New York City is in the midst of a mini Tex-Mex boom, with two new restaurants devoted to the niche cuisine opening within the past few months. Enchiladas and puffy tacos are delicious, of course, but it's more opportunities to stuff our faces with queso—or chile con queso—that we're most excited about. Of course, the newcomers aren't the only spots serving up the dreamy molten cheese dish; here are our favorite spots to indulge when the dairy coma beckons.
(courtesy El Original)
EL ORIGINAL As one of the two heralds of the Quesopocalypse, this new Hell's Kitchen spot from beloved Texas blogger Lisa Fain—aka The Homesick Texan—makes a damn fine specimen of gooey yellow cheese dip, with just the right amount of thickness for maximum cheese-to-chip ratio. For the restaurant version ($7 for a small, $11 for a large), the team employees green chilies and pico de gallo for a piquant punch, which helps cut through the richness of the cheese. Opt for the Queso El Original ($12 small, $18 large) and the cheese base also comes topped with guacamole, black beans and picadillo beef.
735 10th Avenue; website
THE COMMODORE Everything at this comfort food mecca is delicious, but way back before the Tex Mex boom, this was one of the few places you could enjoy a quality cop of queso and chips ($6) in NYC (pro tip: order a regular cup of queso ($3) with a side of french fries ($3/5). They're also using their molten creation as the cheese element in their Cadillac Nachos ($10), a heaping plate of tortilla chips drizzled with queso, sour cream, salsa and pinto beans, with the occasional tomato-onion-cilantro-radish appearance as well. Bring a friend.
366 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, 718-218-7632
EMPELLON COCINA Following a redesign, this 1st Avenue outpost of Alex Stupak's mini-empire of Empellon eateries just reopened to include the debut of an 18-course tasting menu. On the restaurant's new a la carte dinner menu you'll also find the chef's version of queso ($7) accented by berbere spices. For the uninitiated, the Ethiopian spice blend comes in a few varieties, but most include a mix of chili peppers, ginger and fenugreek. For his version, Stupak is using jack and chihuahua cheeses—the latter of which is a super creamy cow's milk cheese from Mexico—to be scooped up by house-made tortilla chips.
105 1st Avenue, 212-780-0999; website
GUEROS Austinites will recognize this name even though Guero's Taco Bar in Texas and this Crown Heights spot are unrelated. No matter, as you don't have to hop a plane to the Lone Star State to score the queso ($7) they're turning out here. It's got the heft of its counterpart to the south, plus in-the-know folks swear it's the closest to Kerbey Lane—a beloved Austin diner—you'll get in NYC. Add chorizo or guac ($2), if you're so inclined, and a Shiner beer, of course.
605 Prospect Place, Crown Heights, 718-230-4941
MEXICUE This NYC chainlet dishes out a mix of Mexican and BBQ dishes, spanning the entire belt of South and Southwestern regional dishes. For their version of queso ($8.50) they're bringing in piquant salsa verde to up the tang factor, plus charred jalapenos to add "spice, depth of flavor and freshness," according to co-founder Thomas Kelly. It's one of the restaurant's best sellers, naturally, and can also be found smothering tortilla chips in their Nachos ($7.75) and lending a gooeyness to the Burnt Ends Brisket Chili ($12).
Bob Armstrong, aka loaded queso (Michael Tulipan)
JAVELINA There's an abundance of choice when it comes to queso options at this packed newcomer near Union Square. First, you must decide between traditional yellow queso studded with tomatillos, serrano peppers and pico de gallo or white queso with jalapenos, roasted poblanos and pico de gallo (both $8). Then you must determine whether to bump up the calorie factor further with guac, ground beef, pico and sour cream (the "Bob Armstrong," $12) or black beans, pico and gauc (the "Mag Mud," $10). If decision-making has never been your strong suit, the restaurant will also give you the two basics and your choice of the fancy ones in a sampler for $14.
119 East 18th Street, 212-539-0202; website
HONORABLE MENTIONS Look past the ubiquitous bowls of free cheese balls at The Levee and you might catch someone tucking into a molten bowl of no frills queso at this Williamsburg sports dive. The Queens Kickshaw occasionally has a queso in their lineup, though right now it's been replaced by a Cider cheese made with cheddar and aleppo pepper and served with soft pretzels. When you're hammered at Union Pool, the queso from El Diablo Taco Truck is serviceable. For some reason Williamsburg is flush with queso spots, including Taco Chulo, which also puts their dip in a killer burrito.