Queso Critique – The Shady Grove

The Shady Grove – Austin, TX

Gather ’round, children. It’s cheese-related story time.

Once upon a time, a cheese blogger and her friend thought it’d be fun to walk a mile in the late-afternoon Texas heat. To be more specific, they’d thought it’d be fun to attend a free concert in a park, and as it turned out, the Walk of Death was part of the package.

Soon into the walk, the two out-of-shapers were red-faced and out of breath, and sweat was pooling in places that it shouldn’t pool. And running down places it shouldn’t run. The two briefly wondered if perhaps they’d gotten trapped in the gym sock of a sweaty giant. They began to see mirages made of frozen margaritas.

The delusions and hallucinations were a clearly a bad sign.

Then – behold! A restaurant appearing in the distance! With patio tables and people drinking cold things. The weary travelers clung to each other in desperation, and then quickly let go because they were sweaty and it was gross. But, they weakly encouraged each other to continue just a little longer, and soon they were seated in the cool air conditioning of The Shady Grove, sipping icy drinks.

The evil hot ball in the sky had zapped their appetites, a rare phenomenon in the journeyers’ lives. However, the two knew it’d be important to eat something in order to continue the long and sweat-filled journey to the park, so they agreed to split a snack. They opened their menus, and, pleased to see bowls of melty cheese available, ordered one with pulled pork, pico de gallo, and guacamole.

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Even in their fatigued and dehydrated states, they were able to accurately judge the queso and render a verdict. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Consistency: While other porky cheeses have been rather runny, this one was pleasantly creamy. (“Porky cheese” doesn’t sound right, but I’m sticking with it.)
  • Spice: Had a bit. Could’ve had a bit more.
  • Flavor: The pork was the best we’ve had so far – very tender and flavorful. The cheese had a “real” taste to it, not like a certain brick-shaped synthetic cheese product we all know and love. Still, it certainly could have been cheesier.
  • Extras: The guacamole was simple and clean – quite good!

Score: 3.4

Fortunately, the drinks and queso love nourished the worn-out travelers enough to get them safely to the park for a night of laughter and free music. And dog-petting. All the dogs.

The reason for the cheesin’

The Shady Grove website

 

Research + Cheese = Cheesearch

A bored Amanda is a slightly dangerous thing. Not dangerous in a “let’s go rob a bank!” way, or even a “let’s get into a rumble with a gang of knife-wielding possum!” way. It’s really more of a “that thing you’re doing? It’s strange.” way.

When I found myself bored and plan-less on a recent Friday night, I did what all red-blooded twenty-something Americans do: I decided to engage in some formal scientific research. Naturally, I didn’t want the research to be dull, so I chose a topic that greatly interests me.

Cheese.

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Right away, I realized that cheese can be smushed into the word “research” in order to create “cheesearch.” You’re welcome. I thought it was a pretty good scientific finding all on its own, so I  considered calling it quits on the rest of the research, because it clearly wasn’t going to get any better than that. Nevertheless, I persevered.

I elected to conduct my research via a certain educational and evidence-based website known as “Urban Dictionary.” Well-meaning and science-appreciating people can submit their definitions of the slang words that you can’t typically find in a normal dictionary.

Urban Dictionary started out as a way to help less-hip folk keep up with the grooviest of young people. Of course, with time, the definitions have gotten grosser and more perverse because it’s the Internet, and the Internet ruins everything.

Willing to take on the wickedness, I bravely ventured to the site in order to research the various meanings of the word “queso.” If you’re confused as to why I’d do this, please re-read the first paragraph of this post.

Things started out innocently enough…

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Points for simplicity and accuracy. And for the word “gringo.”

I soon learned that there is a name for people like me.

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I’d really like to meet that John fellow.

I even gathered some healthy dinner ideas!

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Save the baby tortilla chips!

Then I started to worry, because I was drawing some mental connections to the definition of alcoholism. Get out of here, knowledge of addictions! We have no use for you here.

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And this is when the definitions started to get a little unusual, though not entirely inaccurate…

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Just find someone whose breath smells like chips, and you’re good.

