Curra’s Grill. 614 E. Oltorf St. 512-444-0012, currasgrill.com. (small, $6.99)
I was excited to try the Kelly’s Queso, made with white processed cheese, but apparently that menu item no longer exists at the South Austin staple. That meant classic yellow queso. It was thick and came with a garnish of mushy ground beef that had the consistency of potted meat, a dollop of bright green guacamole and a smattering of pico with a slice of jalapeno. Highlight: warm chips.
Magnolia Cafe. 1920 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-445-0000, magnoliacafeaustin.com. ($8.95)
You can’t see it, but underneath that yellow film likes a big ol pile of black beans. Stir it all up with the salty yellow corn and you’ll see why it’s called Mag Mud. The beans provide a dusky flavor and hue to this popular dish. The pico was abundant, full of onion flavor and had a little sting to it. Sliced avocado is a little harder to integrate that guacamole, but I appreciate the simplicity of that presentation.
Guero’s Taco Bar. 1412 S. Congress Ave. 512-447-7688, gueros.com. (small, $5.89).
It was about the time we pulled up a bar stool at Guero’s that I started realizing that I may be on a fool’s errand trying to find the best queso in Austin. I guess they picked the right guy. While you find variations on the theme, what you get more often that not is processed yellow cheese with pico de gallo. That was the case here, but even old reliable here had its problem. There was only a pinch of pico, wilted and drained of life, that disappeared into the yellow goo once separated from its entrapment in film.
Fresa’s. 1703 S. First St. 512-992-2946; 915 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5077, fresaschicken.com. ($7)
Now we’re talking. I guess all quesos aren’t made the same. Of course, we’ll probably never know exactly what goes into the queso here because chef Rene Ortiz isn’t likely to share his recipe. I do know there is a great depth of flavor to this queso that apparently uses white cheddar and Jack cheese in its mix. The melt is runny, but not too runny, allowing it to easily coat a chip and still have little drippage. The chips are fairly thin, have delicate crackle to them and fried to a clean finish. I also think there are some roasted peppers involved in this mild queso that is flecked with herbs and finished with a shower of soft queso blanco for texture and added creaminess.