Whether you’re going to a backyard get-together, housewarming party or game night, it’s almost guaranteed that a bag of chips and jar of salsa will be part of the spread. For volunteering to bring a contribution, the duo is right up there with a liter of Coke in terms of effort — until you get to the chips aisle, that is.
When the heck did there become so many different types of tortilla chips?
Yellow corn or blue corn? Scoops or triangles? Lightly salted or hint-of-lime? It’s enough to have you thinking that the party guest who volunteered to make cupcakes from scratch got off easy.
For advice on how to buy the best-tasting tortilla chips — and which ones to skip — we asked 10 Mexican chefs what to look for. After all, they’ve perfected making tortilla chips themselves, whether it’s to serve in their restaurants, feature in their cookbooks or simply enjoy at home.
So, what do they keep in mind? Follow the six steps below and you’ll be led to the perfect tortilla chips every time.
1. Buy them from Mexican-owned shops or brands
Instead of heading to the grocery store for your tortilla chips, it’s worth it to do a quick Google search first to see if there’s a Mexican grocery store nearby to make your purchase.
“My favorite tortilla chips are available at most Mexican grocery stores. It’s the one with no brand that’s likely made at the store,” said chef Katsuji Tanabe, who owns six restaurants across North America.
If you spot perfectly golden tortilla chips in a clear bag with no brand name, you know you’ve found what you came in for. Tanabe said chips like these are made with real corn tortillas and are thick enough to be used for anything from chips and salsa to making chilaquiles.
If there isn’t a Mexican grocery store near you, the next-best thing you can do is support a Mexican-owned brand. Esteban Castillo, the creator of Mexican cooking resource Chicano Eats and author of a cookbook with the same name, said he favors Siete’s grain-free tortilla chips both for their ingredients and because the brand gives back to the Latinx community.
Lola Wiarbo Dweck, the founder of Mexican cooking resource Lola’s Cocina, does too. “I like that they’re made with avocado oil and chia seeds,” she said.
Dweck is also a fan of Mi Rancho 7th Street corn tortilla chips, which are made with organic ingredients. “They’re as close to homemade as it gets!” she shared.
2. Look for the perfect thickness
If you want to avoid your chip breaking off while you’re scooping up some guac, consider thickness.
A “thicker size is closest to a homemade tortilla chip,” said Mely Martinez, the founder of Mexican recipe website Mexico In My Kitchen. “Thin chips break easily and lack the corn flavor of a good tortilla.”
(For the record, Martinez said that if she isn’t getting her tortilla chips straight from a Mexican grocery store, she’ll pick up a bag of Xóchitl chips, which she said deliver on the perfect thickness.)
Castillo said perfect tortilla chips aren’t too brittle or too thick; they’re just right. After all, you’re likely pairing your chips with salsa, quac or another food, and an overly thick chip can be overpowering.
3. Look for chips made with nixtamalized yellow corn
To really appreciate the corn flavor of your chips, Maricruz Avalos, who shares Mexican recipes online, and Dora Stone, the creator of Mexican recipe website Dora’s Table, both say to look for chips made with nixtamalized corn.
During the nixtamalization process, dried maize kernels are cooked and steeped in an alkaline solution, most commonly filtered water and lime. Not only are they more flavorful, but nixtamalized corn chips are higher in B vitamins.
Avalos uses them to make chilaquiles, “because they hold up the salsa wonderfully,” and also as topping for soups, “especially for sopa Azteca.”
Chef Carlos Gaytán said the best chips are made with yellow corn, full stop. “The others that are white or blue corn are not so crunchy because they absorb a lot of the oil with which they are made,” he said. “On the other hand, the yellow [corn] tortilla, when fried between 375°F and 400°F, is super crispy and delicious.”
4. Look for a short and simple ingredients list
Hint-of-lime, guac-flavored tortilla chips, taco flavor — none of the Mexican chefs we talked to go for flavors like these.
“I don’t like lime-flavored tortilla chips. The lime artificial flavor really bothers me for some reason. I would rather squeeze some fresh lime on my chips,” Stone said.
Tanabe saids he skips tortilla chips that are dyed blue, red or green. The shorter the ingredients list on your chip bag, the closer to homemade they’ll be.
5. They shouldn’t be overly salty
Many of the Mexican chefs say that when it comes to saltiness, the perfect tortilla chips have neither too little nor too much. If your chips are overly salty and you’re enjoying them with another food that has salt (like guac), the saltiness will be overpowering.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, the author of ”Muy Bueno Cookbook,” said that if she isn’t picking up her chips from a local Mexican grocery store, she’ll go for La Favorita or Xochitl tortilla chips, which she says are perfectly lightly salted and not overly so.
6. Make sure they’re triangle-shaped
“I don’t like round, strips or scoops,” Marquez-Sharpnack said. If your tortilla chips are the perfect thickness already, they don’t need a special shape in order to be the perfect vehicle for salsa, queso or guac.
With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to buying the best tortilla chips out there. Now, if only someone could help you figure out what salsa to go with them ...