Today we are ranking Portland’s best brewpub nachos for #NationalNachosDay. Nachos deserve a special place in the pantheon of best beer drinking foods, along with pizza and cheeseburgers, only unlike those foods you can pretend to just snack on the ‘chos. While researching our fine city’s best nachos for National Nachos Day, we realized there are only ELEVEN brewpubs in the city with nachos on the menu, and thus began our quest to try them all so you don’t have to. Without further ado, Portland’s brewpub nachos, ranked bottom to top.
#11 Laurelwood Brewing: Macho Nachos
Laurelwood offers the “Macho Nachos” at all locations, from the brewpub at NE 57th and Sandy to the Sellwood location and the airport spots. The rub on L-Wood’s ‘chos is the brewery’s own chipotle-lime sour cream and the pretty damn good housemade salsa. Other than that, it’s a standard affair of chips, cheddar, guac, green onions, tomatoes, and canned/jarred jalapenos. They run $10.50 for a medium-sized portion and you can add southwest chicken or house-made pulled pork for an additional $5.00. http://www.laurelwoodbrewpub.com
PROS: Some of the best housemade salsa and housemade sour cream.
CONS: Lackluster presentation and recipe; the most expensive nachos for not a huge portion.
#10 The Ram: Nachos Deluxe
The often-overlooked The Ram Restaurant & Brewery has its only Oregon location with a brewery at Clackamas Town Center and actually make some pretty solid beers and rather average sports bar/chain restaurant food. The nachos are worth ordering, and on first glance are your average/standard recipe, but they excel in one way that made them stand out from every other plate of nachos on this list. The Ram actually makes its own tortilla chips, and you can tell. That fresh, oily fried quality to housemade chips is there and adds an extra something, even if it does also lead to a few undercooked pieces on the bottom. Other than that, these are totally by-the-book nachos and come in a big heaping portion served in only one size, and that size is DELUXE : Chips, tomatoes, black beans, cheese, jalapenos, green onions, and a scoop each of sour cream and guac with a side of salsa. They are on the appetizer menu for $8.95, which is pretty reasonable for this portion size. I added Taco Seasoned Chicken for $3 extra, or you can do Taco Seasoned Beef for $2. http://www.theram.com/menu-location/or-clackamas/
PROS: Housemade fresh tortilla chips! Large portion.
CONS: The perfect little spherical scoops of sour cream and guac remind me of a meal served from the high school lunch line.
#9 Columbia River Brewing: CRB Nachos
Columbia River’s quiet brewpub serves a heaping portion of nachos and possibly the most carefully prepared presentation, with the chips layered and all facing towards the center lined up. The ingredients are pretty standard, but where they stand out is in some of the best pulled pork, cooked in house beer–it’s soft, tender, and plentiful. These ‘chos have all the standard ingredients including the green onions (why? red is better) and they are also a pretty good deal for $10 and an addition $2.50 for grilled chicken, beef, or pork. http://www.columbiariverbrewpub.com
PROS: Huge portion, good presentation, and soft pulled pork.
CONS: Standard ingredients, mushy salsa.
#8 Fire on the Mountain: Pulled Pork Nachos
When you think of Fire on the Mountain, you think about wings. You might have forgotten that the place is now brewing its own beer and serving pizza at the NE Fremont location. I also had no idea that nachos are served at both the Fremont and Burnside pubs. The Fremont brewpub was packed with a waiting list on a weekday night, with even all the bar seating full we were left standing in the way of busy servers.
The Fire on the Mountain nachos are standout because they come with pulled pork built in, not as an add-on, and it’s also one of the only places to use fresh sliced jalapenos. Pretty much everywhere else serves the nearly pickled kind of jalapenos you get out of a jar or can. Also setting these apart is the high quality of the big, thick pieces of pulled pork from Carlton Farms and the housemade Tejas queso cheese sauce. Normally when I hear cheese sauce I run;, what’s wrong with cheddar and Jack cheese? Nothing, I tell you. However, the Tejas queso sauce is good, thick, and creamy, rich and sharp. The recipe also calls for a little bit of a simplified ingredient list; you wont find any black beans, olives, sour cream, or guac. They are served in a medium sized not huge portion for $10, which is pretty good considering the pulled pork is included but it is minus some toppings. http://www.portlandwings.com/
PROS: Good pulled pork, nice housemade cheese sauce, fresh jalapenos.
