Photo: TheCrimsonMonkey (Getty Images)

Break down a plate of nachos to its component parts, and you’ve got the makings of a damn culinary wonderland: Tortilla chips, extra crispy and maybe a little singed around the edges. Cheese, preferably of more than one variety, generously distributed and melted ’til it bubbles. Sour cream, cold and tart. Chicken, chorizo, or ground beef, perhaps, richly seasoned, maybe a little greasy. There might be smoky peppers, refried beans, black olives. There’s certainly something that tastes sharp and bright—salsa, or pico de gallo, maybe both, probably both. Jalapeño slices. Guacamole. Heaven, right?

Wrong. Good nachos are actually bad nachos. Long live shitty movie theater nachos; long may they reign.

This is not to say that no good nachos exist in the world. I’ve had good nachos. A big part of my frustration comes from the fact that when you order “nachos” in a restaurant—especially if it’s a pub of some kind—you’re likely to get a plate full of tortilla chips, often a little stale, with a mound of toppings heaped in the middle. The melted cheese ensures that this mound stays a mound, clinging to just a small percentage of the chips on the plate. There’s so much stuff that a fork is required, and one often finds themselves eating guacamole and sour cream with the odd somewhat crunchy bit hidden inside, and once the mound has been decimated, then bland, slightly mushy tortilla chips—or worse, kettle chips, remain. There is never enough of anything, and yet there’s also too much of everything. It is a nonsense food, difficult to eat alone but worse to share, the kind of thing you might relish eating messily if only you had a hope of pulling those fused chips apart.

The problem is not solely related to ease of consumption, though. When you order such a mound, it’s often half-warm at best by the time it arrives. Ten minutes of effort-eating later and the lettuce is limp. The tortilla chips, or kettle chips, or, help and preserve me, fries, are at best, just okay. And the cheese. The cheese is dewy. The cheese is a problem. The cheese is unappetizing. Cheese is the whole point, and there it sits, unwanted, unloved, a problem food.

This is never a problem with shitty nachos.

This is not to say that the “cheese sauce” that’s found on movie theater (or ballpark, or amusement park, or, I don’t know, circus park) nachos is a delicacy. I know it’s what you might call “science cheese,” but dammit, I’m okay with science cheese if it means we’re keeping things simple in the end. Here, for your consideration, is the ingredient list for Carnival King cheddar cheese sauce, a canned substance I found at WebRestaurantStore.com:

Cheese whey, vegetable oil (contains one or more of the following: canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil), modified food starch, cheese (cultured milk, salt and enzymes), salt, contains 1 percent or less of the following: sodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, mono and diglycerides, vinegar, natural flavor, color added (including caramel color, yellow 5 and yellow 6).

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I suffer no delusions about what this substance is, in that I have no earthly idea what this substance is. I know two things: Shitty nachos taste good, and they never, ever stress me out. Drizzle the cheese. Put it in the weird cup spot in plastic shitty nacho plates. Give it to me in a separate container, as they do at AMC Theaters. Whatever works.

This is not to say that you can’t put a—to use the technical term, fuckton—of ingredients on shitty nachos. You can. I’ve seen it. It’s still possible to go too far—I love bell peppers, but I do not need them on my cheese substance, thanks—but a little sour cream, maybe some beans or a jalapeño slice or two, and plenty of salsa (cheap or otherwise) can do quite a lot to upgrade a weird plastic dish of shitty nachos. But even if you pass the point of no return with shitty nachos, going way too far and doing way too much, they will still be easier to eat, and more likely to be tasty, than their upscale brethren.

This is not to say that you can’t make nachos with fancy chips and fancy cheese sauce. You can, and they can be great. Even with such an option out there, shitty, shitty nachos will always hold a place in my heart.

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This is not to say you must love shitty nachos as much as I do.

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the perfectly round “tortilla chips”
that were in
the plastic dish
that also held
some marigold yellow
science cheese

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and which
were probably
pretty overpriced

Forgive me
they were delicious
so crunchy
and so warm
and so salty
and so simple
and wow
I am so hungry now.

Shitty nachos or bust.

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