Okay, now we’re definitely headed down a weird path.

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Oh. Oh.

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This one scores points for the geography lesson.

Honestly, these last few weren’t even the strangest of the bunch, but I don’t think I should contribute to the corruption of all of your minds. That’s a lot of mind-damage, and I really don’t want to get another call from the FBI wondering why I continue to disturb people. If you’re still up for a little corruptin,’ feel free to mosey your way over to Urban Dictionary and see for yourself.

I think we all learned some important vocabulary here today! Who are my fellow “quesophiles” out there? Have any of you tried a delicious (and apparently economic-friendly) queso salad, or endured a terrible quesover? What other Urban Dictionary searches have you done?

My American Week

I had a bunch of little stories (or storylettes, if you will) from this week, but none of them were interesting enough or detailed enough to deserve their own individual posts, so I decided to combine them all into one big one.

It’s a smorgasbord of hilarity.

By happy accident, my storylettes started to develop an oddly “American Way” theme to them. In honor of Independence Day (not the Will Smith movie, but the holiday), I decided to continue that theme with pride.

Love of Television

This past week, I had a case of the “blahs.” You know what I’m talking about. The “blahs” are when you feel bored and unmotivated to do much else other than sitting at home, pantsless. Rather than fighting or denying that blah feeling, I fully embraced it by watching A LOT of television every day after work.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret about TV-watching. But you can’t tell anyone, because the FBI will probably show up and revoke my U.S. citizenship for criticizing this great American pastime.

The secret is that I re-remembered for the zillionth time that it doesn’t make me feel better to come home from work and stare at the TV for 5 hours until I go to bed.

Hold on, I just heard a noise. Gonna go check to see if any agents are hiding in my bushes.

I’m back. It was just a squirrel.

I don’t think TV is evil, but for me, it needs to be balanced with other activities, such as reading, a little exercise, some more reading, and maybe even some sunset-appreciating.

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Taken just outside Austin, TX

Adding a little balance just makes me feel better about my world.

Manners

I ate a dinner of biscuits the other night. Not biscuits with eggs, nor biscuits with fried chicken. Just biscuits.

This one was surprisingly upbeat after being forced from its tin home and baked in a 400-degree oven:

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Look at that smirk. Bastard knows he’s good looking.

I’m not sure what this section has to do with America, aside from the fact that I just wanted to share it. I guess this biscuit, like Americans, is pretty friendly. There. I justified it!

Hot Dogs

Over the weekend, I went on a little road trip with Cheese Friend to drop her children off at their grandfather’s. Supportive of our inspirational queso project, Cheese Friend’s dad (hereby known as Cheese Dad) offered to make us a pot of the cheesy, spicy substance.  We tried to turn him down, but Cheese Dad insisted, so we gave in. Also, we didn’t really turn him down in the first place.

Cheese Dad kindly dictated his recipe to me so that I could share it with my fellow dairy lovers. Fair warning: simply reading this recipe might cause your arteries to instantly harden.

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Somehow, a few hot dogs accidentally fell into a pot of boiling water, and then made their way onto bun-shaped life preserves, where they were soothed with a smattering of chili. And then this happened:

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Hot dogs with chili and queso. If you’re keeping count, this meal contained 3 different kinds of meat. ‘Merica

“Patriotism”

I encouraged my best friend to act like a nationalistic fool while she’s visiting Ireland. This is how I show my loyalty and love to my country.

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Dehydrated animals = Heaven

On our trip back from Cheese Dad’s, Amanda and I stopped at a store called Venison World, where we stocked up on treats like deer jerky and chocolate-covered almonds. If that isn’t already USA enough, this store exists in a town called Eden.

A meat-themed store in a town named after paradise? Why, it just don’t get any more ‘Merica than that.

…Unless a bald eagle had swooped down and stolen the jerky right out of my hands. And then carried it off to a nest of baby eagles being guarded by a camo-wearing eagle holding a shotgun.

 

So! How were your 4th of July celebrations? Are you going to give me up to the FBI for mildly criticizing America’s favorite technological pastime? Perhaps most importantly, how do you feel about smiling biscuits?

