Loaded Nachos

published Feb 3, 2024
Loaded Nachos Recipe

With taco-spiced beef and beans, cheese sauce, and pico de gallo, these have everything you want (and more).

Serves6 to 8

Prep25 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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overhead shot of loaded nachos on a baking sheet, topped with sour cream dollops, avocado and a drizzle of hot sauce.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

I love nachos, but they can easily go wrong. We’ve all had that mediocre plate of soggy chips, solidified cheese, and woefully uneven topping distribution. These nachos, however, are loaded and delicious. 

Here, the beef and beans cook together to create an easy, flavorful topping. A creamy queso sauce gets everywhere shredded cheese never could. And it’s topped with fresh pico de gallo, avocado, and sour cream. The best part: Everything gets spread out on a sheet pan for even distribution, guaranteeing the perfect bite every time.

The Anatomy of Loaded Nachos

My favorite thing about nachos is everything is customizable. You can add things you love, skip things you don’t, and there are always ways to keep things fresh. 

  • Chips. Opt for a sturdy tortilla chip that can hold up to lots of toppings.
  • Beef and beans. Browned beef and pinto or black beans cook together with taco seasoning to create a hearty topping for nachos. Don’t bother draining the canned beans — the liquid acts as a thickener for the saucy mix.
  • Queso. A gooey cheese sauce made with cheddar cheese, American cheese, or Monterey Jack and pickled jalapeños.
  • Pico de gallo. The combination of fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and lime juice adds brightness to balance the richer toppings.
  • More toppings. Fresh cilantro, avocado slices, sour cream, and hot sauce add flavor and textural contrast.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

More Topping Ideas

There are endless nacho toppings to choose from. Try one of these variations or one of your own.

  • Radishes. Diced fresh radishes add a delightful crunch.
  • Olives. I can’t pretend to understand why, but if you want to put sliced black olives on your own nachos, I support you.
  • Charred corn. Cook fresh or thawed frozen corn over high heat in a dry skillet until blackened in spots.
  • Guacamole. Swap out the sliced avocado for homemade or store-bought guacamole.
  • A different protein. Swap out the beef for ground pork, chicken, or turkey. You could even try pork carnitas, carne asada, or tofu sofritas instead and cook the beans separately or skip them.
  • Scallions. Swap the cilantro for sliced green onions, or use both!
  • Leftovers. I love using nachos as a canvas for leftovers. Esquites (Mexican corn salad), braised meat, and sauces (think: salsa verde, ranchero sauce, and even homemade ranch dressing) are all great additions.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

If You’re Making Loaded Nachos, a Few Tips

  • Use store-bought shortcuts. To cut down on work and time, substitute your favorite jarred queso for the homemade one in this recipe. You can also swap in store-bought pico de gallo or your favorite salsa instead. Mango salsa would also be a delicious alternative.
  • Warm up your chips. While it’s not in the recipe or strictly necessary, you can warm your chips up on the sheet pan in a 350ºF oven for about 5 minutes to give them a slightly toasty flavor.
  • Use up your leftovers. You can serve leftover components over lettuce or rice for a delicious taco salad or burrito bowl. Or mix the leftover beef and queso together for a next-level queso dip.

Loaded Nachos Recipe

With taco-spiced beef and beans, cheese sauce, and pico de gallo, these have everything you want (and more).

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the beef and pico de gallo:

  • 1

    large red onion

  • 6 ounces

    vine-ripened or Roma tomatoes (2 to 3 medium)

  • 1/2 to 1

    medium jalapeño

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 tablespoon

    canola or vegetable oil

  • 1 pound

    lean ground beef

  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    pinto or black beans (do not drain)

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • 1 (1-ounce) packet

    or 3 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning

For the queso:

  • 4 ounces

    sliced yellow or white American cheese

  • 4 ounces

    Monterey Jack or mild cheddar cheese

  • 3 tablespoons

    sliced pickled jalapeños

  • 1 cup

    whole milk, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    cornstarch

  • 1 tablespoon

    canola or vegetable oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 tablespoon

    pickled jalapeño brine

For serving:

  • 1 small bunch

    fresh cilantro

  • 1

    small ripe avocado

  • 1 (9-ounce) bag

    sturdy tortilla chips

  • Sour cream

  • Hot sauce, such as Valentina or Cholula (optional)

Instructions

For the beef and pico de gallo:

  1. Dice 1/4 of a large red onion (about 1/2 cup), then thinly slice the remaining 3/4 onion (about 1 1/2 cups). Dice 2 to 3 medium vine-ripened or Roma tomatoes until you have 1 cup. Finely dice 1/2 to 1 medium jalapeño depending on heat level desired (you can remove the seeds and membranes, if desired). Halve 1 medium lime, then cut one half into wedges and reserve for serving.

  2. Make the pico de gallo: Place the diced onion, tomatoes, jalapeño, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl. Juice the lime half into the bowl and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and deeply browned in spots, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 pound lean ground beef and cook, breaking the beef up with a wooden spoon into crumbles and stirring occasionally, until cooked through and browned, 5 to 10 minutes.

  4. Add 1 (about 15-ounce) can pinto or black beans (do not drain) and 1/2 cup water. From 1 (1-ounce) packet or 3 tablespoons taco seasoning, set aside 1 1/2 teaspoons for the queso, then add the remaining to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and saucy, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, make the queso while the beef and beans are cooking.

For the queso:

  1. Tear 4 ounces sliced American cheese into small pieces. Grate 4 ounces Monterey Jack or mild cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup). Finely chop 3 tablespoons sliced pickled jalapeños. Place 1/4 cup of the whole milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the reserved taco seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining 3/4 cup whole milk and cook, whisking occasionally, until barely simmering, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened and simmering for at least 1 full minute.

  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the American cheese and stir until the cheese is fully melted. Add the Monterey Jack cheese in a handful at a time, stirring until fully incorporated between each handful. When the cheese is melted, remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the pickled jalapeños and 1 tablespoon jalapeño pickling brine, and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Cover to keep warm.

For serving:

  1. Coarsely chop the leaves and tender stems from 1 small bunch fresh cilantro until you have 1/4 cup. Halve, pit, and dice or thinly slice 1 small ripe avocado.

  2. Scatter 1 (9-ounce) bag tortilla chips on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Spoon the beef mixture over the chips, then drizzle with the queso. Top with the pico de gallo, avocado, and dollops of sour cream. Drizzle with hot sauce if desired. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with lime wedges for squeezing.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: 1 1/2 cups store-bought pico de gallo and 2 cups queso can be used in place of homemade.

Make ahead: All of the ingredients except the avocado can be prepped and refrigerated in separate airtight containers up to 1 day ahead. Reheat the beef mixture and queso over low heat until warmed through.

Storage: Nachos are best eaten immediately, but leftover components can be stored in separate airtight containers for up to 4 days.