The Surprising Way Nachos Got Their Name

What's cheesy, crispy, salty, and absolutely perfect for any meal or occasion? If you guessed nachos, congrats! You win a free history lesson.

Traditionally, nachos consist of crunchy tortilla chips and melted cheese that can be enjoyed as either a snack or a full-fledged meal. They're popular fare at ballparks and picnics and are often offered as an indulgent appetizer on Mexican restaurant menus. A plate of nachos can be as simple or as complex as the eater desires. At minimum, they need some variety of melted cheese. (In fact, bright yellow sauce-style nacho cheese has become its own category.) But if you're really hungry and want to include all the savory, spicy fixin's, you're free to add peppers, ground beef, diced tomatoes, black beans, guacamole, sour cream, and more.

Nachos have only been around for less than a century. The serendipitous story of how nachos were invented — and how they were named — is mighty appetizing. Believe it or not, nachos actually got their name from an actual human being. Time reports that nachos first came into existence in 1943 in the town of Piedras Negras, Mexico, which was right over the border and close to Fort Duncan, a military base in Eagle Pass, Texas.

One day, a group of military wives, including a regular customer named Mamie Finan (per the Sun-Sentinel), spent the day shopping in Eagle Pass. At day's end they decided to relax and enjoy dinner together.

How did nachos get their name?

But it was getting late, and all of the nearby restaurants were closed for the night. Thankfully, a man named Ignacio Anaya, the maître d' at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras and later a restaurateur, noticed the hungry women and decided to cook for them. Improvising with what was left in the kitchen for the night, he fried a batch of tortilla chips, sprinkled shredded cheddar and sliced pickled jalapeños on top, and popped them into the oven for a couple minutes. And at that very moment, nachos were born.

The story goes that the women absolutely loved what they were served and were the first people to enjoy a plate of ... Wait. What are these called again? Without having time to think of something more clever, the cook named the snack after himself, Ignacio — "Nacho" for short. The Sun-Sentinel reports a variation on the story; Anaya's son claims it was Finan who dubbed the dish "Nacho's Especiales," later shortened to just nachos. Whatever the origin, word spread like wildfire throughout town, and the dish was so popular, the restaurant owner added nachos to the menu (via Mental Floss).

And there you have it, Team Tortilla! If it weren't for the innovative, kind, and hospitable Chef Anaya and those hungry ladies, who knows if or when we would have been blessed with this tasty masterpiece?