Queso Critique: Guero’s

Guero’s (Austin)

This time, it was my turn to celebrate a birthday. Hungry for a little excitement (and cheese, obviously), Amanda and I decided to take the day off work and spend the afternoon on South Congress in Austin. The area is full of delicious restaurants and unique (okay, strange) shops, which was right up our alley. We agreed that spicy cheese would need to be an important part of the celebration, so we planned ahead and found Guero’s, a popular queso-serving restaurant in the heart of South Congress.

After getting our margaritas ordered (because birthday!), we opened our menus and carefully considered which one of the two quesos to eat. The Chile Con Queso sounded like your standard chip-dipping fare, and there was also a Queso Flameado, which sounded similar to the one we tried at Sazón. Traditional choices like the Chile Con Queso are sometimes the best ones, but the other option included the word “flame” in the name, which we quite liked. Who doesn’t want their food to involve fire?

It was a heart-wrenching choice, but we finally settled on the Chile Con Queso. Right away, we were in agreement that the queso was wonderfully cheesy and had a nice consistency – not too liquidy, and not too thick. Disappointingly, however, it had no spice. As stated in previous critiques, we expect a little zing – especially when we’re at a Tex-Mex place.

For those reasons, we gave the Chile Con Queso a 6.5 (Revised: 2.3).

Feeling a little dissatisfied about our less-than-stellar birthday cheese, Amanda and I made an important decision. When our waiter returned to the table, we gave him apologetic and embarrassed expressions and begged him not to judge us. After he promised, we requested that he bring us the other queso option.

Or, as we put it, “the queso with the flames.”

Our sweet server successfully hid any horror he was experiencing, and cheerfully told us that he liked our style. And by “style,” I think he meant our aptitude for cheese consumption.

The Queso Flameado was well worth our slight feelings of shame. Like the one at Sazón, this dish contained cheese and chilies that had been softened, as opposed to being fully melted. It was appropriately spicy and had a fabulous grilled/charred taste to it. Yum. We gleefully spooned mountains of cheese onto fresh tortillas, and bounced like hyper little kids in our seats.

It really just doesn’t take much to get us excited.

We gave the Queso Flameado a very commendable 9 (Revised: 4). We believed Sazón, the current front-runner, still deserved a small half-point edge over this one, because their dish had included chorizo; otherwise, these two non-traditional quesos are true equals.

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The Queso Flameado on the left, and Chile Con Queso on the right

Guero’s website

queso criteria

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Forever 93

I think there may be an elderly woman trapped inside of me. No, I didn’t “resorb” my twin like Dwight Schrute from The Office did.

Not to my knowledge, anyway.

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Technically, chronologically, biologically, genetically, and in all the other ways,  I’m 27 years old. (I know what you’re thinking – I don’t look a day over 26 and a half.) But I’m convinced that the thoughts and feelings galloping around in my head seem to come from the brain of a much, much older person. Or, at times, a much younger person.

Now it sounds like I have an identity disorder. Let me back up and explain this in a different way.

I think my 27-year-old self is made up of all of the “selves” I’ve been at different ages. I still have a 22-year-old self, a 14-year-old self, a 9-year-old self, and so on. Probably even an infant self. All of the thoughts and experiences that occurred at each age have accumulated together to form my current self.

All of the ages are important, but for whatever reason, certain ages have taken precedence. I seem to mostly be made up of a 6-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 17-year-old, and, get ready for it – a 93-year-old.

Let’s take the 6-year-old me, for example.

At 6, I was smart and a bit bossy. I went back and forth between wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs and dressing up in sparkly princess gowns; I bounced from riding bikes to playing with my mother’s makeup. I never had good comebacks for my teasing older brother, so I often responded by just slapping him. I wanted to eat macaroni and cheese for every meal, and I was messy. I was happy.

That 6-year-old is still present in me. It’s not uncommon for me to have marker on my hands or food on my clothes. I’m still not good at generating witty comebacks when being teased – though, fortunately, I’ve stopped resorting to physical violence. I get excited about little things.

And when I’m getting ready for a night out, I can look at my new outfit and careful make-up –- and still feel like a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s things.

