Critic's Notebook

Here's the Thing About the Nachos at Cantina Leña

So bad....yet so very, very good

By Kathryn Robinson June 18, 2015

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Get a load of the carnitas on the nachos at Cantina Leña.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a restaurant critic.

I know, cry me a river. But honestly: It can be tough to get the critical rubric right, particularly when judging a food item that’s prized above all for being bad.

Take nachos, that staple of Mexican restaurants that’s barely Mexican at all. (The story goes that nachos were made for the first time—"invented" would ascribe far too much intention—in Piedras Negras, just across the border from the Texas military town of Eagle Pass, by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. He threw them together from what he had in his restaurant kitchen for some American servicemen’s wives on a south-of-the-border shopping trip.)

That auspicious culinary beginning led to nachos’ long and storied ascent to ballpark staple—soggy chips drowning in CheezWhiz—and 3am drunk snack, prized mostly for their grease. Are nachos even supposed to be good?

In this month’s Seattle Met, my answer is yes—but you may have to redefine “good” to get 'em there. Seattle restaurant-opening addict Tom Douglas launched his latest, downtown's casual Cantina Leña, which features a generous mound of housemade tortilla chips, evenly distributed (that’s key) with green chilies, really fine queso fundido, wisps of cilantro, and a tangle of pickled onions. Flavors on point.

Best of all, they came topped with a crown of the finest, meatiest, crispiest, most satisfying carnitas to ever unleash streams of grease into a pile of chips. “Greasy, porky bliss,” I wrote in my notes—and for those of you who piously locate the standard for goodness in some nobler place? Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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