This past Saturday was National Nachos Day, that legendary borderlands dish of tortilla chips, jalapeño and goops of cheese. The above picture are the nachos at El Cholo Cafe, Southern California's oldest Mexican restaurant and credited with introducing nachos to the region. They're actually good, because the melted cheese is actually, you know, cheese, instead of processed dairy product.
But please don't paint me as an elitist. Some dishes of the Mexican-American cookery make masterful use of rivers of cheese--and by "masterful," I mean creations that would make snobs scream. The sound you just heard is Rick Bayless crying.
Not queso, as in the Spanish word for cheese, but queso (pronounced "kay-so"), the legendary Tex-Mex condiment (most common to the Dallas area) that sees queso of some sort melted to a Velveeta-like texture, spiked with some chiles, and usually placed in a bowl, but sometimes even in the type of jar used for pancake syrup. Oh, is the dish strange: don't eat it immediately out of the microwave, but eat it fast before it coagulates and creates a skim on top. I don't think there's any instance recorded in the annals of the human experience that has seen a bowl of queso last more than five minutes.
2. Soft Cheese Taco
Another North Texas favorite: a steamed corn tortilla filled with queso, folded over, then usually topped with more queso. The results seep immediately down your gullet and look like a tortilla soaked in water. Best to eat with a spoon.
3. Cheese Crisp
Think of this Arizonan specialty as an inside-out quesadilla or a singular nacho: the flour tortilla baked with a mixture of cheese on top, until what you see is what you'll get. I especially love those spots of cheese that brown, a crispy gush of cholesterol.
4. The Eggroll-Style Chile Relleno of Colorado.
I'll be visiting Denver next week and can't wait to try this only-to-Colorado take on the chile relleno: a chile stuffed with queso, then wrapped in a wonton wrapper and fried. Yes: a wonton wrapper. It's the signature dish of La Fiesta, which is where I had it, and it comes smothered in red or green chile. Gooey, crunchy, spicy, but really gooey: who needs actual queso with a cheese dish like this?
5. The Nighthawk
This is a dish only found at El Rancho Grande, a Tulsa restaurant that claims to be the oldest existing Mexican eatery on Route 66. Two cheese enchiladas, a cheese taco, and chili con carne topped with queso con chile--the greatest cheese dish in the Americas. I scarfed this dish in five minutes, if that, and nary a chili belly.
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