 

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(And I still kind of want to eat macaroni and cheese for every meal.)

My 12-year-old self is also still part of my life, much to my chagrin. Years of braces, glasses, frizzy hair, and bad skin took their toll on me in middle school. I also had the long, clumsy legs of a baby deer, rendering me completely uncoordinated, with ill-fitting pants. I was so painfully insecure, and so desperate for someone to notice me.

Fifteen years later, my braces are gone, my skin has (sort of) cleared up, and I’ve traded glasses for contacts. I’ve grown into my legs, and almost never trip over my own feet. I’m more comfortable in my body, which I think is one of the upsides of growing up.

But put me in a dressing room, trying on jeans that are a smidge too short, and it’s amazing how quickly I can be catapulted back to sixth grade.

Back to a time when all of my pants fit awkwardly and I walked a little hunched over, as if that would make them less noticeable. (I’m telling you, if the school had ever flooded, my high-water pants and I would have been well-prepared.)

Back to a time when I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole, to hide away from all the people I was just so sure were whispering about me. Now, anytime my face breaks out, or my just-straightened hair turns frizzy in humidity, or I fail miserably at something athletic, my brain remembers exactly how I felt at twelve. And it takes every ounce of willpower to not let it go there.

Seventeen-year-old me is equal parts idealism and sarcasm. Back then, I was hard-working and very ambitious; like all teens, I was just trying to find my way in the world. And I’m still trying to find it, to be honest. I still daydream about stumbling upon big successes, and I’m okay with it if that makes me seem a little naïve.

At 17, I also did not like to be told what to do. And I still don’t. Being micro-managed is just about my biggest pet peeve (second to slow walkers, that is). Not long ago, I dealt with an incredibly rude, sexist, and power-hungry person in a professional setting, and I could FEEL the 17-year-old in me dying to pop out with some sort of snarky, bratty response. She was clawing to get out, and it was not easy to stop her.

That snark will probably always be there. Sorry parents, you did the best you could.

And last but not least, the elderly me. I like to think of her as being about 93. I know that I technically haven’t reached that age yet, but I’ve always been a bit of an old soul, so I know a senior citizen is bound to be in there somewhere. Probably wearing a cardigan.

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The proof for my elderly side? To start, I like to crochet. I like it so much that it’s just a matter of time before I start making house shoes for everyone I know. I’m also semi-convinced that a lot of the world’s problems could be fixed with homemade cookies.

And when I put on a shirt that is slightly lower-cut than what I’m used to wearing, I’ll feel adult-y and confident for about 10 seconds before peering at myself in the mirror and thinking, you look a little trampy, dear.

Sometimes, these different versions of myself go really well together. For example, the bossiness of 6-year-old me goes nicely with the dislike of being pushed around in the 17-year-old me. (If I let those two take power more often, I’d probably turn into some sort of dictator.)

Also, the 93-year-old me thinks the 12-year-old me is adorable, even with all that acne and frizz. But that doesn’t mean much, because the elderly me thinks everyone is adorable.

But sometimes the different selves contradict each other, such as when the 6-year-old me wants to be playful and goofy, and the 12-year-old me holds back in fear of judgment. Also, the elderly me always thinks I should go to bed earlier, and cook more nutritious meals; that one’s especially difficult, because the 17-year-old me is a night owl, and 6-year-old me just wants macaroni and cheese all the time.

I try not to root for one particular age over another. Each version of me has its own limitations, but also its strengths. The 17-year-old encourages me to stand up for myself and take (healthy) risks. The high-waters-wearing 12-year-old reminds me how to hold my head up, even when I don’t feel very good about myself. And when the weight of adult responsibilities starts to drag me down a little, the 6-year-old keeps me fun-loving, optimistic, and ever-youthful.

Queso Critique: R Bar & Grill

R Bar & Grill (Marble Falls)

We were ready to rate another Marble Falls queso, and this time, we headed to a little bar downtown. The R Bar & Grill is very laid-back and pet-friendly – the kind of place where you can easily kill a couple hours drinking, snacking, and chatting. A hand weight had savagely attacked Amanda’s foot and fractured her toe earlier in the week, so we got her foot propped up in an extra chair and set about getting our sedatives queso ordered.

