By David Margolies, Isaac Rosso Klakovich, and Karlton Tate
For many people, the strength of a Mexican restaurant’s queso is a crucial selling point. There are several types of the famous melted cheese and everyone seems to have their own favorite. With its thriving Hispanic population, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area offers several Mexican and Mexican-American restaurant options. The ECHO believes that no Mexican restaurant is complete without a strong queso presence, and so we set out to find the best chips and queso in Chapel Hill.
Cinco de Mayo: 3/5
While Cinco de Mayo’s menu offers a variety of different flavored queso, the ECHO chose to sample their standard white cheese dip. After tasting, it was clear that diners at Cinco de Mayo should order a speciality queso. The standard queso was good, but there was nothing that made it stand out aside from its subtle yet spicy jalapeño aftertaste. This appropriately salted thick sauce is served warm, making it imperative for patrons to eat it quickly before the queso gets cold. Like some of the other restaurants, there was a semi-processed taste to the dip that made it unclear how fresh it was. Even if Cinco de Mayo’s offering might not have been the most unique queso, it was an undoubtedly positive note to start off the ECHO’s tasting of Chapel Hill queso.
Monterrey Mexican Restaurant is undoubtedly the most authentic Mexican cuisine in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area. After being promptly seated and served chips and salsa, we ordered the white cheese dip, which was prominently displayed at the top of the menu. In minutes the warm queso was at our table. The cheese dip was definitely thinner than Cinco de Mayo’s, but what it lacked in thickness was made up for in a fantastic myriad of flavors. The temperature and chip dip-ability were very manageable, and the serving size was by far the largest of all the restaurants. The cheese used in the queso tasted much less processed than that of Cinco de Mayo’s or Moe’s, and because of this, the dip paired extremely well with the freshly made salsa. Coming in at $3.25, the size, price and deliciousness of Monterrey’s queso makes it a serious contender for Chapel Hill’s best queso.
Armadillo Grill: 4.5/5
Armadillo Grill in Carrboro is perhaps most known for its Tex-Mex style tacos, however it also offers an out-of-this-world cheese dip. At the counter, we ordered a regular size chips and queso for $2.59, and after a few short moments, we picked up our order. The golden colored queso is served piping hot with a heaping basket of chips. The dip has a cheddar-like taste to it and is packed to the brim with flavor and heat. The cheese used tastes the freshest and it pairs well with their house-made salsa. The only drawback to Armadillo Grill is the chips. The chip thickness and saltiness is not quite substantial enough to live up to the queso. We devoured this cheese dip the quickest by far. One of our reviewers even felt the need to lick the container clean. For an additional $1.20 one can upgrade to “Texas size” and have enough to share. For the ECHO, Armadillo Grill had the most awe-inspiring queso of all.
Despite advertising their famous queso as one of the highlights of the menu, Moe’s queso proved to be exceedingly disappointing. After receiving a tiny cup of very hot queso with a side of chips, the only positive seemed to be the relatively cheap price of $1.17. The queso tasted very processed and was the most generic of the four restaurants. Also, the salted chips combined with the overly salty queso was overpowering and made water a necessity. The lack of ambition made the queso merely a dull culinary experience rather than a colossal failure. When it was clear that we were not going to finish the queso, we shifted our focus to the chips, which despite being somewhat generic were still probably the most enjoyable part of the experience.
For the ECHO, the best queso didn’t have to be authentically Mexican. The Carrboro award-winning tex-mex restaurant Armadillo Grill won our hearts and stomachs with its flavorful golden liquid, great location, and reasonable prices. Moe’s offered what we expected from a chain, while other popular Chapel Hill joints were a mixed bag. After a busy afternoon of diligent taste testing, this panel of ECHO critics may have to lay off dairy for awhile.
Photo by Karlton Tate