Halifax Nacho Quest: The Rest!
We are so close to trying every platter of nachos on the Halifax peninsula and naming the best nachos in Halifax – I can almost taste it! Tastes like cheese, and salt, and spice, and victory!
Since 2014 we’ve done our streets: Spring Garden Road, Argyle Street, Brunswick Street, Barrington Street and Quinpool Road. We’ve also done the Waterfront, the North End and the South End. Obviously over the course of 5 years, we’ve seen restaurants open, close, change hands, and change recipes! Behind the scenes we’ve been re-evaluating platters we weren’t sure about and keeping our eyes open for new competitors!
Last weekend we did a full quest of all of the new restaurants and anything we may have missed.
The contestants were:
Orso Pub & Grill
Roxbury Urban Dive Bar
East of Grafton
Nachos are scored on 10 criteria with varying weights: Aesthetic Appeal, Quality of Salsa and Sour Cream, Quality of Chips, Cheese Coverage, Topping Distribution, Quality of Toppings, Layering, Flavour Impression, Guacamole Inclusion, Perceived Value. Scoring sheets are collected and inputted into a spreadsheet. These are the results:
Orso Pub & Grill
1859 Brunswick Street
Add chicken or beef – $4
Add Guac – $2.50
“Need a pitcher of shitty beer with these.” – LuShark
Orso is situated in one of the new retail boxes under the Brunswick Street apartments. It’s got $10 pitchers and a nice patio view of Citadel Hill.
The first thing that caught our eye was the abundance of chicken on these nachos. This is a generous serving of chicken for $4 but it was dry and bland and unsuitably sliced. “The chicken tastes like how I cook chicken at home,” says Denton, “… and I am not a good cook.”
The cheese was a basic pre-shredded blend with its vibrant orange and white colours. There was quite a bit of cheese coverage but, as Moxey noted, “…as we ate, it seemed to reveal secret bad layers.”
The salsa and sour cream were standard fare, but the guacamole had the undeniable flavour of bar lime.
With our total bill ringing in at $22.50, we agreed that these were quite overpriced for the quality, size and execution.
Strengths: Cheese Coverage, Guacamole (Group was split, love/hating the bar lime guac)
Weaknesses: Layering, Terrible Chicken, Poor Value
Roxbury Urban Dive Bar
1743 Grafton Street
Add guacamole, chicken or taco beef – $3
“Small but mighty!” – ETT
Cheers has rebranded into Roxbury Urban Dive Bar and Nomad Travel Bar (the dancefloor side). The Roxbury has kind of a rustic surf basement aesthetic, and the entire menu is $5. Beef or chicken is $3 extra for the nachos, so we got two orders and one of each.
The nachos are served in metal lunch boxes. “Star Wars lunch box for the win!” exclaimed Cailin, who obviously liked the gimmick. The lunch boxes were filled with a fresh, colourful portion of nachos, garnished with fancy green onion ribbons.
The portions were so small that toppings and cheese penetrated every inch. The chips and beef were delightfully seasoned and the cheese was flavourful.
We did note that there were a few bare chips, while surplus cheese was melted to the paper. This should be easy to avoid with such a small serving. But what can I say – we loved these little flavour bombs!
Strengths: Flavour, Value, Quality of Toppings, Presentation
Weaknesses: Boring ass salsa, cheese coverage issues
645 Argyle Street
Chicken or taco beef – $4
Guac – $2
“Cheese soup & crackers” – LuShark
We missed Durty Nelly’s on our Argyle Quest (2014) because they were closed for a staff event. I have been back to try the nachos a few times and they have been completely and utterly different every single time! This makes them incredibly hard to score, but they are judged here for the final time.
The finely chopped veggies were firmly affixed to the chips by a blanket of fully melted cheese. There was really only one layer, but it was lovingly cheesed and sprinkled with toppings. LuShark felt the cheese was oily and heavy – but opinions varied.
I’d say the topping distribution was just about perfect, but toppings were sparse. We were especially perturbed by the $4 portion of beef, which was super stingy.
A few people complained that the chips were bland, whereas others didn’t mind their neutral non-distraction. I thought there was a good synergy between the house-made chips and the cheese.
The salsa was house-made but kind of watery and bland. ReTales thought it was “fresh tasting” and LuShark compared it to gazpacho.
Durty Nelly’s used to have amazing guacamole, but they’ve made the switch to tube guac. LuShark joked that it looked like Dairy Queen soft serve. “It was a train Shrek!” she just chortled at me as I write this.
In general, we all felt there could have been more flavour from any available sources.
Strengths: Cheese Factor/Topping Distribution
Weaknesses: Lack of Toppings (esp. beef), Lack of Flavour
East of Grafton
1580 Argyle Street
“Sour cream saved the day!” – Cailin
East of Grafton is the latest RCR restaurant to hit up Argyle Street; it was a total overhaul of the former Onyx into a decent gastropub. They offer three types of nachos (all $17): Mediterranean (a classic nacho, gussied up with pepperoncinis and artichoke hearts), Cordero (with ground lamb, mint, goat cheese, caramelized onions and smoked bacon) and Gas Station (ground beef, chili and liquid cheese). We went with the Mediterranean.
What a beauty! The first layer was quite impressive, with lots of cheesy goodness covering the pile. The pepperonicinis were a nice flavour adjustment from predictable jalapenos, while still providing a nice kick.
But there weren’t enough toppings – for some, there were only rumours of artichokes.