CONS: Needed more cheese and more toppings.
#7 Migration Brewing Co.: Nachos
Migration Brewing Co. has stepped up its food offerings since taking over the little tapas bar that used to share the patio. Now the pub has a real chef and kitchen that cranks out these fresh looking nachos. The Migration nachos don’t have any crazy ingredients–standard chips, black beans, cheddar cheese, jalapenos, olives, crema, cilantro, and salsa–they look much different. It’s a cleaner, less melty affair, with the darkest pulled pork I have seen, not a lot of cheese, and a lighter drizzled crema/sour cream. The major stand out addition is this is the first plate of nachos on the list to include cilantro, and boy, you can make up a new batch of salsa with that fresh green pile of zesty greens. These are nachos that won’t make you feel dirty after eating a full plate. Migration nachos are $11 for a medium-large plate, add pulled pork or guacamole for $2 each.
PROS: Presentation, light and fresh.
CONS: Needs more yellow and less green.
#6 Alameda Brewing: South-of-the-Brewhouse Nachos
Can you believe Alameda Brewing is 19 years old and has been churning out beers and popular pub grub on NE Fremont this whole time? In addition to really good IPAs like El Torero and Yellow Wolf and perhaps my favorite Oregon stout–Black Bear–the brewery also make nachos. These nachos are made of standard ingredients but are winning in three areas: presentation, chili quality, and cheesiness. Those are all strong categories, especially cheesiness. They are also surprisingly the first nachos on this list with black olives, and the only one with chili. I also dig the chunky fresh salsa. Jalapenos are available by request for no extra charge, and the whole nacho shebang is $9.25 standard ($10.95 with chicken) for a medium-sized portion. http://alamedabrewing.com
PROS: Chili and CHEESE!
CONS: Nothing to complain about here.
#5 Lompoc Pubs (5Q, Sidebar, Hedge House, Tavern): Nachos
Lompoc Brewing has five locations in Portland and oddly serve three different versions of nachos. The Fifth Quadrant, Sidebar, Lompoc Tavern, and Hedge House all serve a fairly standard pub nachos, except the Tavern spot offers them with mole chicken and the others just grilled chicken. If you’re going to eat at one of the locations with these nachos, I recommend the Hedge House as one of the best patios in Portland and a great setting to enjoy this well balanced rendition. The house nachos exemplify the standard pub nachos, though never eclipse them–yet that’s exactly why they are in the top five. Chunks of diced grilled chicken (if you so choose to add it, as you should), heapings of jalapenos, fresh cut chunks of tomato, olives, sour cream with scallions, all well spread out and layered. That last part is surprisingly crucial; rather than dumping certain ingredients in a pile, they are evenly layered, and instead of small bits there are lots of big pieces of every tasty ingredient in equal portions. I hate it when you’re searching to find a couple of tomatoes or jalapenos amongst a pile of chips. The Lompoc nachos are also the most affordable in town and available in both small for $7 (which is still plenty for one person) and large for $9. You can add chicken for $2, or $2.50 for the Mole Chicken at Lompoc Tavern. A small nacho plate with chicken and a pint has often been a satisfying lunch or happy hour meal from a picnic table at the Hedge House. http://www.lompocbrewing.com
PROS: Lots of toppings in just the right proportions.
CONS: Still with those canned/jarred jalapenos!
#4 Oaks Bottom Public House: Totchos
I have been in love with the Totcho style of nachos ever since Jim Parker brought them to Lompoc off-shoot the Oaks Bottom Public House a few years back. The Oregonian recently credited Jim with creating the Totcho–though there are reports of them being served earlier in the midwest–but regardless, he deserves credit for bringing them to Oregon. I still sometimes get cravings for the Oaks Bottom Totchos and must drive across town to get some in Sellwood. Totchos actually benefit from having the tots just on the bottom layer rather than mixed in. Because these little fried potato nuggets don’t scoop or hold the other ingredients, you can layer the salsa, jalapenos, olives and cheese right on top and you eat with a fork rather than your fingers. Poke and pierce the tots rather than scoop and you will come out with a tot coated in salsa and cheesy goodness. The Oaks Bottom Totchos are big on salsa and cheese; there is like a medium sized bowl worth of salsa on these things, and it’s good. There are lots of olives, too, and for some reason that I can’t put my finger on, they work really well with the fried potatoes; maybe it reminds me of a breakfast potato hash. Regardless, these are a must try for something different that still scratches the same itch.