The queso arrived looking attractively cheesy, but in a disappointingly small container. (Let’s just say, Amanda and I can put away a concerning and unhealthy amount of melted cheese.) We plopped our chips in and got to crunching. The flavor had a nice mix of cheesiness and spice, and initially had a very smooth consistency; unfortunately, after several minutes of dipping, the texture hardened, and several chips were broken in the process.

We gave the R Bar & Grill’s queso a respectable 6 (revised: 2), BUT we should point out that we enjoyed the queso enough to order some tacos which, coincidentally, also came with queso on them. (I know – we have a problem.)

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R Bar & Grill’s website

 

This Dog is a Con Artist

When I was in high school, my older brother adopted a dog from a shelter and brought her home to meet the family. He intentionally looked for the least-cute (which sounds slightly nicer than flat-out calling her ugly) dog at the shelter, because he figured she was less likely to find another home. It was a sweet thought, and my parents and I admired him for that.

Until he brought the dog over for a visit.

This dog appeared to be made up of about 100 different dogs. She had the little ears of a terrier, the short legs of a corgi, and a tail that was long like a beagle’s, but also curled up like a pug’s. She even seemed to have a little muskrat or sea lion in there. She had an underbite and was thin, but oddly muscular, like she’d been pumping iron in some sort of canine gym. In sum, she was not very cute. Hers was a face only a mother (or someone with really poor eyesight) could love.

But my dog-loving family and I and welcomed Her Weirdness with open arms and soothing tones, mentally proud of ourselves for being so kind to such a strange-looking animal.

It turns out, the dog was just as unimpressed with us. The moment she entered the room, she scampered away from us and began sprinting around the entire house. We assumed she had some nervous energy to get out and would begin to calm down after a minute. Nope. She made laps down the hall, through the kitchen, into the living room, out the back door (that we had kept open in case she needed to potty), then around the yard and back inside.

Anytime she came close to one of us, we’d reach a hand down, thinking a gentle touch or opportunity to sniff would make her more comfortable; instead, there was more running. We also quickly noticed that she had some sort of phobia of the threshold that connected the outside concrete with the inside of our house – each time she approached it, she’d gain speed and take a flying leap over to the other side. I began to understand why she was so muscular.

My parents and I breathed sighs of relief when my brother took the dog to his own home a little while later.

Of course, no decent story would ever end there. My brother eventually joined the Navy, and my family became the skeptical proud new owners of Caramel, named for the color of her fur. Fortunately, Caramel had relaxed considerably by then, and was actually a very sweet little dog. She was relatively well-behaved (despite her inability to learn ANY tricks), and kept her running sprees to a minimum. She also adored our other dog, Abby, who was pretty old by then. She followed Abby around the house, curled up next to her on the couch, and seemed to consider it her personal mission to keep her face groomed, much to Abby’s indignation.

Despite having some undeniably good qualities, Caramel also had some strange ones. For starters, she licked everything. I don’t just mean people or sticky floors, either. This dog happily licked the refrigerator door, the cabinet, the couch, even rocks. If she came across a particularly tasty rock, she’d even take it in her mouth and attempt to gnaw on it – appearing puzzled when she couldn’t chew it up.

She also had a strange penchant for biting toes. It wasn’t an aggressive thing at all; she’d just happen to walk past someone with bare feet, and then decide to casually gnaw on their toes. No big deal.

Unfortunately, we were pretty certain that Caramel had been abused by previous owners, and as a result, every time she was told “no” in a stern way, she cowered down and gave us sad looks. This made dog parenting a bit challenging.

The Pitiful Dog Cycle:

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It’s entirely possible that Caramel was smarter than all of us and somehow cooked up this entire scheme – like a furry con artist. Trying to eat rocks doesn’t usually indicate high intelligence, though.

