launches into some fifty odd nacho recipes which go from the cheap and cheerful familiars, to upper east-side socialite nachos.  There’s even a recipe with caviar! 
But that’s exactly where things get a little questionable.  A few of the recipes definitely feel like filler.  One for example is basically mexican rice, cheese and salsa on top of chips.  Ever get a burrito from a cheapskate taqueria that uses way too much rice and it has that bland “carb-overload” taste?  That’s what this sounds like.  And mexican rice with salsa is very nearly redundant.  This sounds like a recipe thrown together with what was available in the cupboard at the time, and having invented about a hundred different ways to prepare Top Ramen in my youth with everything from spaghetti sauce to peanut butter, I know this sort of desperate improvisation well. 
Others, I have to say, sound pretty friggin’ delicious: Canadian bacon, goat and mozzarella cheese, pineapple, and sun-dried tomato pesto.  If that doesn’t sound good to you then you need a tongue transplant, or maybe someone really did slap the taste out of your mouth just like they said they would (bitch). 
Not every recipe in Macho Nachos is a winner but overall it’s a good package and will get the creative juices flowing with new ideas to try, particularly ingredients.  The presentation and writing are adequate, and the pictures of nachos are about the best you’ll find anywhere. 
New and shiny off the rack, Macho Nachos will run you $16.95, which seems a bit much for a book that doesn’t even top a hundred pages.  I can’t honestly recommend it at that price unless you have money falling out of your pockets.  However, if you can pick it up used for ten bucks including shipping I’d say it’s worth it to open your wallet.
Macho Nachos – 4 stars (out of 5)
Author: Kate Heyhoe
Hardcover, $16.95 (or about 5 bucks used including shipping from Amazon)

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