Vegan Nachos at the Chicago Diner ($8.50)
Vegans feeling nostalgic about my childhood nachos need look no further than the Chicago Diner, which offers a plate of traditional, no-frills, cheesy nachos. The only difference? None of it came from an animal.
We’ll forgive the mystery “cheeze” for being a little lacking in flavor, because the black beans, crunchy veggies, heap of guacamole, and spicy roasted salsa add a fresh multidimensional touch. Go with the seitan chorizo for a spicy punch of flavor if you’re not gluten-averse; otherwise plain tempeh (shown here) can be subbed in for a dollar more.
Cuban Nachos with Steak at Café Laguardia ($9.25)
While most riffs on nachos switch up the toppings, the Cuban-style nachos at this Bucktown spot pass up tortilla chips for thick-cut, twice-fried green plantains. Traditional toppings—including fresh tomatoes, perfect guacamole, wisps of cilantro, nacho cheese sauce, and steak just out of the skillet—are neatly composed atop the crisp tostones. Nachos will never belong in a beauty contest, but these would at least stand a chance.
Chili Nachos at Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed ($13)
Chicago’s only kosher barbecue joint produces a plate of daringly cheese-less nachos, giving the full spotlight to the house’s beef brisket chili. Turns out they were right to do so: the perfectly spiced, smoky stuff needs no dressing up beyond a scoop of fresh guacamole, tomatoes, scallions, and a drizzle of sour cream.
It’s also worth noting—considering there’s soup on your nachos—that, commendably, not one chip turns up soggy. (That might have also been due to the speed with which we consumed it.)
Na-Cho Kim at Saucy Porka ($7)
Saucy Porka recently retired its umami nachos in favor of a new, greatly improved dish based on the business-hours spot’s namesake banh mi.
These are the kind of nachos to which you exclaim, “Where have you been all my life?” My love of kimchi is already profound, and it was the plentiful combination of the fiery stuff with jalapeno aioli and the menu’s darling—the slow-cooked, flavor-packed pork carnitas—that has me wishing I worked at the Stock Exchange.
Korean Nachos Supreme with Bulgogi at Taco Chino ($6.99)
This quick, cheap spot might not look like anything special, but its “Korean via Mexican” section of the menu is enough reason for some to ride the Brown Line to its final destination.
The nachos supreme is loaded with copious amounts of the usual fast-food fixings—shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream, jalapeños, guacamole, pico de gallo, sautéed onions and peppers, refried beans, and scattered with sweet soy-marinated bits of Korean bulgogi. If sweet beef isn’t your thing, opt for the kimchi instead.
Wonton Ahi Nachos at Gallery Bar ($13)
Out of Gallery Bar’s teensy kitchen comes this big Asian-inspired plate of fried wonton chips. The toppings are minimalistic, featuring sprinkled scallions and a thick drizzle of wasabi- and dashi-laced crème fraîche along with raw juicy chunks of tuna. On each corner of the plate, however, you find four salads perfect for scooping. Best are the Korean-style miyeok julgi, a little heap of salty-sour seaweed stems, and the gingery jicama slaw.