Caramel’s social skills were another point of confusion for our family. Although she appeared to feel intense love and affection for Abby, she seemed to think that all other creatures are malevolent and must be stopped. She would perch herself at the front door, still as a statue, and wait for suspicious animals – which included humans, dogs, cats, birds, butterflies, and pretty much any other live being – to cross by our house. Oddly, the smaller the animal, the more evil it appeared to her. Grizzly bear outside? Meh. Baby squirrel? NOPE.

If anything dared set foot near our property, or even glance in the general direction of our property, Caramel let out some intimidating warning barks. If the suspect didn’t notice her (which was often, because they were outside and she was not), Caramel’s brain switched into Enraged Mode.

Caramel: Normal/Sweet Mode                        Caramel: Enraged Mode

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She’d pounce on the door with her short front legs, bark angrily, and glare at the offender with bloodthirsty eyes. If and when my family intervened and attempted to scold her, she’d ignore us completely, or employ the Pitiful Dog Cycle again. We even tried comforting her, thinking that maybe the dogs and butterflies were “just stressing her out,” but our kindness was no match for the crazy.

Once the suspect moved out of sight, Caramel pranced victoriously around the house, her tail high and proud.

This complex little animal was also a bit of a drama queen, and felt the need to make her feelings known to everyone around. She loved going on walks with my dad, and the second she saw him holding her leash, she became filled with more joy than her little body could contain. Wild-eyed, she’d bark excitedly and do some sort of hyper jump-dance around my dad. (Picture a tap-dancing jack rabbit.)

On the other hand, if he dared go on a walk without her, Caramel made sure the rest of us knew about her anguish. She’d sit at our feet and whine, and then pace the house, looking out every window for Dad Sightings. After several minutes of No Dad, she’d start howling – a terrible, pathetic howl. This wasn’t the high-pitched sound that I’ve heard from other dogs; no, this noise was groan-like and raspy, as though she’d been smoking cigarettes for thirty years. (To our knowledge, she only smoked pipes.) Nothing we could do or say would soothe her, and she would punish us with this noise until Dad finally returned.

Truthfully, Caramel was probably the most “human” dog I’ve ever known: varied emotions, lacking manners – and a strong desire to do whatever she pleases.

Queso Critique: Sazón

Sazón (Austin)

It was a hot, sunny Saturday in August, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Amanda and I decided that it would be the perfect day to spend frolicking in a park   paddleboarding in the lake   attending a training on Child Protective Services. Neither of us was particularly excited about spending a Saturday afternoon learning about types of child abuse, but we figured we could have a late lunch/early dinner afterward and try out a new queso. We chose Sazón mostly because it was the nearest restaurant that we hadn’t already tried, BUT we also knew it’d gotten great reviews.

Sazón is truly a hole-in-the-wall place. We opted to sit outside on the patio, which featured wobbly floorboards and mismatched chairs. I decided to take this as a good sign – obviously, the people working there were too busy making deliciously cheesy things to care about silly things like floors.

Once again, the menu offered two different quesos – a more traditional and creamy option, and one that was sort of a “layered” concept of cheese, chorizo, and pico de gallo. We chose the latter option, because chorizo. The restaurant even smushed the words “chorizo” and “queso” together into ‘Choriqueso’ – much like the media does with celebrity couples’ names.

Think of Choriqueso as being the Brangelina of food.

The Choriqueso looked quite different from quesos that most people are used to seeing and eating, a fact that Amanda and I appreciated. The cheese, which was browned on top, was lightly melted together with the other ingredients, but was not in liquid form. Rather than dunking chips in, it was meant to be scooped up with spoons and spread onto warm, fresh tortillas.

(If you made an “Mmmmm” noise after reading that, then you and I should be friends. Unless we already are friends, in which case we should be even better friends, because we clearly have a lot in common.)

This queso was simply fantastic. Amazing. It was cheesy and flavorful, and had an excellent cheese-to-other-ingredient ratio. Having all of that flavor wrapped up in a tortilla was the icing on the cake – or the queso on the tortilla, if you will.

I wanted to climb into the dish and continue eating it with my face, without using my hands or utensils. I know that’s an incredibly weird thing to say, but you just have to experience it in order to fully understand. We gave the Choriqueso a near-perfect 9.5 (Revised: 4.5). Other quesos should be jealous of it.

Sazón’s website