Cindy Nachos

Cindy Travis serves up a plate of her award-winning nachos. Under that layer of melty goodness are handmade flour tortillas and mounds of beef. The trio combination is known as Cindy Nachos, and WCCO dubbed the dish as the best in Minnesota. (Kim Hyatt/People’s Press)

OWATONNA — Regular customers of Grace’s Tex Mex didn’t need an online poll to tell them where to find the best nachos in Minnesota, but to settle the record, WCCO gave the title to the Owatonna restaurant.

“Hands down,” said Jerry Hansen after ordering some Cindy Nachos at Grace’s on Wednesday. “The line at the [Steele County Free Fair] proves that they are the best.”

WCCO airs its “Best of Minnesota” segment weekly by first asking viewers on Facebook and Twitter for their favorites in categories of anything from food and drink to pets and nightlife.

Best nachos were up for debate this week and Cindy Nachos were in the running before the menu item’s namesake even knew it.

Cindy Travis runs the restaurant that her mother, Grace McGuire, opened in 1969 and said she found out about the contest last Friday after the polls had been narrowed down to the top three nachos in the state: Nacho Mama’s in Stillwater, Zorbaz in both Green Lake and Spicer, and Grace’s.

Hundreds of Owatonnans and fans from out of town were sharing the link to WCCO’s website to have others officially vote.

On Monday, Travis said she was notified of her nachos winning.

The following day filming crews were on their way to Owatonna to check out the restaurant and record Travis and McGuire preparing the now award-winning nachos. The news special on Cindy Nachos was slated to air Wednesday at 10 p.m.

Earlier that day, Hansen, like other regulars, were congratulating and heckling Travis for winning the poll.

“I like being a little hole-in-the-wall,” Travis said. “Now we’re going to be crazy-busy.”

Inside the restaurant located on 12 Avenue Northwest there are only 11 tables, so it doesn’t take much to fill the family restaurant around lunchtime and dinner. But food comes out fast, making for a quick turnover and a wait worthwhile for those Cindy Nachos.

As the story goes, customers were always asking to get nachos the way Travis liked them — piled high with beef and handfuls of cheddar cheese — and so Cindy Nachos were added to the menu in 1975.

Travis said even without the contest the week was looking pretty hectic since her aunt Irma Vella is in the hospital and will hopefully return by the end of the week. Vella makes all the handmade flour tortillas and is Travis’s “right and left arm” in the kitchen, she said.

“You don’t get to choose when you get your blessings,” Travis said. “We had to take our 15 minutes of fame when we could get it.”

Reach reporter Kim Hyatt at 507-444-2376. Follow her on Twitter @OPPKimHyatt

Covering schools, arts and entertainment for the Owatonna People's Press. From the Northland, University of Minnesota, Duluth journalism and photography graduate.

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