PROS: Crunchy but soft tater tots, heapings of salsa, cheese and olives.
CONS: Not as crunchy as chips, but that’s about the only flaw I can find.
#3 Fat Head’s Brewery Portland: Smokehouse Chili Fries
It’s no surprise the one year old Fat Head’s Brewery in the Pearl District of NW Portland has nachos. The place specializes in midwest food that is unhealthy for you and as gluttonous as it is good. However, the Fat Head’s nachos are something of a secret menu item. On the pub menu look for the “Smokehouse Chili Fries” and request chips rather than fries, and BOOM–uber cool, spicy, over the top ‘chos in your face! In addition to chili, these are served on potato chips that are well roasted and thus even more stable and crunchy than tortilla chips. Fat Heads uses real fresh sliced jalapenos! Jack and cheddar cheeses, onions, even cilantro are present here. They are then well drizzled with a chipotle aioli sauce and topped with a sunnyside egg. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, as a friend once wisely said to me. A medium-sized portion, stacked with ingredients is also only a one-size-fits-all $11. http://fatheadsportland.com
PROS: Fresh jalapenos, 2 kinds of cheese, rare cilantro sighting, chipotle aioli and a frickin fried egg!
CONS: No meat, but you really won’t miss it in this instance.
#2 10 Barrel Brewing PDX: Steak & Gorgonzola Nachos
The first time I had the nachos at 10 Barrel Brewing’s new Portland location I hated them, but luckily I decided to revisit these over-the-top nachos again ahead of this article, and I have fully turned the corner. Many things set the 10 Barrel nachos apart, but chief among them is the use of Cajun potato chips or fries. In my estimation, if you choose fries, it’s not nachos, but the staff urged me the way to go is a 50/50 mix, and perhaps that helped cut down on what can be an intense salty and spiciness from the potato chips. They have also dialed in the brand of chips they are using, so they are not competing so much for the flavor with the steak and gorgonzola.
These nachos are really a deconstructed Philly cheesesteak sandwich; the steak is seasoned and grilled with garlic and is juicy with crunchy bits, fresh jalapenos sliced up are well tossed amongst shallots, green onions, and even applewood smoked bacon, adding another level of intense flavor. When these nachos make it to your table, it looks like they emptied the ingredients of 3 Philly sandwiches on your chips. They are gooey and yet still crunchy, and like most nachos are best shared, but even more so with these sticky pile of goodness that is more than anyone can take on themselves. They run a cost of a fair $14 in a one-size is big enough for all fitting. http://www.10barrel.com
PROS: An original take and flavors, fresh jalapenos, tasty steak, rich layers of cheese and huge portions.
CONS: Can be almost too rich and packed full of flavors. One plate is best split between 3 or 4 people for an appetizer.
#1 Breakside Brewery: Nachos
When I think of nachos, I think of Breakside Brewery’s Dekum Street Pub nachos, which are everything this essential food group is meant to be. Breakside is not reinventing the wheel here, just doing it better than everyone else. Standard ingredients like cheddar, jack, black beans, sliced jalapenos, guacamole, sour cream, and salsa are the primary colors here, but a heaping of fresh housemade salsas and guac really shine. These nachos are stacked huge and the ingredients evenly spread and with tons of cheese, which is key. I think the amount of cheese and the really great fresh guac recipe are standouts, but one small overlooked item is the real 6th man that takes this team from the playoffs to the finals. Two words: red onion. I know you might think I am crazy, but this is the only nacho plate on the list with real onion, not just those shaved green onion/shallots which I am convinced are only there to add color. These bright thick slices of red onion add some much needed bite and extra crunchiness. Other than that, I would be hard pressed to tell you what makes these nachos so exceptional, but they are simply perfection. But don’t just take my word for it–The Oregonian just named them in Portland’s Top 10 Nachos in 2015, Willamette Week said they were in a” league of their own in flavor and ingredients”, and even MSN said they were the Best Nachos in Oregon. You can get these in regular size for $10 or imperial for $14, and add chicken or pulled pork for $2 on a regular sized or $4 on an imperial. The regular size with chicken or pulled pork could fill 2 people so only go for the Imperial if you have a whole table. http://www.breakside.com
PROS: Everything is in perfect harmony.