We were ecstatic about the habanero lime sour cream and black bean dip! These dips were so unique and flavourful, it was easy to forget about the absence of salsa.
Everything was going really well until we got to the second layer. We were greeted by a cold layer of cheese and even a few bare chips. The unmelted cheese distracted from the flavour experience, but the pepperoncinis and dips carried it to a clean finish.
Strengths: Sour Cream and Bean Dip!, Quality of Toppings, Cheese Coverage
Weaknesses: Layering, Topping Distribution
1575 Argyle Street
Add chicken, pork or beef – $4
Guac – $3
“I could throw together better nachos with my fridge contents on a bad day.” – Moxey
The Argyle has been replaced by The Pint, a Canadian chain that is now a popular spot on Argyle Street. The rooftop patio is open for business and optimal sunshine, and we thoroughly enjoyed our cold drinks in the sun!
Our nachos arrived on a huge metal platter that awkwardly dwarfed them in size. “An unwelcome impression,” wrote Denton.
There was an adequate amount of cheese, but also a lot of bare chips. “Nothing fancy furniture,” Cailin wrote of the chips. Flavour Impression: “cardboard”, wrote LuShark.
The distribution of toppings was also pretty wack, and everything was mediocre at best. The pulled pork may as well have been candied. Not a fan.
Our total bill (without guac, because it never arrived) was $23. This is outrageously overpriced.
Strengths: Patio Drinks! $10 Bulldogs 🙂
Weaknesses: Everything else.
5187 Salter Street
Add chicken or pulled pork or Cajun beef – $4
“Zzzzzz…” – ETT
Ruby’s Rhinestone is a new country-themed bar located on Salter Street (same door as Reflections). I was expecting a western saloon ambiance, but was surprised to see coffee fixin’s at every table. It felt more like a diner with a bar. However, we gleefully realized that nachos were on special for $7!
We had the choice of chicken, pork or “Cajun Beef” and we went with the latter, hoping for something spicy. We were happy to see the generous beef allotment on this platter, but “Cajun” it was not. Spicy it was not. And yet – it was probably our favourite quality of these nachos.
The main flavour we picked up on was salt. “Intermittent saltiness,” wrote LuShark, echoing other reports that every third or forth chip was quite salty.
Then there was the problem of the cheese. “Disappointing cheese coverage,” wrote Moxey. “Barely any cheese,” noted ReTales. “They are screaming ‘Put us back in the oven! We aren’t done'”, wrote Cailin.
As for layering, there was none to speak of.
These were really unexceptional. For $7 they were a great deal, but Ruby’s has discontinued the $7 appetizer specials (for now) and I wouldn’t pay full price for these.
Strengths: Meat Abundance
Weaknesses: Flavour, Layering, Chips
1569 Dresden Row
“A beautiful pile of cheesy goodness.” – Machzy
The Black Sheep has been around a while, but certainly not as far back as 2014 when we did the Spring Garden Quest. I love their concept: brunch all day every day til 4pm. Then they switch to cocktails and small plates. It’s an industry worker’s dream!
In the spirit of small plates, their nachos are a small portion of delicately organized, perfectly layered, high quality ingredients. These are “Brisket Nachos” with house-smoked brisket, sauerkraut and cheddar, drizzled with green onion crema and chipotle mustard, and served with a side of guacamole.
The nachos were permeated with a good quality cheese, which we loved. However, there weren’t a lot of toppings to go around. “I had to poke around to get beef and I never got kraut,” lamented Moxey. It was hard to track down the brisket, but where it could be found in proximity to sauerkraut it was nice.
There was one major problem with these nachos: the menu states “chipotle mustard”, but our nachos were actually drizzled all over with honey mustard. This assaulted our palates with sweetness and overpowered the other flavours, including the delicate green onion crema.
Denton and Cailin liked the sweet honey mustard, but it completely ruined the dish for everyone else. I think the Black Sheep might even be a contender for best nachos in Halifax if this offending flavour was omitted or changed.
“It’s like a figure skating routine that scores high marks for both technical and artistic merit, but they chose to set it to an unpopular song.” – Denton
The guacamole was easily the best of the quest. It was chunky, house-made and flavourful. The only bad review was from Cailin who couldn’t get past a bit of browning. “It looks brown/old,” she complained. The rest of us were just happy to have real guacamole for once.
Strengths: Cheese Coverage & Layering, Guacamole, Aesthetic Appeal, Value, Chips
Weaknesses: Lack of Toppings, Questionable Flavour Choices?
1. Roxbury Urban Dive Bar
2. East of Grafton
3. Black Sheep
We loved the tiny bundles of joy at Roxbury Urban Dive Bar! … But aren’t nachos made for sharing?
East of Grafton had some layering issues, but otherwise has potential to be a great plate of nachos. If this gets sorted out, we may have one in the running! I can’t wait to try their other signature nachos!
Black Sheep may have taken down this competition if we hadn’t recoiled from the honey mustard. A little more generosity with the brisket, and a more agreeable drizzle and it’d be fo’ shizzle!
If you’re wondering about 4th place, it was Durty Nelly’s – coming surprisingly close on the heels of the Black Sheep. Not a bad plate of nachos each time I’ve had them, but definitely some consistency issues. I wish they’d return to a house-made guacamole!
In September I’m putting together a whole new nacho team and sending them out to rank the top 10! Fall 2018: The Best Nachos in Halifax!