Meet chili con queso
Officially, chili con queso is melted cheese dip. But the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook, based in a state where parties feature queso fountains, put it more poetically in a 2009 paean to the snack: “Who among us has not sought solace in the balm that is runny melted cheese dip, gently souped up with morsels of green chile and tomato? Few reversals of fortune cannot be salved with a molten bowl of queso (our shortened term of endearment) scooped up with fistfuls of crisp tortilla chips.”
Learn its backstory
Queso is the antithesis of complexity: Texans who impatiently dismiss Arkansas’ claims to have pioneered the familiar cheese-and-pepper combination always save a smattering of vitriol for chefs who dare to dress up the dip with roasted poblanos and imported cheese.
Yet for all its simplicity, queso is a thoroughly modern food. Likely inspired by Mexico’s queso flameado, chili con queso was popularized by 20th-century restaurateurs with access to processed cheese. Once Velveeta was invented in 1918, cooks no longer had to contend with lumps and oil when melting down cheese; the mild product is a cornerstone of Tex-Mex cuisine.
Despite the near-universal affection for queso, there’s still some snobbery surrounding it. Business Insider last year reported that Chipotle refuses to serve it, despite countless customer requests, because of the artificial stabilizers required to achieve the desirable goopy consistency; the magazine characterized the decision as “bizarre.”
In Charleston, queso has long been listed on Mexican-influenced menus. But ever since pitmaster John Lewis put queso on a pre-opening pop-up menu at Edmund’s Oast, the dip has been oozing beyond traditional borders. Last month, for example, Le Farfalle served a version at a one-off Tex-Mex brunch. Local chefs also are subjecting queso to the controversial high-end treatment: At Home Team BBQ’s downtown location, the dip is furnished with chorizo, cotija and grilled corn.
And order it here
Warehouse, 45 Spring St., 843-202-0712, wearewarehouse.com (Charred shishito queso dip with mustard greens, salsa verde and chicharrones, $10)
— Hanna Raskin