Queso, a smooth and spicy cheese dip that's one of the most recognizable dishes in Tex-Mex cuisine, can be found at countless restaurants in the Lone Star Capital. Every version of Austin queso features its own unique flavors, mix-ins, and heat levels, and this list includes ten of the very best quesos in town.
Torchy's Tacos is now a Sunbelt mini-chain with locations in five states, but this inventive Tex-Mex eatery got its start in Austin, and it continues to make a big impression, thanks to its unforgettable queso. Torchy's Green Chile Queso is famous for its luxurious texture and the perfect balance between salt, dairy, and spice. It's made with melted cheddar and roasted New Mexico chiles, and Torchy's serves it with a scoop of fresh guacamole and a drizzle of their scorching Diablo sauce. Whether you choose to dig in with a basket of tortilla chips, a plate of fresh veggies or a platter of tacos, Torchy's queso will show you exactly why Texans adore this regional snack staple.
Trudy's North Star
Trudy's North Star, an iconic Tex-Mex institution that's been serving North Austin diners for over four decades, offers excellent classic queso made of a specialty cheese blend (a top-secret mixture of standard cheese and processed cheese) that flawlessly coats a tortilla chip and delivers salty, rich, gooey goodness. But if you're in the mood for something really special, try Trudy's loaded queso, which adds refried beans, seasoned ground beef, avocado salsa, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, pico de gallo, and cotija cheese to the queso bowl, turning it into a dip with enough substance and rich flavor to be a full-fledged meal.
Kerbey Lane Cafe
When Austinites have a serious queso craving after dinner hours, they reliably flock to Kerbey Lane Cafe, a beloved mini-chain that stays open until 10 pm (some locations remain open all night on weekends) and serves queso that consistently hits the spot. This queso is many new Austin residents' first intro to this dish, and Kerbey Lane's mild yet delicious version never disappoints. Also, Kerbey Lane's menu includes several queso variations, like loaded queso with guac and pico, vegan queso made with cashew cheese, and cowboy queso with black beans.
Lou's, a trendy outdoor oasis on mega-hip East Cesar Chavez Street, has a menu packed with crowd-pleasing American eats with chef-driven flair. In addition to their popular rotisserie chickens, frozen custards, and strong margaritas, Lou's makes bright and zippy queso that, like Torchy's queso, uses green chiles for heat. It's a treat on its own, but it's even better on top of Lou's giant trays of brisket-loaded nachos.
Austin features no shortage of destination-worthy happy hours, but it's hard to think of a better example than the daily happy hour menu at El Alma, an upscale Tex-Mex restaurant right around the corner from Zilker Park. Grab a seat on the upper patio (which provides a wonderful view of Downtown Austin) and enjoy a reduced-price margarita and skillet of queso fundido. El Alma's queso bears more resemblance to the Mexican version of this dish than the gooey Tex-Mex one, and the toasty yet scoopable cheese pairs brilliantly with tortilla chips and El Alma's signature house salsas.
Matt's El Rancho
Matt's El Rancho has been holding court in South Austin since the 1950s, attracting massive crowds of tourists, locals, and celebrities eager to try the restaurant's quintessentially-Tex-Mex menu. But no Matt's dish shines more brightly than the Bob Armstrong Dip, an iconic bowl of queso mixed with spicy taco meat and fresh guacamole. The Bob Armstrong Dip earns its many accolades, and any tour of Austin's must-taste quesos has to include this one-of-a-kind version.
Iliana de la Vega, the executive chef of stylish Oaxacan restaurant El Naranjo, recently received a James Beard Award nomination for her expertly-crafted Mexican dishes, so it's not surprising that she serves an impeccable queso fundido. De la Vega melts queso Oaxaca into a skillet, resulting in crispy edges and a creamy interior. You can also order your queso with mushrooms or housemade chorizo, but adventurous diners should instead opt for huitlacoche, a form of corn fungus that imparts a nutty, funky, and very tasty flavor to the queso.
The South Austin neighborhood of South Congress is a thriving center of commerce, tourism, and trendiness, but Magnolia Cafe has been an area mainstay for over 40 years, its consistently appealing menu drawing in the local crowds. Magnolia Cafe makes an array of different quesos (all using their bright yellow, very Tex-Mex cheese base), but they're best known for their "Mag Mud", a bowl of queso with seasoned black beans, avocado, and pico de gallo, served with a heaping basket of chips and a side order of house salsa.
The team behind Austin Tex-Mex stalwart Curra's Grill is proud to use Land o'Lakes processed cheese for its famous "Kelly's Queso"; they see no reason to gild the lily and mess with textural perfection. Once you try this queso, which also includes black beans, guac, and pico, you'll be inclined to agree.
Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ
A deep-South Austin food truck that regularly gets critical acclaim for its mesquite-smoked barbecue and sublime tacos, Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ is also a dark-horse contender for the Best Queso in Austin title. The queso at Valentina's has a layered flavor profile with a powerful spicy kick, and its looser texture makes it ideal for drizzling over one of Valentina's tacos.
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