Grocery Bag Confessions

Have you ever been on Postsecret? The website is a bit amazing. People make and submit anonymous postcards divulging their most personal secrets and confessions. Some of the “baggage” is heavy and sad, like those big travel trunks, or giant suitcases. Other secrets on the website are more lighthearted, like….grocery bags.

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That was a rough metaphor, but you get what I’m saying. Hopefully.

You know what? Just go take a quick look at the site to get a better idea of the immense awesomeness of it. I’ll be here when you get back. I probably will have eaten all of the chocolate, though. Sorry about that.

For today’s post, I thought it’d be interesting to make a few secretive postcards of my own. But not of the dark stuff! Heavens to Betsy, no. Although I’m often struck by the pluck (heehee that rhymes) of the people who submit to Postsecret, I’m personally a bit of a chicken, so I’ll just stick with my more lighthearted secrets.

Or, my grocery bag confessions, if you will:

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Anybody else guilty of these secrets? (Except for the Christmas tree one – I’m assuming I’m alone on that one.) What lighthearted confessions are you willing to make?

 

I’ve Returned from the Beyond

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After a week-long trip to South Carolina to visit my family, I’m finally back! I haven’t posted anything in over a week, which is the longest I’ve gone since I started this blog in October.

I was starting to experience blogging-related withdrawals. It wasn’t pretty.

I’ll have a couple of stories to post later in the week about my trip, but I wanted to go ahead and let y’all know that I’m back and I missed you so much! Every single one of you. Except for those of you who hate things like blueberry poptarts and cheese. What’s wrong with you, anyway? Why do you hate fun?

Oh, and P.S. – Last week, I entered Sometimes Stellar Storyteller’s 6-word story contest and came in 2nd place! Woo hoo! If you haven’t heard about Nicola’s blog and/or her contest, go check it out! She runs this contest each week, with a new theme/prompt posted on Saturday mornings. Everyone (even if you don’t participate in the contest) can vote on their favorites. Last week’s theme was “insult,” and this was my entry:

 “This dinner you made is…interesting.”

 I’d like to thank my friend’s well-meaning-but-super-condescending mother-in-law for the inspiration behind this entry.

P.S. #2 – I came home from vacation to discover that my Directv satellite is out. It’s going to take a week for a technician to come look at it, and I’ll apparently have to pay him $50 for the visit. I feel like this is the universe’s way of saying I should get  rid of the satellite all together and make the move to Netflix.

That’s right. The galaxies, stars, planets, and moons all aligned in such a way as to tell me that I should find a new method of digital entertainment.

So, all of you Netflix-seasoned people out there, what are your favorite shows and movies? What would you recommend for me to watch? My favorites so far (after mooching off my friend’s account) are Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, IT Crowd, and Arrested Development, but I’m open to any suggestions – comedies, dramas, documentaries, etc.

Queso Critique – Iron Cactus

Iron Cactus – Bee Cave, Texas

As a super famous queso critic and blogger, I’ve learned that it’s important to take detailed notes while testing a new dish, so that I can refer to them later on when I’m writing the review. Unfortunately, I recently made the fatal, unforgivable mistake of accidentally deleting my notes before I’d gotten around to writing.

I didn’t realize it until days later, and by then, I’d forgotten a lot of the cheesy details. (Cheesetails?) This is one of those times when I’d like to have a talk with my brain about the way it organizes itself. I can recite a poem for you that I memorized in 4th grade, but I can’t tell you what I thought about a dish that I ate a couple of weeks ago.

Since I can’t do anything about my poorly organized brain at this time, today’s critique will be reduced to the main highlights!

  • Restaurant: Iron Cactus in Bee Cave, Texas. (To my knowledge, there’s no actual cave of bees in this town. I’m disappointed, too.)
  • Dish: Queso Compuesto. White cheese with guacamole, pico de gallo, and grilled chicken
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  • Flavor: Cheese was yummy, and had good spice. Chicken was inferior to El Arroyo’s.
  • Consistency: Too liquidy. Many sad.
  • Final score: 3.1. This queso was par with so many ones that we’ve had before – good, but not great.

