3 of a Kind: Crazy Queso
3 of a Kind checks out three places across the country to try something cool, new and delicious.
Queso fundido, a traditional melted-cheese dip that hails from Mexico, has long since taken root in the Southwest’s Tex-Mex culinary culture. Now eateries around the country are going beyond basic and dishing up the molten appetizer spiked with everything from pickles to booze.
Chorizo and cheese are a classic pairing when it comes to queso, but what makes the version at Django Western Taco so surprisingly addictive is the addition of pickled Yukon gold potatoes. “They’re shredded and hot-pickled with turmeric, which gives them a super yellow color and extra tanginess,” explains executive chef and general manager Andrew Mersmann. The matchstick potato pickles, crumbled chorizo and quesadilla, queso fresco and American extra-melt cheese blend are all baked and broiled together so you’re ensured an optimal ratio of goodies in every scoop.
“In Mexico, if you order a queso fundido, all you will get is a plate of melted cheese. But everywhere on our menu, we try to create true Mexican flavor that’s expressed with the local, seasonal ingredients available to us,” explains Richard James, chef de cuisine of Rick Bayless’ perennially popular Mexican joint, Frontera Grill. This August, that meant amping up their seasonal fundido preparation with green chorizo. The savory housemade pork sausage gets a boost of herbaceous color and heat from a combination of peak-summer produce like cilantro, parsley and serrano and poblano chiles. It’s served with corn tortillas, not chips — all the better to create your own spicy, smoky, cheesy mini taco. If you can’t wait until next summer for your fix, there’s a bacon-mushroom variation that should tide you over.
At Birmingham’s funkiest downtown eatery, co-owner Brian Somerfield says the team “flirted with about 5,000 different cheeses” for the queso on their inventive Mexican menu. The key was to find a blend that would stay emulsified and be unexpected as a unique experience for diners. The winning combo contains super-melter white American and lots of tangy goat cheese; cooked-down blue agave tequila for fruity spiciness; and a steeped whole dried chipotle chile for smokiness. If you really want to throw a fiesta for your taste buds, order it topped with housemade chorizo and red and green roasted poblano peppers dusted with chile powder.