What's the big deal - surely, there's not that much difference between one plate of trans-fatty, cholesterol-laden carbs and the next? Packing portable scales and a cast-iron gut, the NOW Test Kitchen discovers who's the nacho boss and who's just dross. How long until some savvy afficianado pulls a Chippy's and produces a nouvelle version - organic foie gras nachos with artisanel cheeses, anyone?
HARD ROCK CAFE 279 Yonge, at Dundas Square 416-362-3636
The Vibe? Tourist destination-dining decked out with rock star memorabilia, some near mythic (Dylan, Prince, Kiss), a few questionable (Bo Diddley's violin??).
The Deal? Southwest Nachos with Steak, $12.44, 41 oz
The Verdict? Toronto's most macho nachos, toss of corn kernels and whole black beans add authenticity, fajita-style steak strips serious flavour. Bonus: vanilla ice cream-topped cinnamon-sugared Dessert Nachos ($8.99) strewn with strawberries, pineapple, toasted coconut and chocolate and caramel sauce. Rating: NNNN
SNEAKY DEE'S 431 College, at Bathurst 416-603-3090
The Vibe? Graffiti-covered grunge-ateria open till 5 am Friday and Saturday nights.
The Deal? King Crown Nachos, $12.25 / 41 oz
The Verdict? Though the Dee's vegetarian take comes closer to pizza, the King features a base of lumpy refried pintos, nippy ground beef, diced raw bell pepper and a thick bubbly dome of broiled cheddar. Bonus: Wednesday after 4 pm, the King goes for half price with the purchase of a 60-oz pitcher of domestic draft (total: $17.50). Rating: NNNN
RED LION 449 Jarvis, at Maitland 416-924-8106
The Vibe? Old-money Victorian re-styled as Ryerson hang - pool tables, fireplaces, stained glass, retro 80s hits on the sound system.
The Deal? Nachos with Chili, $11.45, 36 oz
The Verdict? Dye-coloured red, green, yellow and pride purple chips heaped with adequate guac, lotsa melted cheeses, sour cream. Secret weapon: extremely meaty chili. Rating: NNN
Rancho Relaxo 300 College, at Robert 416-920-0366
The Vibe? Brightly coloured U of T fave festooned with a fiesta of sombreros.
The Deal? Rancho Relaxo Nachos, $8.95, 20 oz
The Verdict? Thicker-than-most commercial corn chips, squiggles of sour cream over pulpy guacamole, chopped raw Spanish onion and pink tomato, caramelized onion, cubed steak, wimpy green chili
. Rating: NNN
MARGARITA'S 14 Baldwin, at McCaul 416-977-5525
The Vibe? Venerable kitschy turista taqueiria.
The Deal? Nachos with Beef, $7.99, 28 oz
The Verdict? Baked in foil, lots of pickled jalapeno, lettuce strips, fresh coriander, chopped raw Spanish onion, correctly bland Tex Mex-style refried beans, nutty pulverized beef, limp watery salsa, thin sour cream. Rating: NNN
PEEL PUB 276 King West, at Duncan 416-977-0003
The Vibe? Sprawling student pub with dozens of TVs turned to the game. Cute Australian - pronounced 'Strine - servers.
The Deal? Chicken Nachos, $8.98, 28 oz
The Verdict? Pale tortilla chips, bean-free cubed chicken breast and a sweetly seasoned Italian-style tomato sauce, molten mottled Colby, over-processed guacamole and bottled-tasting salsa. Rating: NNN
BETTY'S 240 King East, at Princess 416-368-1300
The Vibe? Two-storey party pub, partially smoke-free.
The Deal? Nachos, $6.95, 21 oz
The Verdict? Round orange corn chips - President's Choice? - topped with store bought-tasting salsa, minimal cheese, pale cubed winter tomato, barely there red onion, green chili and sour cream. Rating: NN
CASEY'S 123 Front West, at University, 416-955-4550
The Vibe? Suburban family-style roadhouse.
The Deal? Big Cheese Nachos, $8.99, 26 oz
The Verdict? Amply portioned presentation loses points for food-coloured chips and salsa that's almost BBQ sauce. Rating: NN
THE BISHOP AND THE BELCHER 361 Queen West, at Spadina 416-591-2352
The Vibe? Pre-fab ye olde English pub.
The Deal? Nachos, $8.75, 18 oz
The Verdict? Though the Belch's menu promises roasted red, yellow and green pepper, we got canned red and green pickled jalapeno instead. Store-bought JA-style red, yellow and green tortilla chips mirror the bar's reggae soundtrack. Rating: NN
TACO BELL 1 Richmond West, at Yonge, and others 416-366-6161
The Vibe? Fast-food desperation.
The Deal? Nachos Supreme, $1.99, 5 oz
The Verdict? In our blindfold test, the first guess was, "liquid cardboard?" Exactly 10 flavourless chips accompany Spam-like mystery meat, taste-challenged nuclear cheese-food, and a pinch of incongruous cinnamon. Minus: packets of hot sauce closer to acrid salad dressing than Srirachi. Rating: N