Letter to Past Me

Approximately one year ago, inspired by a blog challenge by Bubbles & Beebots, I wrote a letter to my future self. Which is now my current self. Back then, I was pretty certain that I would forget about the letter and never remember to write a response back, but somehow that memory managed to claw its way into my consciousness.

High-five, memory! I forgive you for all the things you’ve lost over the years. Minus the time you left Grandma at the airport. That’s unforgivable.

Anyway, it’d probably make much more sense for you to read my 2016 letter first. But if you don’t want it to make sense, then you don’t have to read it. Perhaps you prefer to live dangerously. I like that.

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Dear 2016 version of me,

Hey look – we’re still alive! Well, mostly. Up until this point, you have tested a whopping twenty-two different queso dishes. That’s a lot of dairy and dead animals. Medical professionals might call it excessive, but I call it sensible. This gal ain’t gettin’ no osteoporosis.

Back then, you wondered whether Sazón would still in the lead, and it is, BUT it’s now sharing the cheese crown with your beloved Mamacita’s. Sadly, my friend and fellow cheese-tester and I have not gone on a quest in a few months. You see, we got into a fight over which flavor of cheese is the best. Things got heated, and then I accidentally whacked her on the head with a block of aged gouda.

It happens.

So, 2016 self, I know you were hoping that I would use this year to become older, wiser, and fancier. Listen up, because I have good news and bad news. The good news is – you’re indeed a fully-licensed professional counselor, and you’re now in private practice. Never saw THAT coming, did ya? Your biggest fear is uncertainty, and you frequently thought about sticking with what you know for the sake of security, but something inside kept pushing and poking you to do more.

And it was not a food baby.

Okay, now for the bad news. I know you were really hoping that you’d be cooking more well-balanced meals by now. You’re nearing thirty, after all. But it turns out, 2017 You still really likes eating ham cubes straight out of the package. If it makes you feel any better, you’re still paying bills, doing laundry, and even vacuuming – which you loathe more than corgis loathe large vegetables.

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You’re clearly not lazy. But you seem to have been born without the part of the brain that enables you to plan normal meals and follow through on them. Instead, you stand in front of the open fridge and stare at the plentitude of foodstuffs that you bought with the ignorant hopes that they’d inspire you to change. Then, you start thinking about how many steps are involved in making those meals, and suddenly you feel a little less inspired and a little more apathetic. Pretty soon, you’re gnawing on a cold hot dog while you stand there – still staring. Still waiting.

And then you give up on the idea of dinner, like the sad, cold-hot-dog-eating pretend-grown-up that you are.

It’s okay. It’s a disease. You can’t help yourself.

Let’s see, what else did you want to know about me? Oh, right. You’ll be amazed to know that you’re typing this letter on a decrepit 11-year-old laptop. That’s right, IT’S STILL ALIVE TOO! Mwahahahha!!! (Sorry, that was the laptop laughing.) At least you purchased a cuter and smaller one to use strictly for work purposes. You’re convinced the old laptop knows you’re cheating on it with the younger model, and will soon have its revenge, but you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.

So, 2016 self, a lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. You still have weird eating habits, but your arteries haven’t give up yet. You’re not sure why you’ve become a nursing home for elderly laptops, because even your father thinks you should get rid of this one – and he owns a robe that’s older than you are. Hopefully, maybe, these charming oddities are balanced out by all of your successes, such as your impressive vacuuming, your big job change, and the fact that you washed your car the other day.

Just as you suspected, 2017 You is doing just fine. Okay…maybe even more than fine 🙂

With love,

2017, Still-a-work-in-Progress, Me

 

 

Queso Critique – Texas Chili Parlor

It’s been many a fortnight since my friend and I have gone on a queso quest, so we decided to pay a little visit to the Texas Chili Parlor on Saturday night. For anyone who may not know, my 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.

Texas Chili Parlor is set in the spleen of downtown Austin, so naturally, our mission began with a $20 parking garage fee.  Don’t you hate parking garages? They suck you in, spin you in circles, and then spit you out on the opposite side of the building, so you have no idea where you are. They’re like concrete tornados. They’re also creepy and shadowy and murdery.

Not once have I died in a parking garage, but I’m pretty convinced that it’ll happen one day.

After leaving the concrete pit of doom, we had a short walk to the bar, which turned out to be the diviest dives of all the dives. The word “parlor” makes me think of wicker furniture and china tea sets – and this place was the exact opposite of that, complete with a flickering Bud Light sign, and a painted mural of a jungle scene. It was perfect. To add to the ambiance, a giant TV was playing the University of Texas football game, and every time they scored, the bar blared the UT fight song from the speakers. Luckily, this didn’t happen often… if you get what I’m saying.

The menu offered several different types of chili, made with various forms of animal flesh. Upon our server’s advice, we ordered our queso containing the Red XX chili, and anxiously awaited its arrival.

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Hey, Queso. How YOU doin’?

