Chile con queso is the dip of choice at new Tex-Mex restaurants like Superica in Atlanta, HomeState in L.A. and El Original in New York City. Our editors couldn’t resist a taste-off between two dips: one made with the processed orange stuff and one made with real cheese. The results were unanimous.
Chile con queso is the dip of choice at new Tex-Mex restaurants like Superica in Atlanta and HomeState in L.A. Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan blogger behind Manhattan’s El Original, explains the appeal: “At nearly any restaurant, house party or church youth group meeting in Texas, there are always people clustered around a big bowl of queso—almost like they’re gathering around a fire.”
Fain and El Original’s chef de cuisine Morgan Robinson gave us the terrific recipe for El Original Queso, a Velveeta-based dip that’s ultra-popular at her restaurant, as well as a more natural béchamel sauce and cheese–based version. Our editors couldn’t resist a taste-off, and the results were unanimous: We were obsessed, addicted, passionately dedicated to the Velveeta version, but we loved the real cheese sauce on its own terms.
“I never knew that I had a thing for Velveeta before we tried this queso," said executive food editor Tina Ujlaki. "There is something about this dip—it’s got that I-cannot-stop-eating-it factor." Here, she explains why:
1. It’s got great texture. If you use a sharp cheddar cheese, you will never get that viscosity, that silkiness that you get with a processed cheese. Mozzarella won’t do it for you—it just flows forever, like a Disney cheese or something like that. You can’t get there with a béchamel because it’s always going to be a teeny bit gritty.
2. The viscosity is key. It’s just the right amount of stretch and goo. You want it to be goopy. You want it to coat your chip in that thick, viscous, slick, just-right way.
3. It’s got great flavor and salt. It adds an umami kick. No matter how much salt you put in, no matter how many other cheeses you put in, a béchamel-based queso just won’t taste quite the same.
4. It’s got thickness. If a béchamel sauce is too thick, it gets a little floury. No matter how long you cook it for, it’s still floury.
5. You just want queso to be orange. Period.
"On the other hand, the cheese sauce was perfectly delicious in its own right," Ujlaki said. "It would have made an awesome mac and cheese. It would have been great on a crostini, or over zucchini. You could bury potatoes in it. It would be delicious to dip anything into—fried chicken or steak. It was a completely delicious thing unto itself, but it just wasn’t what we associate with queso."
Here's the recipe for the Velveeta queso:
El Original Queso
Pico de Gallo
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped Vidalia onion
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Pinch of kosher salt
2 pounds Velveeta, cubed
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
9 jalapeños, seeded and chopped (about 3/4 cup)
¼ cup chopped sweet onion
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Tortilla chips and lime wedges, for serving
1. Make the pico de gallo. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes with the onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and salt.
2. Make the queso. In an enameled medium cast-iron casserole, melt the cheese with the milk over low heat, stirring often, until smooth, 7 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the jalapeños and onion and cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the cumin and salt.
4. Stir the jalapeño mixture into the melted cheese. Off the heat, stir in the pico de gallo. Serve hot with tortilla chips and lime wedges.