These “Nachos in Paradise” Bloggers Are Eating All the Nachos on O‘ahu
This is nacho average group of diners.
Six years ago, Shannon Leddy gathered a few friends for a plate of nachos at the former Cha Cha Cha’s in Waikīkī. They had wanted to start a blog dedicated to nachos for months—which place used the freshest or most unusual ingredients? Which restaurant’s nachos featured the best chip-to-topping ratio? Whose nachos were the best bang for your buck? And so, Nachos in Paradise was born.
More than a hundred nacho reviews later, the blog is still going strong and Leddy has gone from being a nacho enthusiast to a connoisseur. She continues to plan once- or twice-monthly meetups with friends to try new nachos throughout O‘ahu, complete with nacho-themed clothing and rating cards (that all guests have to fill out).
We were curious about what spots are at the top of Leddy’s list, what she thinks diners should be looking for in a good plate and more. We decided to ask the expert.
HONOLULU Magazine: So the obvious question is, why dedicate a blog to nachos specifically?
Shannon Leddy: Because everybody loves nachos. If you ask someone and they say they don’t like nachos, it’s like, who are you? Maybe people don’t like cheese. OK, that’s acceptable, we can do no cheese. But nachos are a party on a plate.
It’s also fun to compare one dish everywhere. It’s one thing to go to a restaurant, eat food and write about it, but it’s something else to eat the same thing at every restaurant and see the differences.
HM: How many nachos have you reviewed?
SL: There are close to 200 blog entries. But 30 or so are for events that we host, like our annual nacho cook-off or “Feliz Nacho-dad” during the holidays. Another 30 or so are Mainland adventures—if we try nachos while we’re traveling, then we write about them. In Hawai‘i, we’ve tried over 120 orders of nachos at different places.
HM: Tell us about the rating cards. How do you review the nachos, what’s the grading criteria?
SL: So at the start of the evening, I hand out instruction cards, pen and paper. Basically, there are prompts and everyone ranks the nachos on a scale of 1 to 5 and writes notes. The first thing is presentation before you’ve eaten it because what if you think, these nachos look great! But then you taste it and it’s crap? And sometimes nachos look disgusting but then they actually taste amazing.
Next is to find something rad about the nachos. Even if they’re the worst nachos you’ve ever had, you have to find something good about them. Then mention something lame, even if you’re eating the best nachos you’ve ever had. My rads are always fresh jalapeños, olives or grilled pineapple.
There’s also the topping-to-chip ratio. Are there too many toppings and you end up with leftovers at the end? Or do you end up with not enough toppings and just like a chip boneyard on the plate?
Finally, there’s a section for overall comments like atmosphere, if the staff is nice or if you want to give a shoutout to other food on the menu. What’s the place like? Do you want to come back?
HM: Based on the dozens of places you’ve tried in Hawai‘i, here’s the big question: Which places make the best nachos?
SL: In no particular order, I’d say Tio’s Tamales, O‘ahu Mexican Grill, Reef Bar and Market Grill, Waikīkī Brewing Co. in Kaka‘ako and Vegan Hills. Tio’s and OMG are all-around great; Reef Bar makes these big steak and shrimp nachos with homemade chips, huge shrimp, amazing steak and quality ingredients. Everyone who was there said hands down, those nachos were incredible.
I was originally against Vegan Hills because one of the key ingredients of nachos is cheese. But they use this cashew sauce instead of queso and it was unreal. Everything on that menu is delicious. And Waikīkī Brewing Co. in Kaka‘ako smokes their meats for nachos; you get a generous portion, fresh guacamole, cheese and jalapeños.
But honorable mention to Highway Inn, which uses house-made ‘ulu chips and kālua pork, Encore Saloon and North Shore Tacos. Hard Rock Café actually makes really good nachos, especially if you add grilled pineapple. Genius Lounge is also great. They use ghetto cheese but their nachos have wonton chips and kālua pork and it’s delicious.
HM: Would you be willing to share the worst nachos you’ve had?
SL: Snappers Sports Bar & Grill had the worst nachos on the island by far. Crappy chips, bad toppings, nothing was fresh. I mean, I’ll totally eat terrible nachos. Give me ballpark nachos with Tostitos and liquid yellow cheese and I will eat them. But Snappers was awful.
HM: What should people look for in good nachos?
SL: Everyone has their own opinion about what makes good nachos. Some people will hate nachos because there’s tomato, while other people love the nachos because the tomatoes were so good. What I like to look for is, are the chips homemade? How do they withstand the toppings? If the meat is dry, that sucks. But if the meat has too much moisture, like shredded pork or chicken, then the chips can become soggy. Are ingredients like avocado, jalapeño and salsa fresh? Beans are also a key ingredient, especially for vegetarians.
The thing people talk most about is the cheese. Some people are against liquid cheese, like queso or ballpark nacho cheese, but it disperses over the chips better and there’s greater layering. When you just melt regular cheese, then you try to take a chip, all the other chips come with.
HM: Have people outside of your group found out about your nacho blog?
SL: A lot of restaurants seem to know about us. I usually try to contact the restaurant before we visit for nachos because there can be 15 or 20 of us arriving. Places are always accommodating, even with our fun shirts or nacho ponchos, which are literally like ponchos covered in fabric “tortilla chips.”
People find out about us on Instagram and there’s a lot of word of mouth. People have told me they found out about us through cabdrivers. And just the sheer number of different places we’ve been to. We’re always sad when a place shuts down that we’ve never visited or that we didn’t get to yet because our list of places to try is so long.
HM: Which places made great nachos that closed down?
SL: Cha Cha Cha’s in Waikīkī had a huge pile of nachos with a mango habanero sauce. Torito’s in Market City was great. So was Lulu’s place inside On Stage on Kapahulu. We were really sad we never got to try the nachos at Rumours! We have a list of about 150 places left still to try and that number keeps growing so we’ve got a ways to go.
Follow the adventures of Nachos in Paradise at nachosinparadise.com.