Nachos Vs Tortilla Chips: Do You Know The Differences?

Nachos and tortilla chips may look similar to each other; hence, it is easy to confuse the two. However, some critical differences set the two dishes apart.

Knowing the differences between these two can help you make better menu choices in restaurants and avoid making embarrassing mistakes in front of others.

Hence, let’s discover the difference now and clear the confusion once and for all. Also, if you are looking for ways to make these dishes at home, this article will have your back.

Now, let’s identify them first.

Related: Top 30 most popular Mexican dishes to try

Nacho & Nacho chips

Nachos are a Mexican regional cuisine from the state of Michoacán in northern Mexico. Although it used to be served as a snack or appetizer, this dish now consists of cooked tortilla chips or totopos coated in melted cheese (or a cheese-based sauce).

Cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, jalapenos, and lettuce are among the most popular toppings that can be added to nachos. Other ingredients can be added to more sophisticated versions of the meal, making nachos filling enough to be served as a main course.

A quartered and fried tostada with a layer of refried beans or various meats, a layer of shredded cheese or nacho cheese, and habanero spicy sauce is one popular variant of nachos.

Other popular varieties include barbecue nachos (in which the cheese is replaced with barbecue sauce) and poutine nachos (in which cheese curds and gravy substitute the cheddar cheese). Although these modern versions do not follow the traditional recipe, they are still considered nachos.

Tortilla chips

They are a type of snack prepared from maize tortillas that have been sliced into triangles and fried or baked (alternatively, they may be pressed out of corn masa then fried or baked).

The ones for dipping are usually mildly salted, but others may be seasoned with a range of spices. Accordingly, they can be dipped with other sauces or enjoyed as they are. They are usually served with salsa, chile con queso, or guacamole as a dip.

When the chips are not served with a dip, people season them with herbs and spices.

The Difference

Origin (are they Mexican?)

When it comes to nachos, Ignacio “El Nacho” Anaya devised the dish in 1940 when a guest asked him to create a new snack. This first version of nachos came with fried corn tortilla chips, melted cheese, and sliced jalapeno peppers.

Meanwhile, the chips arose from Mexican cuisine, where similar dishes such as totopos and tostadas were well-known and were first mass-produced commercially in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. Even though the chips are now available worldwide, the United States remains one of the most important markets for them.

The ingredients (cheese, corn, tortillas?)

Both dishes are tortilla-based. Yet, while nachos ask for yellow corn tortillas, tortillas for tortilla chips can be made of yellow, white, blue, or red corn. So, that’s a noticeable difference you should know about.

However, yellow corn tortillas are still the most common ones, and this type creates the color of these chips.

The corn tortillas of both dishes are produced using corn that has been nixtamalized and manufactured with vegetable oil, salt, and water.

Serving method

Since tortilla chips are often served with a dipping sauce, and nachos can be easily garnished by only liquid cheese, the two dishes may seem quite similar sometimes. However, like the brief introduction of each dish above, they are different from each other.

The chips are tortillas being cut into smaller parts (with or without seasoning). Meanwhile, nachos are triangle-shaped tortillas being fried and then topped with meat, beans, cheese, cream, diced chilies or hot sauce, and occasionally lettuce and tomato before being served as finger food.

How to Make Them?

The chips (Tortilla)

Your homemade dish may be fried, baked, or air-fried to perfection. In only 15 minutes, you can have fresh, warm crispy chips with guacamole or your favorite salsa using only a few ingredients.

Things to prepare

  • Tortillas
  • Seasoning (optional): salt, pepper…

Step-by-step guide

  • Pile and cut: If you use classic corn tortillas, pile them up and cut them into six even triangles using a sharp knife. If you do not have any, cut the tortillas into triangles.
  • Frying: Preheat the oil to 350°F in a big pot or fryer. Toss the tortillas into the hot oil with tongs. Make sure the fryer is not too full. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until crisp.
  • After frying: Remove the chips from the oil using a slotted spoon and drain them on a tray lined with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Keep them in a sealed container, and they can be good to consume for 8 – 10 days in your pantry.


Buying and consuming a bag of nacho chips at the supermarket is easy. But have you ever thought about making the tastiest homemade nachos yourself?

Nachos are a versatile and quick-to-prepare snack. You can add anything from protein, carbs, veggies, and additional cheese to homemade nachos to make sure they contain the necessary nutrients. They can also be customized to fit the needs of a single diner or a group snack.

If this piques your interest, follow our step-by-step instructions for making nachos at home, and you will never go back to store-bought nachos again.

Things to prepare

  • Nacho chips: For convenience, you can cut a corn tortilla into wedges and fry them at home, or you can buy a bag of nacho chips. You can also follow the recipe above.
  • Any of your favorite toppings: We recommend guacamole, sour cream, sliced jalapenos, diced onions and tomatoes, and fresh cilantro.
  • Plenty of cheese: Prioritize crumbly cotija or queso fresco because they deliver the most authentic Mexican flavor.

Step-by-step guide

  • Before you start putting it together, make sure you have everything you need. Prepare the cheese, brown the pork, reheat the beans, and create the salsa sauce ahead of time. If you choose to make your own chips, cook them till golden brown and crispy.
  • Bake nachos on quarter sheet pans or a tray that can be used in the oven. You can top the meat and bean mixture on top of your baked chips.
  • Bake your chips with cheese so that the flavor will blend better with each other. In this way, you can make your nachos quickly.


Now you knew the difference.

It is no exaggeration to say that nachos are the upgraded version of tortilla chips. Remember, what makes nachos different is the complicated process of assembling other toppings like cheese, meat, and veggies.

In other words, without the additional topping, tortilla chips stay what they are – a standalone snack. Yet, this very process of adding the toppings transforms tortilla chips into nachos.

Mariana Rouco

Mariana Rouco is the editor-in-chief of She loves traveling and writing about foods and cooking in general. She has a degree from the New England Culinary Institute and enjoys Mexican, Italian, and Chinese cuisines the most.

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