Before we mixed the chili and queso together in righteous harmony, it was important to take a few bites with only cheese. You know, for science. We both agreed that the queso had a nice cheesy flavor, but no spice. It was also rather drippy in consistency. Sans chili, this dish would’ve been ho-hum.

But the bites with chili and cheese together? An extravaganza of yum. The meat was clearly the star of the show, but the cheese was a respectable accompaniment, and together, they created beautiful music. All of my troubles melted away. I forgot all about the concrete tornado. I didn’t even touch my margarita after the food came, which should show you how distracted and in love I was.

I was fighting to keep from eating it like a soup.

This wasn’t our first experience with chili-filled queso, but this is the only one that really counts in our hearts. We gave Texas Chili Parlor an impressive 3.9 score.

The deliciousness didn’t stop there. Feeling adventurous, Amanda and I decided to order two different kinds of the Chili Mac & Cheese – one with Venison, and one with White Pork – so that we didn’t have to leave having tried only one type. Both chilis came with beans, which goes against the usual Texas tradition, though I’m not sure why.

Probably, our state just doesn’t want food to be nutritious in even the slightest of ways.

We tasted our own orders, and then quickly traded bowls and tried each other’s. It was practically an orgy of chili and cheese. If you’re disturbed by that thought, then you’ll feel even weirder to know that things got a little sweaty. No, seriously, the place was pretty warm already, and then with all the spicy chili we consumed, we got hot.

The food doesn’t look that beautiful, and the terrible lighting makes it look even worse – but it certainly tasted beautiful. The White Pork and Red XX were our favorites, with the Venison one proving somewhat inferior, yet still tasty. I will definitely be back to this place. Possibly tomorrow.

 

I usually post a link to the restaurant’s website, but the classy parlor doesn’t have one. If you’re new to my blog, visit The Reason for the Cheesin to understand this cheesy project.

Queso Critique – Lupe Tortilla

Lupe Tortilla – Austin, TX

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When shopping near a Mexican food restaurant that might potentially serve you queso, enter said restaurant, demand piles of cheese, and write a review for your blog.

That second phrase may not be as catchy as the first one, but it’s great advice.

Saturday, I ran errands around Austin, eventually meeting up with my fellow cheeseketeer at a mall, where she was shopping for school clothes with her kids. The trio was tired and in need of sustenance, and I’m rarely one to turn down delicious foodstuffs, so we all decided that Mexican food was in order.

The wonders of the Internet lead us to a nearby restaurant called Lupe Tortilla. After being seated at a table with a sombrero light fixture, we ordered a bowl of Chile con Queso with taco meat, mentally patting ourselves on the back for ordering the regular size, instead of the large. We’re such health nuts.

As we waited for the food, we sat back to admire the restaurant’s ant-pig-gecko-swordfish theme. Take a moment to let that artistry soak into your brain.

Nonsensical? Probably. Festive? Definitely.

Before we get into the queso review, I want you to see this picture of four tiny baby fajitas that the restaurant gave us just for being first-time patrons:

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I felt overly affectionate toward these little guys. Their cuteness had me wanting to wrap them up and take them home with me to keep forever in a special refrigerated shadow box.

On the other hand, their deliciousness had me wanting to shove my friend’s kids out of the way, so I could devour the fetus fajitas on my own.

Soon after polishing off my one fajita, the queso arrived:

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Amanda’s ravenous and cheese-loving children were eager to offer perfect scores, but my friend and I exchanged dubious glances. The queso had a decent consistency – it was liquidy, but not  too runny. It also had a nice level of spice, and the meat was relatively flavorful.

However, we were 100% convinced that this queso was made primarily of Velveeta, or one of its spongy cousins. To be fair, Velveeta is probably added to many of the quesos we’ve tasted,  because it lends a creamier texture. BUT, ideally, the dish should still taste like some kind of real, actual cheese. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

It’s just cheddar that way.

We settled on a score of 3 for Lupe Tortilla’s Chile con Queso. All in all, we found the dish to be stable, but not amazing. In other words, it was the exact opposite of Britney Spears.

The reason for the cheesin’

Queso scoring

Lupe Tortilla’s website

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

 

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
    ironcactus
  • 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

 

 

 

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 🙂

 

Queso Critique – Billy’s on Burnet

Billy’s on Burnet – Austin, TX

billys
Notice the child attempting to photobomb

You know a food is delicious when you find yourself dipping other foods into that food in order to make the other foods more delicious.

If that sentence made sense to you, then you get me. Here, have an Internet high-five!

For anyone who may not know, I (along with my friend and work wife Amanda) taste-test chips & 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 1 and 10.

It’s a tricky job, but somebody’s gouda do it. And you cheddar believe it.

(That’s right. Just let the cheese puns wash over you.)

