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Dining Out

Taking nachos to the next level

Add lobster, steak, or even chocolate, and let the chips fall where they may

Big city's nachos Big City's Mediterranean nachos begin with pita chips topped with hummus, artichoke dip, roasted peppers, olive salsa, two cheeses, and balsamic tomatoes. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
By Courtney Hollands
Globe Staff / April 21, 2010

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Sure, you can grab a plate of chips topped with oozy cheese, salsa, and guacamole at almost any pub or neighborhood joint. Basic nachos are the perfect comfort food: warm, satisfying, and best shared with friends over beers.

Some Boston-area restaurants and chefs are elevating this snack and big-game-day favorite to the next level, layering chips with lobster, goat cheese, chocolate mousse, even foie gras (!).

Like Brian Poe at the Rattlesnake, who launched “Nacho Average Mondays’’ earlier this year. Each Monday, he whips up nachos with unconventional toppings like wild boar and fried Ipswich clams. The response has been so overwhelming — suggestions for new recipes flood his Twitter and Facebook accounts — that unique nachos ($14) now have a permanent place on Poe’s weekly specials. “People just love nachos,’’ he says.

So apparently, do chefs, who have been having a good time coming up with toppings for the crisp triangles, these creative twists among them.

Italian nachos ($11)

Anchovies, 433 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-266-5088

These corn rounds are topped with beef Bolognese, ricotta, mozzarella, and hot cherry peppers. “Nachos are conversation food,’’ general manager Mark Kelleher says. “You can eat them with friends and have a few martinis.’’

My take: It’s a bit strange to see nachos at an Italian restaurant. Once you get over this, the combination of rich, meaty sauce (the same one is served over pasta at this South End spot), cool ricotta, and slightly spicy peppers is delicious and filling. Definitely ask for a fork.

Lobster/crab nachos ($10)

The Fat Cat, 24 Chestnut St., Quincy, 617-471-4363; www.fatcatrestaurant.com

Crab, lobster, Parmesan, cheddar, corn and tomato salsa, sour cream, and avocado top these corn chips. “I didn’t want to just do standard nachos,’’ chef Tom Coleman says. “I love using seafood, so this was a natural fit.’’

My take: Adding lobster to a dish is a license to jack up the price. The Fat Cat hasn’t. Lobster has become a standard macaroni and cheese mix-in; it was only a matter of time before it turned up in other unlikely places. There are chunks of the crustacean (spotted: an entire claw) in this big plate of crispy nachos, and the spicy roasted corn and tomato salsa gives the dish a nice kick.

Mediterranean nachos ($8.99)

Big City, 138 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-782-2020; www.allstonsfinest.com

Forget tortillas. These begin with fried pita chips topped with hummus, spinach and artichoke dip, roasted peppers, olive salsa, feta and Jack cheeses, balsamic tomatoes, and basil pico de gallo (add pesto chicken for $1.99). “They go great with beer but are sophisticated enough to go with wine, too,’’ says chef Marc Kadish.

My take: There isn’t a naked chip in the whole towering stack. You might say the chef threw half the Mediterranean plus parts of the Middle East and Mexico into the mix. Pico de gallo, salsa, and balsamic tomatoes seep through the pile, ensuring that even the chips on the bottom get some love. Expect a flurry of flavors — these nachos are salty, sweet, and tangy.

Yuppie nachos ($8.95 and $11.95)

Christopher’s, 1920 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-876-9180; www.christopherscambridge.com

Goat, Jack, and cheddar cheeses mingle with guacamole and sundried tomatoes on corn chips. “We’ve been making these nachos since yuppies became yuppies,’’ says co-owner Holly Heslop. “Thirty years later, and they haven’t run their course.’’

My take: This combination of fluffy goat cheese, tart tomatoes, and crunchy chips actually felt light on the tummy. I could have eaten the whole plate.

Build-your-own nachos ($3.18 for chips and cheese; 47 cents to $3.27 for toppings)

Fajitas & ’Ritas. 25 West St., Boston, 617-426-1222; www.fajitasandritas.com

Start with corn chips and cheese, add toppings ranging from sliced skirt steak ($3.27) and ground beef chili ($1.50) to shredded lettuce (75 cents). “With nachos, you get special requests from different customers to add this, or take this off,’’ says owner Bradley Fredericks. “We wanted to let people order what they want.’’

My take: I usually ask for nachos without jalapenos or sour cream, so the idea of a la carte is right up my alley. I ordered chips and cheese with steak, guacamole, salsa, and cucumbers. Yes, cucumbers. (Fredericks added cukes to the toppings menu and I’m on board — the small spears offer an interesting crunch.)

Buffalo chicken nachos ($10.95)

The Four’s, 166 Canal St., Boston, 617-720-4455; (other locations in Quincy and Norwell), thefours.com

There’s fried chicken, of course, along with mozzarella, diced tomatoes, scallions, and a zippy buffalo sauce smothering these tortilla chips.

My take: There is no elegant way to eat nachos. That’s part of their charm, right? These were the messiest nachos I tried, hands down. Keep a napkin handy and water or beer within reach — the sauce is fiery. Next time, I will bring friends along to help tackle the generous serving of fried chicken and chips.

Vegetarian nachos ($8.50)

Otherside Cafe, 407 Newbury St., Boston, 617-536-8437; www.theothersidecafe.com

Cheddar, jalapenos, salsa, and vegetarian bean and bulgur chili sit on tortilla chips. Add guacamole for $2 or sour cream for $1; sub vegan cheese for $1. “Nachos satisfy a warm, crunchy need,’’ manager Michael Bewley says. “They are simple, good, and not too fancy.’’

My take: Hold the chicken or the steak and any nachos become vegetarian friendly. But with the Otherside’s “meaty’’ chili, you don’t have to sacrifice substance. Definitely spring for the housemade guacamole on the side — it’s creamy perfection. And, order them with my newest beer obsession: Pretty Things’ hoppy Fluffy White Rabbits.

Chocolate nachos ($6.95)

Cottonwood Cafe, 222 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-247-2225; www.cottonwoodboston.com

These shortbread triangles are dipped in chocolate and served with white and dark chocolate mousse and strawberries, which together resemble a sundae.

My take: The scoops of airy mousse studded with three cookie chips are nachos in name only, but it’s a fine dessert. I give this restaurant style points for serving the decadent treat in a martini glass. Cottonwood: May I suggest a larger size for sharing?

Restaurant critic Devra First is on vacation.