First off, don’t be weird and call it “cheese dip.” Queso is a BIG thing in Austin, and there’s no quicker way to show you don’t belong than by saying “let’s go get some burritos and cheese dip!” This spectacular appetizer (and sometimes a full meal…come on, everyone’s done it at least once) is one of the most popular foods in Austin. Queso is on the menu at nearly every Tex Mex restaurant in Austin. There are a few iconic queso spots in Austin that everyone needs to try, but in reality, queso is just queso, and it’s basically always delicious. But what is Austin Texas queso, exactly?
What Is Austin Texas Queso?
It’s a cheese dip (there, we said it..) made of lots of dairy products (whole milk, cheese, cream) served warm with a bowl of tortilla chips. It’s typically served as an appetizer at restaurants, but just try finding someone in Austin who hasn’t, at some point, eaten an order of Torchy’s chips and queso + a margarita for dinner.
Austin queso can be different colors, ranging from mild yellow to bright orange, and even white (look for “queso blanco” on the menu.)
And there are a lot of ingredient variations to it. Some restaurants serve it with all the fixings, like pico de galla, avocado, ground beef, different types of salsas, and cilantro, and other restaurants. There’s vegetarian queso and even vegan queso options in Austin (Credo Foods makes a really good one). Basically, there’s a queso for everyone.
Who Created Queso?
Ok, actually, the origins of queso are a bit hard to pin down. There are several recipes that look similar to queso that appeared in the 1800s, but the first mention of it in Texas was in a 1920s San Antonio Women’s Club. They called it “chile con queso,” which is what lots of Austin restaurants still call it now. Others have just shortened it to “queso.”
And even though it was most likely inspired by Mexican cheese dishes, which certainly did not use artificial yellow “cheese product” to make their recipes, most American quesos, ever since the early 1900s, have used orange American cheese. Why? It just melts nicely and tastes delicious. Simple as that.
In fact, anyone who grew up in Texas can probably remember eating “queso” made in the crockpot. The recipe includes 1 brick of Velveeta and 1 can of Rotels.
What’s The Most Famous Queso In Austin?
If we’re talking about nationally-renowned queso in Austin, the Bob Armstrong Dip at Matt’s El Rancho is hard to beat. It’s been on their menu since the 1950s and it has a cult following. The story is that Bob Armstrong, a Texas Land Commissioner, walked into the popular Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin and asked Matt to create something new for him…and the result was this queso dip. Everyone has tried to recreate it, including Bon Appetit. It’s not really all that mindblowing in this day and age, but back in the 1950s, it was pretty shocking to dip your chip into a bowl of queso, except cheese, and then find taco meat, sour cream, and guacamole in it. If you walk into Matt’s El Rancho on a Friday night, nearly every table in the restaurant will have a bowl of steaming queso on it.
And then, of course, there’s the Green Chile Queso at Torchy’s Tacos, which lots of Austinites consider the best queso in Austin. Part of that is because there are Torchy’s locations everywhere (in Texas and beyond!) and it’s an easily accessible queso. But also, Torchy’s has perfected the thick, creamy consistency of queso (it’s never thin or runny here) and they use an excellent combination of toppings, including their cotija cheese, guacamole, and their famous Diablo sauce, which has quite a kick.
What’s The Difference Between Queso and Nachos?
There’s one main difference here: queso is served in a bowl, and you dip the tortilla chips into the queso, and nachos are a bowl of chips with cheese on top of them.
The consistency can be the same. The taste can be the same. Have you ever eaten Rico’s stadium nachos at a baseball game? That cheese sauce is nearly the same consistency as queso, but the chips are served in a cardboard boat and the nacho cheese sauce is poured on top of the chips. The entire boat of nachos is sprinkled with pickled jalapenos. Those are nachos, my friends…not queso.
Queso must be served as a bowl of dip with a separate bowl of tortilla chips.
What Type Of Cheese Is In Austin Queso?
This is the part where you’d expect to read some sort of fancy, chef-y answer about artisanal cheeses that are used for the best of the best queso in Austin. But the truth? The type of cheese that’s used in Austin queso is typically processed cheese. Sometimes it might be Monterrey jack or sharp cheddar cheese mixed with a fair amount of whole milk, but many of the most popular queso spots in Austin use good ol’ American cheese or Velveeta cheese. It’s true.
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