I know, I know, this post was somewhat “meh,” but then again, so was the queso! In fact, I purposely made this critique boring, so you’d truly understand how forgettable the dish was, and NOT because I accidentally deleted the notes like a flippin cheese-rookie.

Although I’ve only had this blog since October, my cheese wife (it’s a thing) and I have been testing quesos for an entire year now. It’s our quesoversary! In order to spice up our cheese marriage, we will be trying a few different activities this summer. Here are some posts you can expect to see over the next couple of months:

  • A Just in Queso original recipe for…queso. Obviously. Why would we give you a recipe for salad? Go make your own lettuce.
  • Details of us forcing unsuspecting people to bring us cheese offerings.
  • Notes from our attendance at a queso-cooking contest in Austin. They haven’t asked us to be judges yet, but I’m sure the invite will come ANY day now.

The reason for the cheesin’

Iron Cactus website

 

 

 

Quote Challenge – Day Three

A couple of days ago, I was nominated by Mark over at Coloring Outside the Lines to participate in a three-day quote challenge. Yipee-ay-yo-kai-ay!

Here are the rules for this challenge:

  • Post one of your favorite quotes(different quote on each day) on three consecutive days. The quote can be from your favorite book, author, or your own.
  • Nominate three bloggers to challenge them.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you

The quotes I used for the previous two days were relatively serious, so I decided to go in a different direction today. My habit for being goofy and strange can only be held back for so long.

Day One’s quote about “helpers” can be found here.

Day Two’s quote about play can be found here.

And now, for the third and final quote:

“This has too much cheese on it.”

What kind of fun-hating monster would say that, you ask?

Well, NO ONE! I’ve coined this an “anti-quote” because no one in the history of the entire universe has ever said that there’s too much cheese on something. And if they did say it, they’re probably boring and sad.

And their skin is probably dull because it lacks that healthy cheese-glow.

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Queso Critique – El Arroyo

El Arroyo – Austin, TX

Last Friday, Amanda and I attended a training on adolescents, trauma, and substance abuse. Don’t lie, I know you’re jealous. The best part of the training was when a person in the audience started talking about Twitter, and the speaker responded with a confused, “I don’t have Tweet.”

(By the way, my blog totally does have “Tweet” now. If you’d like to read about more of my cheese-related shenanigans, follow me @JustInQueso88)

Anyway, after sitting and listening to speakers for a few hours, my friend and I were feeling somewhat droopy, and we needed a pick-me-up. A cheese-me-up, if you will.

We followed a winding, scenic road through a fancy-shmancy area of Austin and landed at a not-so-fancy-shmancy restaurant called El Arroyo. I could tell you about the big, spacious patio, the tasty margaritas, and the ambiance-ruining grackles, but let’s get down to business! We have dairy products to discuss.

Amanda and I were pleased to discover that the restaurant offers an option to “build your own queso” by choosing from a list of ingredients. That’s right – DESIGNER queso. Queso couture. This is truly brilliant on El Arroyo’s part, as you can constantly change up your cheese accompaniments, and therefore, never get bored.

After some raucous and intense arguing, we selected a queso with fajita chicken, serrano peppers, and pico de gallo. It’s important to note that, to date, not a single other queso that we’ve reviewed has contained chicken. There have been various forms of pig, and a little bit of cow, but none of our feathery friends. It was time to give the humble chicken a chance to shine.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate this bad boy:

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Before our first bites, we noticed that the chicken and vegetables had been finely chopped, which earned an approving head nod from both of us. It’s difficult to scoop up large chunks of meat, no matter how sturdy the chip. The smaller ingredients really do make for an easier eating experience.

The fajita chicken turned out to be a very wise choice, as it was delicious. Easily the highlight of the dish. I wanted to order an entire bowl of those tiny spicy chicken pieces and eat it like a soup.

That’s not weird. Just go with it.

