These Italian Nachos, developed by my dad, are a copycat for the appetizer found at the Italian restaurant, Johnny Carino’s. They would make a stunning appetizer for your Super Bowl party, but they are also amazing eaten as full meal. Since, the Carino’s in Utah closed, we can still enjoy these whenever we have the craving for them.
The yummy nachos are made with homemade tortilla chips topped with:
- melty pepper-jack cheese
- a combination of Italian-flavored sausage and chicken
- juicy fresh tomatoes
- briny black olives and banana peppers
- a spicy crunch of fresh jalapenos
- all topped with a creamy garlicky Alfredo sauce
Discovering Johnny Carino’s
Every year on Memorial Day weekend, my mother and I (just the two of us!) would go to Yellowstone and see all the sites. One year, as we were driving through Idaho Falls, Idaho, my mom suggested we stop at Johnny Carino’s Italian Restaurant. Let’s just say, that restaurant has some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had. This may be controversial, but I think it’s better than Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, and Carrabba’s. My mom and I loved Johnny Carino’s food so much we made a tradition to stop there every year on our way to Yellowstone.
A few years into our new tradition, Johnny Carino’s opened a Carino’s restaurant in Utah. We couldn’t be more excited, and we took the whole family to experience their yummy food! Needless to say, the whole family became a fan. My mother’s favorite dish is the Chicken Milano, my favorite dish is the Grilled Chicken Bowtie Festival, and my dad’s favorite dish is the Italian Nachos.
As I continue to develop the recipes on this blog, I will definitely be sharing copycat recipes for the Chicken Milano and the Grilled Chicken Bowtie Festival.
Making Your Own Nacho Chips
Johnny Carino’s version of Italian Nachos uses fried wonton wrappers for the chips. My dad prefers to fry corn tortilla shells instead, and I agree with him. While the fried wonton wrapper chips are delicious and crispy, they are more fragile and do not hold the nacho toppings as well as tortilla chips. However, if you prefer a “lighter” chip, you may want to try using wonton wrappers instead of tortillas. The frying method is identical for both. At Walmart (since that’s the most universal store), you can find wonton wrappers in the refrigerated section next to the salad dressings.
If you are in a pinch, you can also buy tortilla chips. Our favorite brand of tortilla chip is On the Border brand (which can also be found at Walmart), and I would recommend the Cafe Style over the Cantina Thins for this recipe.
Using store bought tortilla chips or pork rinds will speed up cooking time, but the flavor and crunch will not be nearly as good as making them yourself.
I make my own Alfredo sauce, and I rarely buy it from the store. The few store-bought sauces I’ve tried, I haven’t liked. Plus, it’s so easy and fast to make your own. Stay tuned, in the future, for my tried and true family recipe for Alfredo sauce. If you don’t have your own version of Alfredo sauce that you love, go ahead and buy a jar of Alfredo sauce from the store.
Jalapenos and Banana Peppers
Jalapenos are always a gamble when it comes to the level of heat they contain. Sometimes, I buy them, and they are very mild. Other times, they are so spicy my mouth tingles for a long time after eating them. The heat in Jalapenos is mostly found in the seeds and ribs; so, be sure to remove them if you are sensitive to spicy foods. Dicing the jalapenos small will also help to prevent getting to much heat in each bite.
This recipe also calls for mild Banana Peppers. For a long time, I was scared to eat banana peppers because I thought the yellow color meant they were going to be intensely spicy. However, they are the complete opposite. They are actually mild and somewhat sweet. Jarred banana peppers are pickled, and they provide an acidic component to the nachos which helps cut through the richness of the Alfredo sauce and meat.
Notes about the Other Toppings
Johnny Carino’s uses mozzarella for their Italian Nachos, and while mozzarella melts well, it can be bland. Pepper-jack is a great alternative because it still melts well, and the flavor it much more complex. For the best melting results, grate your own cheese rather than buying pre-shredded cheese.
Johnny Carino’s offers a choice of chicken, sausage, or a combination of the meats on their nachos. My dad always ordered the combination of meats, and we make our nachos at home the same way. However, you can always use one type of meat, doubled, to further speed up preparation time.
Black olives provide a briny, salty, acidic component to the nachos. Tomatoes offer a fresh and juicy component to the dish.
Even if you’ve never tried the original Italian Nachos from Johnny Carino’s, I hope you give these a try! Be sure to rate and comment if you love them like we do!
Copycat Johnny Carino’s – Italian Nachos
- 20 Corn Tortillas *
- 4 cups Oil or Lard for frying
- 2 cups Pepper Jack Cheese Grated
- 1 cup Italian Sausage
- 1 6 oz Chicken Breast
- 2 tbsp Italian Seasoning
- 1 cup Tomatoes about 2-3
- 1 6 oz Black Olives, canned
- 1 medium Jalapeno **
- 1/4 cup Banana Peppers, jarred
- 2 cups Alfredo Sauce prepared
Homemade Tortilla Chips
- Heat lard in deep fryer until lard reaches 350 degrees F.-OR-Heat 1-inch of high-head oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until oil reaches 350 degrees F.
- Stack the tortillas and cut into 6 equal wedges (like a pizza).
- Fry a few chips at a time, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon, until crisp and lightly browned, about 1 minute or less. Drain chips on a paper towel-lined plate; sprinkle immediately with salt.
- Brown sausage in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Drain and remove sausage from pan.
- Dice chicken into small, bite-sized pieces and cook in the same skillet used to brown the sausage. Season with Italian Seasoning, and cook until chicken is browned and no longer pink.
- While meats are cooking, finely dice tomatoes, olives, jalapenos, and banana peppers.
Assembly and Cooking
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Evenly distribute chips in the bottom of a half-sized baking sheet (13 x 18 x 1 inch)
- Sprinkle the grated pepper-jack cheese in an even layer on top of the chips. (The cheese will bind the chips and the other toppings together without making the chips soggy).
- Distribute the remaining ingredients in the following order on top of the chips: meats, tomato, olives, jalapeno, and banana peppers.
- Drizzle Alfredo sauce over the top of the nachos.
- Cook nachos in the oven until for about 10 minutes until the pepper-jack cheese is melted and Alfredo sauce is warmed.
- Serve immediately and enjoy!