When it comes to queso, we can all agree on one thing: There is almost no such thing as bad queso. With this cheesy Tex-Mex dip, the badder the better. We're not talking about authentic dishes such as queso fundido that use actual cheese — this is the melted orange stuff, be it Velveeta or the creamy Land 'O' Lakes Extra Melt that many restaurants use.
Lucky for us, we're in queso land, along with Austin and San Antonio, and it's always evolving. With newcomers bubbling up, yesterday's favorites can feel thin and bland today. For that reason, it's time to take stock of queso in 2017.
The current great quesos in Dallas-Fort Worth fall into four categories:
While there is something pure and direct about a minimalist queso that simply gilds your chip, like gold plating with melted cheese, there's also solid gold in the queso that's studded with things.
Martha's Mexican Cocina in Keller has what they call the Ultimate Queso, served in a big molcajete, a virtual vat of glorious melted cheese, spiked with ground beef, pico de gallo, and a big scoop of their excellent guacamole. Martha's also does a unique queso with spinach, with fresh spinach leaves folded into the melted cheese.
At Rio Mambo, the Tarrant County chain with six branches across DFW, they do a spicy queso that's addictive, which you can order with chorizo or picadillo beef.
Green chili queso
These days, we have not one but two fabulous green chili quesos, both brought to us via restaurant chains from Austin. Thanks, Austin!
The one that gets the most lavish praise is Torchy's Tacos Green Chili Queso, which comes with guacamole, cilantro, hot sauce, and a sprinkling of queso fresco.
Torchy's queso has a few things in its favor. One is the guacamole itself, with its firm texture and lime-cilantro flavor. Another is the way it's positioned: It's suspended in the center of the queso, like a prize waiting to be discovered. Lastly, there's the diablo sauce, a drizzle of bright heat. All mixed together, it's creamy, fresh, and hot.
The second green chili queso is a sleeper. It's at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, where it can be ordered as a side dip for the Kennebec hand-cut French fries. The fries are a little thicker than McDonald's; OK, they could be thicker. But let us not digress, as they are good fries.
Hopdoddy's queso has subtle heat from the chiles — it's also visually pleasing in that you can see little bits floating throughout. Maybe what really makes it stand out is the surprise element: You don't expect queso on the menu here, and you might not have thought of pairing it with fries.
It says something about what a massive trend vegan has become that Dallas has at least three vegan queso options, all of which are good, "even if you aren't vegan," as the saying goes.
Spiral Diner is the benchmark, no surprise since Fort Worth-born Spiral is our award-winning vegan diner chain. Spiral's queso has the proper yellow color, salty cheesy flavor, and creamy consistency, whether you get it with chips or, the better option, as part of the hugely popular nachos.
This month, Spiral is also doing a broccoli cheese soup, which is like a cousin of the queso, but with broccoli stirred in.
The surprising vegan queso is at HG Sply Co., the restaurant on Greenville Avenue in Dallas that does "bowls" and Paleo food. Surprising in how good it is. Chef Danyele McPherson has crafted a dairy-free queso that's creamy and spicy, with a big Torchy's-style spoonful of guacamole in the middle. It's served with tortilla chips whose extra thickness and inconsistent shapes let you know they're made in-house.
There are different kinds of extreme here.
At the gastropub Mash'd, it's about extreme ingredients. Its queso folds in roasted garlic, Abita beer, andouille sausage, and pickled pepper relish. The tortilla chips are crunchy with air holes and come dusted with chile seasoning.
Extreme cuisine is what Velvet Taco is going for with its red curry queso, a refreshing fusion between Tex-Mex and Thai. The queso includes red curry paste and coconut milk, which add color and creaminess, and a subtly exotic flavor. They toss a little pickled onion on top and serve it with blue tortilla chips, to really hammer home the gourmet vibe.
Chicken Moto, a new Korean chicken restaurant in Richardson from the owners of Bbb Bop Seoul Kitchen, is also doing some edgy cuisine stuff with its kimchi queso, an innovative dish combining the classic Velveeta with Korea's signature fermented cabbage. They fold kimchi into the cheese until it gets pulverized, then pile a kimchi "salsa" on top. The kimchi adds an appealing sour note that counterpoints perfectly with the cheese. Forget tortilla chips; this one comes with taro chips.