The serrano peppers were much spicier than we expected – probably because we confused them with their milder pepper cousin, the poblano. Nevertheless, it’s not El Arroyo’s fault that we’re pepper-challenged, so we’re not in any way holding this one against them. Plus, the peppers added lots of flavor to the dish – we just had to consume it in small amounts 🙂

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Now for the not-so-good aspects of this meal. The consistency of the queso was quite a bit runnier than desired – liquidy, as opposed to creamy. Even more dreadfully, it hardened as time went by.

Also, the flavor of the cheese itself was completely unimpressive. With the other ingredients added in, it made for an enjoyable all-around dish, but on its own, it was bland and mournfully reminiscent of Velveeta. Use of the artificial cheese-like product is probably also why the queso hardened as it cooled.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Amanda and I like Velveeta. If we’re at home and want nachos, we won’t think twice about throwing some salsa or Rotel on a few spongey cubes of Velveeta, and then zapping it all in the microwave. We’re GOURMET, mothercheesers!

But if we’re at a restaurant and paying decent cheese fees, we do expect something a bit more complicated.

To put it another way, when we eat queso, we want to feel like we’re being run over by a giant, eighteen-wheeler-sized hunk of dairy. Then, just as we’re starting to peel ourselves off of the road, the cheese-mobile goes in reverse and slams us again.

To compare, El Arroyo’s queso only gave us an awkward pat on the shoulder.

When it comes to scoring, El Arroyo totally gets an honorable mention for allowing us to design our own queso. Really. That made us super happy. But as for the queso itself, we gave the restaurant a relatively average score of 3.2.

On a side note, I don’t normally comment on a restaurant’s service, because I write reviews of queso, not of general restaurant experiences. But it seems important to note that the service at El Arroyo was not good. Our server was friendly, and our orders were accurate, but the sheer amount of time spent waiting (and waiting and waiting) for things was pretty bad.

Side note #2, this was officially Just In Queso’s NINETEENTH review. That’s a lot of cheese! To celebrate the big 2-0, we’ll be doing something a bit different, but I’ll keep that a surprise for now 😉

If you’re new to my blog, click here to learn the reason for the cheesin’!

 

 

Queso Critique – Chili’s part 2: The Sequel

For anyone who may not know, my same-named cheese friend Amanda and I taste-test chips and queso at different restaurants in the Austin, Texas, area. We judge the melty cheese on its consistency and flavor, and give it a score between 0 and 5.

In my previous review, I seethed about the disappointing injustice that was Chili’s Skillet Queso. Oops, sorry – meant to call it Skillet Meat Stuff, because it did not appear to contain any actual dairy products.

After eating that dish, my partner and I were feeling pretty confused and upset, so we decided to order Chili’s White Spinach Queso, hoping that it would soothe our raw nerves. And also wash out the taste of the previous attempt.

I admit I was a teensy bit nervous about this order, because: 1. I don’t really care much for cooked spinach, and 2. I had already been gravely disappointed by the Skillet Queso Meat Stuff. I just wasn’t sure my heart could take any more pain.

We needed to brie careful.

The waiter brought out our second vessel of goodness, awkwardly informing us that he’d “just set it next to the other queso.” We breathed sighs of relief that this one already looked much more attractive than its predecessor had. It was made from Monterey Jack cheese, with a dollop of guacamole and a smattering of pico de gallo on top.

This one bared no resemblance to a dirty diaper – neither in color nor texture.

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With shaky courage, we plunged our chips into the new queso and shoved them into our mouths before we could change our minds.

My first thought was: Mucchhhhhhhh better.

This one actually tasted like cheese, which I used to think was an obvious GIVEN in a dish called “queso,” but have since learned not to take for granted. The texture also had a gooey thickness to it, which we highly appreciated. I’m a big fan of Chili’s thin tortilla chips, but something a bit more durable is definitely needed for this type of queso.

Although we were initially delighted about the add-ons of guacamole and pico, we did notice that these items were less than fresh, and were not terribly flavorful. Taste-wise, they really didn’t add anything extra to the dish. I also realized that I could barely taste the spinach, which for me, was a great thing – but I’m not sure that’s what Chili’s is aiming for.

