Eats Beat

The Battle of the Irish Nachos: Which Arlington bar-and-grill has the best?

Bobby Valentine’s Sports Gallery Cafe in Arlington serves Irish nachos with smoked brisket (shown), beef or chicken fajitas.
Bobby Valentine’s Sports Gallery Cafe in Arlington serves Irish nachos with smoked brisket (shown), beef or chicken fajitas. bud@star-telegram.com

What Arlington needs is a Museum of Nachos.

Besides Piedras Negras, where Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya is credited with first grating cheddar onto tostadas in 1943, no city has done more to make nachos famous than Arlington.

You think I’m kidding?

Making nachos one-by-one was a meticulous and time-consuming process until Arlington took over.

In 1976, city concessionaires in Arlington Stadium were the first to pour a dollop of queso over a fistful of tostadas, top it all with a heap of peppers and serve it as “ballpark nachos.”

Then, in 1980, new Irish bar part-owner Randy Ford had an idea.

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Randy Ford, owner of J. Gilligans Bar & Grill, says his business took off after the Cowboys Stadium opened. Brandon Wade Star-Telegram

He scattered cottage fries across a plate and topped them with grated cheese and jalapenos, the way Anaya topped tostados.

A Houston bar, Mama Hattie’s, was already serving the same dish. But Ford and J. Gilligan’s Bar & Grill definitely popularized topping cottage fries and selling them as “Irish nachos.”

Gilligan’s will sell thousands of orders Sunday at the bar’s 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Block Party.

The party has changed since the first bash in 1979. For example, it’s a family-friendly party with children’s activities, face painters and Irish dancers until 3 p.m.

(Once, Arlington bars would start serving green beer at 7 a.m. on St. Pat’s.)

What hasn’t changed is some of the music. The Hlll City Band, once a Stockyards favorite and a regular Gilligan’s party band for decades, will play at 4 p.m. in the restaurant.

The menu includes everything from burgers to chicken-fried chicken and grilled chicken salad. But this weekend, the No. 1 order will be Irish nachos.

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J. Gilligan’s Bar & Grill in Arlington popularized “Irish nachos” served on cottage fries instead of chips. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

The “nachos” start with a thin layer of cottage fries, barely thicker than a pizza crust.

Then Gilligan’s loads it up with lots of cheese, chives, diced tomato and onion, crumbled bacon and jalapenos.

That’s $8.79, plus a few more dollars for grilled chicken or crumbled beef.

The “kids’ nachos” with cheese and bacon cost $4.99.

It’s open for lunch and dinner daily at 400 E. Abram St. (The original restaurant, a 1950-vintage sandwich shop, is at 407 E. South St.)

Call 817-274-8561, or see jgilligans.com/index.html.

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A club sandwich from the quick-lunch menu at Bobby Valentine’s Sports Gallery Cafe. Bud Kennedy Star-Telegram.com


Bobby V’s: The Irish renegades

But Gilligan’s isn’t the only Arlington restaurant known for Irish nachos.

Six miles south on Bowen Road, Bobby V’s Sports Gallery Cafe serves its own version and has a loyal local following.

Bobby V’s history in Arlington goes back almost as far as Gilligan’s.

In 1983, two restaurants opened as The Café, using the same retro neon look and signage as a then-related restaurant that continues on Denton Highway in Haltom City. (The original The Café was on Ryan Plaza Drive across from what is today Champions Park.)



In 1986, baseball manager Bobby Valentine bought into the two Arlington restaurants, upgraded them to state-of-the-art sports bars and launched the era when Bobby V’s was the place to see or be seen after Texas Rangers’ games.

The South Bowen Road location is now the only Bobby V’s. It’s a timeworn, but serves as an inexpensive lunch cafe, happy-hour hangout and family sports grill for southwest Arlington.

Bobby V’s Irish nachos come on a larger platter for a lower price than Gilligan’s: $7.99.

Here’s an item-by-item comparison of the two Irish ‘tater platters:

Size: Bobby V’s platter is about half again the size of J. Gilligan’s, although it’s not stacked as deep. Edge: Bobby V’s.

Potatoes: It’s not an Irish dish without potatoes.

J. Gilligan’s Irish nachos are made on a bed of thinly cut cottage fries, but you almost don’t notice the potatoes. Bobby V’s cottage fries are cut thicker, to the point that the flavor is almost more like a stuffed baked potato. Edge: Bobby V’s.

Toppings: J, Gilligan’s thick layer of bacon, cheddar, tomato, onion and peppers gave the deep-dish platter its flavor. Bobby V’s used less cheese and jalapeno per cubic nacho inch. Edge: J. Gilligan’s.

Trimmings: Bobby V’s nachos came with sour cream and a weak, watery salsa. J. Gilligan’s nachos came with one choice from a tiny guacamole cup, sour cream or a weak, watery salsa. Edge: J. Gilligan’s, with an extra side of guacamole.

Options: Bobby V’s makes Irish nachos with its new smoked brisket, or with beef or chicken fajita meat. J. Gilligan’s offers ground beef or diced grilled chcken. Edge: Bobby V’s.

Flavor: J. Gilligan’s nachos taste mostly of cheese and jalapeno, which is what you want from a nacho plate. Who rates regular nachos on the quality of the chip? Edge: J. Gilligan’s.

“Nacho” Anaya would be proud of both.

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