Anyway, after accidentally stumbling upon Billy’s website and learning that the restaurant indeed offers queso, Amanda and I decided to make it our next destination, so we headed there on Saturday afternoon with her two kids. The restaurant had both an indoor and outdoor “scene,” but given that it was 75 and sunny out, the inside was looking pretty lonely and unused.

Poor inside. Everything just tastes better outdoors.

We ordered our drinks and snacks (including a family-sized queso and an order of fried cheese curds, because we have a problem), and found an empty picnic table on the patio.

The four of us agreed that the queso had a nice, creamy consistency – thick enough to cling to your chip, but not so thick as to be difficult to scoop. It didn’t contain any special ingredients, just straight-up cheese and chilies, but it had a mild spice to it that helped with the flavor department.

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Chips & Queso hanging out with their buddy, fried cheese curds

It was a simple, no-bells-and-whistles (but nonetheless tasty) queso. We awarded it a 6.8 (Revised Score: 2.5).

Amanda and I reached the ground-breaking conclusion that a 6.8 is a good “baseline” score.  So far, any queso that has scored below this has had something fundamentally wrong with it, whether it was too thin, or severely lacking in spice, or hardened too quickly. A 6.8 reflects a dish that has no real problems, but is also nothing fancy.

It’s just a reliable bowl of melted cheese.

A reliable bowl of melted cheese that we couldn’t seem to stop dipping other foods in – hence the first sentence of this post. We tried it with chips, fries, chicken strips, and…okay….maybe a fried cheese curd or two. I’m not even sorry.

Also, after getting our fill of salt, it was time to balance it out with some sugar from a little place across the street – a bakery aptly named Tiny Pies.

Queso Criteria

Billy’s on Burnet website

Tiny Pies website

Queso Critique – Mamacita’s

Mamacita’s – San Marcos, TX: We drove an hour and a half for cheese and shit got real

For our fifteenth (FIFTEENTH!) queso critique, my same-named cheese friend Amanda and I made the hour-and-a-half journey to San Marcos, Texas, where I lived during graduate school. Just for the record, the main purpose of this roadtrip was to donate our old prom dresses, and we simply decided to squeeze in a new queso while we were there.

It won’t surprise me if we eventually drive that distance JUST for cheese, though.

Mamacita’s was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived in San Marcos, so I couldn’t help but feel a touch of nostalgia as we were seated. The menu offers a whopping four different quesos, three of which are the “broiled” kind that Amanda and I have come to love so much.

We easily picked the Queso Chihuahua Flameado, which featured white cheese melted together with green poblano peppers and bacon, and served with homemade flour tortillas. Being the sophisticated person I am, I refrained from ordering the dish as “the queso made from tiny dogs.”

When the waitress brought out the food, we were a bit puzzled when she didn’t put it on our table right away – until we realized that, for the first time ever, we were going to witness our Queso Flameado with…well, flames. We stared at our flaming cheese with child-like awe.

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Even after the fire died down, the queso and its tortilla sidekicks were still lookin’ mighty attractive. If we awarded points based on physical appearance alone, this one would definitely rank high.

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After a quick demonstration by our waitress on how to more efficiently coerce the cheese into their floury vessels (a lesson that Amanda eloquently summarized as, “do it twirly with two forks”), we dug into our meal.

Where do I even begin with this delicious beauty? Right away, we noticed that there was absolutely no grease, which is truly an impressive accomplishment when you’re dealing with a pile of melted cheese and meat. It lacked the “charred” flavor that we’re used to with broiled quesos, but we found that the lack of char allowed us to taste the actual ingredients better.

The dish was not at all spicy (which we normally deduct points over), but the strong flavors of the cheese, bacon, and poblano peppers were so mouth-watering on their own, we didn’t even miss the zing.

It should also be mentioned that Amanda and I fell deeply in love with Mamacita’s kick-ass, super-soft, thick flour tortillas. My God, you guys. Our focus is usually on the queso itself, and not so much on the chips or tortillas it’s served with, but, as Amanda so beautifully put it, “the vessel does affect the judgment of the cheese.”

In a previous post, I mentioned our hypothesis that cheese can serve as a sedative when you’re frazzled. This time, however, we got so excited about our melty-bacony-peppery cheese, that the enthusiasm short-circuited our brains, and caused us to clap our hands and bounce in our seats like total weirdos. And we weren’t even drinking. It was all cheese love.

You’d feel a little keyed up too, if you had this baby coming atcha.

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And that’s how we came to invent Cheese Therapy.

Under this therapeutic model, we will feed the dairy delight to our counseling clients, and it will either calm them or energize them, depending on their needs. The cheese will “meet them where they are” – just like regular therapy is supposed to do. Brené Brown  can keep her inspiring discussions about vulnerability and authenticity – as long as she stays out of our Cheese Therapy.

All factors considered, we awarded the Queso Chihuahua Flameado a well-deserving 9.5 (Revised: 4.5), putting it in a cut-throat tie with Sazón.

Criteria for judging queso

Mamacita’s website