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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: The chips and queso of it all

Graphic by Shamil Luqman

I started this quest wanting to – you’ll never guess! – share my opinion on the cuisine in town; some sort of review or rating of one singular item. The best iced latte felt too obvious (the only acceptable answer is Open Eye Cafe, if you’re wondering), and the best restaurant overall felt too daunting. The answer came from the Daily Tar Heel office, where a debate on the quality of the quesos in town ensued. 

As the girl who used to be gifted cheese from family members (we’ll leave it at that), it felt too good to be true that I’d get to drag my friends around and indulge in quite possibly the most beloved appetizer there is. Well, indulge I did, and I’m happy to announce, the results are in. 

Chips and Glue

My first visit was to Que Chula, the “craft tacos and tequila bar” marked by its uber-colorful decor and prime Franklin Street real estate. I forwent both the tequila and the craft tacos on my visit and turned my attention solely to the $6.99 chips and queso. They also had “queso fundido” which was like a more souped-up version of the normal thing (Oaxaca cheese, garden chimichurri, onions, poblano pepper) … if any of you end up trying it, let me know. 

I was tempted to just order nachos and test the queso that way, but I stuck to my guns – I needed it in its purest form. Cutting to the chase, Que Chula’s queso was the quintessential queso blanco … but a little thick. You don’t need to fully submerge your chip to get the taste, and if you do, you might be able to compare the experience to having a mouthful of very cheesy Elmer’s glue. I would definitely order again, just noted the texture for future reference. And for you guys, of course.

A Dash of… Pepper?

I had never been to Carrburritos. It’s pretty nestled into its spot on West Rosemary Street, but easy to locate regardless. I have an affinity for restaurants that add on to their menu, and by that I mean they tape pieces of paper in and around the actual menu that say “Cold Beer, $5.99!” or “Chips and Salsa Sampler, $9.99!” I immediately connected with Carrburritos on a deeper level when I couldn’t find their chips and queso on the menu, then found it below on a taped-up piece of paper. 

I first think it’s important to note their chips. They were not tortilla chips, but ultra thick, almost pita chip-like. It’s not that I didn’t like them, I just didn’t like them with the queso. It’s like when two of your great friends start dating and you’re like, “hm, I liked you better separate.” The queso itself was also classic queso blanco, but a little thinner than Que Chula’s and a lot more peppery … it almost tasted like it would be better over some elbow macaroni? It was alright, I would maybe just ask the queso pepper-er to go easy next time.

Yellow Cheese! At Last!

I was beginning to dream about queso blanco, so Armadillo Grill was a refreshing change. Affectionately known as “Dillo”, this was pure Tex-Mex; my dinner was buffalo wings and chips and queso if that tells you anything. I admit, I’d tried Dillo’s queso before and it’s one of my favorites, so I tried to taste it with an unbiased palette. 

My notes remind me that these chips were “fire”, so, take that as you will, and the queso itself was almost nacho cheese-y; the menu says it’s spicy but that isn’t necessarily what I picked up. It was also endearing to choose between “Regular Size” or “Texas Size” when deciding how much I wanted, another detail emphasizing the aforementioned Tex-Mex aesthetic. 

The queso is thin and cheddar as opposed to the more thick blanco I’d dealt with, so it got a leg up in that regard. It was a nice break from the spicy buffalo wings I ate with it (should I rate wings next?), and it was a strong contender for the number one position on the queso leaderboard when I had finished my meal.

Plain, But Never Boring

Bandido's queso was simple, but effective. Tried and true. Reminiscent of the Mexican restaurant in my hometown that I now compare every other Mexican restaurant to because of the standard it set. The chips, classic tortilla. The queso, understated and satisfying. 

Where Que Chula was a little thick and Carrburritos a little heavy on the black pepper, Bandidos was the smooth, thin, you-can-drink-it-with-a-straw-if-you-so-desire queso blanco that does the trick without anything extra. I had never been to Bandidos before so I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s to less is more, Bandidos!

I promise I’m not handing out participation trophies, but every queso did bring something different to my ranking. If I had to say, however, I would award Bandidos the best queso blanco when stacked up against Carrburritos and Que Chula, but Armadillo Grill the best overall. I challenge everyone to do the queso tour of Chapel Hill as well and let me know your thoughts. I was gonna end with a cheesy line, but decided against it.


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