A Legendary Nachos Recipe From L.A.'s Bar Amá

by Julia Millay Walsh


How does a nacho recipe become legendary? Executive chef and owner Josef Centeno of downtown Los Angeles Tex-Mex restaurant Bar Amá says his storied Super Nachos “started out as a staff snack one night that we made with leftover stuff around the restaurant kitchen,” but in reality, he’s basically discarded everything you once knew about the nacho.

Instead of the once-essential melted shredded cheese, he’s substituted in a mornay sauce (a French cheese sauce based on rich and creamy white béchamel). In place of holy guacamole he’s put a sharper and thinner avocado salsa. Sour cream? It’s been defeated by a creamy, rich, and never watery crema. In fact, even the anatomy of Centeno’s Super Nachos is an outlier. “When we started eating nachos together we noticed that there was never any cheese on the inside,” says chef de cuisine Andy Villaluna. “People dig into that outer layer, with all the good stuff, and then you’re left with a pile of dry chips.” Their solution was to build the dish lasagna-style with layers of toppings and chips so everyone would get an even distribution of sauce.

Sounds like something you’d like to try? Well, you’re in luck because we have the recipe for you—just in time for all your Cinco de Mayo festivities. Enjoy!

Bar Amá’s Super Nachos
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients for the salmorejo salsa
1 lb. (500 g) plum tomatoes
1 white onion
3 garlic cloves
½ cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) fresh lime juice
¼ cup (1/3 oz./10 g) finely minced fresh cilantro
1 tbs. seeded and finely minced serrano chile
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
Ingredients for the avocado salsa
2 firm but ripe Hass avocados
1 serrano chile
3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. minced fresh cilantro
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more, to taste
Ingredients for the queso
2 tbs. unsalted butter
2 ½ tbs. all-purpose flour
2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml) whole milk, warmed
1 cup (4 oz./125 g) grated cheddar cheese
1 cup (4 oz./125 g) grated Monterey jack cheese
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed

Ingredients for the nachos
8 cups tortilla chips (about 12 oz./375 g)
2 tbs. crema or sour cream
2 tbs. crumbled cotija cheese
2 tsp. minced white onion
2 tsp. minced fresh cilantro
3 radishes, trimmed and julienned
2 Tbs. pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
2 Tbs. pomegranate seeds (optional)

To make the salmorejo salsa, slice the tomatoes in half through the stem end. Working with one tomato half at a time, use the large holes of a box grater to grate the cut side of the tomato into a bowl, stopping once you reach the skin. Discard the skin. Grate the onion into the same bowl in the same manner, stopping once you reach the root end. Grate the garlic cloves into the same bowl. Add the lime juice, cilantro, chile and salt to the bowl and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if needed. Set aside.

To make the avocado salsa, combine the avocados, chile, lime juice, cilantro and 1 tsp. salt in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and add more salt if desired.

To make the queso, in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming, slowly add the milk. Once all the milk has been added, continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. While the milk is heating, in a large bowl, combine the cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses and the cornstarch and toss to combine.

Once the milk reaches a boil, immediately reduce the heat to low and slowly add the cheese mixture, one handful at a time and stirring after each addition, waiting until the cheese is completely melted before adding more cheese. Once all the cheese has been added, stir in the salt. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. Pour the queso through a fine-mesh sieve set over a clean bowl.

Arrange half of the tortilla chips on a large platter and drizzle evenly with half of the queso. Arrange the remaining chips on top and drizzle with the remaining queso. Spoon ¼ cup (2 oz./60 g) of the salmorejo salsa evenly on top, followed by ¼ cup (2 oz./60 g) of the avocado salsa and the crema. Sprinkle evenly with the cotija cheese, onion, and cilantro. Finish by sprinkling with the radish, pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately.

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