Some people have a magic ingredient they add to every meal to make it taste better. Salt is a classic choice. More recently, bacon has become a popular ingredient in a variety of odd things. But my curiosity was piqued by a restaurant in York that based its entire menu around the idea that everything tastes better with chocolate, from nachos to pizza.

York Cocoa House is a shrine to the city’s chocolate culture. Go through the door and you face a cash register, flanked on either side by chocolate for sale. To the right, along a counter where they make drinks and desserts, stand glass bins filled with different flavors of chocolate.

When I told the woman who greeted us that we wanted a meal from the lunch menu, she cautioned us that everything has chocolate in it. (I suppose some patrons don’t expect chocolate in the soup of the day.) I replied that was why we had come.

Maybe we should have heeded that warning.

I ordered vegetarian chili and nachos, a misleadingly named dish. The meal consists of a bowl of chili with tortilla chips on the side, chunks of cheese and a type of cream. The omnipresent chocolate is in the chili, giving it a very sweet, though not particularly chocolatey, taste. Mix the four ingredients together and you get a mediocre nacho. Sweetness is a poor substitute for spice in a nacho-style dish.

The name of my wife’s dish was more misleading: goat’s cheese and red onion pizza. Amanda expected to receive the traditional flatbread, pie-shaped meal that most people associate with the word “pizza.” Instead, she got two pieces of thick bread covered with a rich chocolate sauce, topped with cheese and red onion.

I tasted it and found it a poor conglomeration of flavors that simply did not mix well in the mouth. My wife enjoyed the dish but felt a little misled by the name and thought it might be better without the chocolate.

Not to be deterred, we decided to explore the Cocoa House’s more traditional use of chocolate in dessert. Amanda ordered a slice of rocky road chocolate. Liberally flavored with peppermint, which she enjoys, the slice had an odd texture and felt like someone had poured chocolate over the ingredients to bind them into a sort of crunchy, hollow rectangle. She is sensitive to odd food textures and found it so unsatisfying that she left it unfinished.

I went the expensive route, ordering the Chocka Bocka Glory. A wonderfully decadent sundae of ice cream, chunks of brownie and chocolate sauce, with a pleasant orange flavor in one of the ingredients, the dessert cost about as much as our individual meals, about 7 British pounds (about $11).

Perhaps traditional desserts are where York Cocoa House should concentrate. Just because York has a history of chocolate production does not mean chocolate should be added haphazardly to every food. Chocolate, as delicious as it can be, is not the magical elixir that makes all food better.

Personally, I would go with bacon before chocolate in my next batch of nachos.

YORK COCOA HOUSEDirections: York Cocoa House is located on Blake Street in York. York offers a park-and-ride service. The Bootham Row, Union Terrace, Esplanade and Marygate car parks are all close to the Cocoa House and cost about 2 British pounds (about $3) an hour.

Hours: The store, where you can buy chocolate, and the dining cafe are open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m Monday through Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Food: In addition to desserts that can be taken home, York Cocoa House offers hot chocolate, coffee and a limited entrée menu throughout the day.

Price: The meals are relatively cheap, about 7 British pounds for a plate.

Information: The Cocoa House also holds chocolate-making classes available by reservation or drop-in. Visit its website,, for more information.

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