Queso is not new. It has been a beloved regional staple for almost a century, it’s been lining your grocery store shelves for decades (Tostitos’ queso ain’t bad, man), and some restaurants have had the cheesy dip on their menu for decades. But in the past year, a number of chains including Taco Bell, Del Taco, and most recently, Chipotle, have all rolled out versions of queso on their menus. (Though it appears Taco Bell has already discontinued its version, RIP.) All of a sudden, queso is having what some would call a moment.
For the doomsday preppers out there who’ve been too busy stockpiling cans of Chef Boyardee to care about real food, queso is the shortened colloquialism for chile con queso, a velvety, spicy, chili-flecked pool of liquid processed cheese that defies all scientific law by staying the same consistency at its boiling and freezing temperatures. The most basic formula for queso -- and we’re talking, like, the most basic -- is Velveeta microwaved with Ro-Tel tomatoes. Some people swear by topping it with pico de gallo, or sour cream, or guac, or chili, but that’s all beside the point. You got processed cheese, you got some acidic-and-spicy vegetable mixture, and that’s queso.
It’s hard to say why all these chains decided to make queso at the same damn time. Maybe our fast-food chains have exhausted all their regional American options, and they’re circling back to Texas to find that, yeah, when they introduced that fajita chicken sandwich back in ‘90s, they totally forgot to exploit the possibilities of queso, too. But hey, why question a good thing? More liquid cheese in the world is a great thing for everyone.
But just because queso is made from melted cheese doesn’t mean every version is incredible. So we ate our way through seven chain restaurants to see which cheesy dip is the most worthy of your tortilla chips.