After a minute or two of deliberation, we gave the White Spinach Queso a score of 3 – solidly good, even excelled in the level of cheesiness, but the lack of spice or other flavors were a bit of a letdown.

All in all, this queso was clearly the superior bowl of cheese at Chili’s… which, unfortunately, isn’t saying much.

The reason for the cheesin’

Queso Critique – Chili’s

Chili’s – Anywhere, U.S.A.

For anyone who may not know, my same-named cheese-friend Amanda and I taste-test chips and queso at different restaurants in the Austin, Texas, area. We judge the melty cheese on its consistency and flavor, and give it a score between 0 and 5.

We don’t usually go to chain restaurants, because what fun would that be? Our interests lie in the more creative, off-the-beaten path, regional bowls of melty cheese that represent Central Texas. We also realize that large chains are not the places to find unique and exciting new dishes. We are cheese adventurers, not tourists!

However, we noticed that when we discussed our queso journey with friends and coworkers, Chili’s name kept coming up. Some raved about its majestic deliciousness, and others strongly encouraged us to spend our money elsewhere.

We needed to venture to Chili’s in order to render a final opinion. To settle things once and for all.

We found seats at the patio bar and admired the pretty view while we sipped on margaritas and waited for our Skillet Queso to come out – unaware that the margaritas would be the best thing we ate that day.

When the food came out, we didn’t have our usual reaction of glee. Instead, we frowned a little. The queso was an unusual and rather off-putting color.

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I’m just going to come out and say it – this “queso” quickly reminded us of the used diaper we’d seen in the parking lot on the way into the restaurant. In both color and texture. Clearly,  we should have seen the yucky Pampers as a foreshadowing of the food we’d eat.

Trying to be open-minded, we brushed off thoughts of dirty diapers and tentatively dipped our chips into the queso.

Hmm.

Well…

Here’s the thing.

This stuff didn’t taste bad, but it was NOT queso. It was meaty and seasoning-y, and tasted a lot like the Wolf Brand Chili that you pour out of a can and dollop on top of hot dogs. But there lies the problem – that’s not normal (or desired) in a dish that is supposed to be mostly cheese! We love extra ingredients like guacamole and meat and peppers, but the cheese-to-other-ingredient ratio must be respected. Honored.

Devastatingly, this dish didn’t taste of cheese at all.

Let’s all take a moment of silence to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.

This “queso” was not what it was claiming to be. It was an imposter. A brown, lumpy, cheese-less failure. As devotees of cheese we were not just sad or disappointed, we were betrayed. How dare this imposter promise cheesy gooey satisfaction and deliver a meaty mess!

Rating this one was surprisingly tough, because again – the taste was okay. Amanda and I agreed that if it were advertised as something else, perhaps called, “Skillet Meat Stuff,” we would have liked it just fine, and not made any major complaints (aside from the generic blandness of it.)

But my blog is called “Just in Queso,” not “Just in Skillet Meat Stuff.” That’d be a terrible blog name, anyway.

The point is, Chili’s is marketing this creature as a queso, so we’re going to judge it like one.  Under our new scoring system, a 0 is supposed to reflect a queso that is so disgusting, we couldn’t continue eating it. That seemed a bit too harsh for this one, because it wasn’t exactly inedible swill. But for the reasons discussed, major points had to be deducted.

So we gave the Skillet Queso a .5.

And now, to our loved ones who raved about Chili’s queso – let us extend our deepest sympathies to you, because clearly, you must have lost all of your taste buds in some sort of horrific accident. Perhaps you drank acid by mistake one day. It’s the only way to explain why you would love this dish so much.

And to those poor souls who have never tried queso and have been looking for places to sample it – please, for the love of the Holy Swiss, don’t even consider Chili’s.

P.S. – We don’t typically order more than one queso per restaurant visit, but the Skillet Meat Stuff left us feeling angry and cheese-deprived, so we ordered the other kind of queso that they offer in order to give it a shot. Stay tuned for that review later this week 🙂