Before nachos became one of the most beloved snack foods in North America and beyond, they were invented on a whim by a maître d' working in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Even if you've never heard Ignacio Anaya García's full name, you've certainly seen his nickname, "Nacho," in the appetizer section of countless restaurant menus.
García was born in Mexico on August 15, 1895. His proper first name was Ignacio, but he went by the shortened version Nacho—a word that was not yet synonymous with tortilla chips covered in cheese.
In 1943, García conceived the dish that made his name famous. He was working at the popular restaurant Club Victoria near the Texas-Mexico border when a group of soldiers' wives from a nearby U.S. Army base came in to order a snack. The chef was nowhere to be found, so García temporarily abandoned his post to whip up something himself. His recipe—tortilla chips topped with grated Wisconsin cheese and sliced jalapeños—was dubbed Nachos especiales.
The creation was an immediate hit. Neighboring restaurants added their own versions of Nachos especiales to menus, and as early as 1949, a recipe for the snack appeared in an American cookbook. García never claimed legal rights to the dish, and it's still in the public domain today. But the Nacho behind nachos wasn't forgotten. Within 17 years of serving the first platter, he opened his own restaurant called El Nacho.
Nachos have been reimagined countless times since their inception. Hearty meat-topped nachos, dessert nachos, and nachos drenched in liquid cheese are all modern spins on the original formula. But García wasn't a purist. According to a 2002 article in the Tampa Bay Times, he made bean nachos at his restaurant for his granddaughter Cristina, who didn't like cheese.
Ignacio Anaya García died in 1975, yet his culinary legacy has only grown since then. If you've ever enjoyed a plate of nachos, you now know who to thank for them.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.