Houston's Tex-Mex scene is — without exaggeration — legendary. There are hundreds of restaurants throughout the city, each excellent in their own right. But every Houstonian knows that the secret to truly great Tex-Mex is the queso. And when it comes to queso, you can't go wrong with these six great Houston hot spots.
While Houstonians and Austinites have something of a sibling rivalry when it comes to the best Tex-Mex staples, there is one thing they fundamentally agree on: Torchy's has some darn good queso.
The green chile queso is gooey and savory with just a bit of a kick. It's served up with homemade tortilla chips and topped with Torchy's famous guac and diablo hot sauce.
It doesn't just taste good. Everything Torchy's makes comes from responsibly and regionally sourced ingredients, so you can feel good about what you're eating, too.
Tip: Add queso and drop the lettuce on their signature Trailer Park Taco to make it "trashy."
Nearly half a century ago, a lady named Ninfa introduced Houston to the fajita, causing the city's obsession with Tex-Mex — and subsequently its waistline — to explode. While the original Ninfa's restaurant went bankrupt and moved onto new ownership, the family launched another local favorite: El Tiempo Cantina. In the decades since its launch, El Tiempo has become a solid go-to Tex-Mex joint for Houstonians looking to get their fix.
The restaurant boasts eight different kinds of queso — all made from scratch. In addition to the chili con queso, El Tiempo's delicious melted white cheese can be mixed with all kinds of delicious add-ins, including shrimp, fajita meat, sauteed veggies or bacon. With so many options, it can be hard to choose. The solution? Grab a group, and try them all.
Caliente's queso blanco might not have a ton of fancy add-ins. But it does somehow combine two tasty Tex-Mex classics; the melted white cheese is garnished with a touch of pico de gallo. The result is a rich and creamy queso with just a bit of texture and kick.
Caliente is located on Houston's west side, near the intersection of Beltway 8 and I-10, making it a great spot for those up in Cypress or out in Katy who don't want to venture inside the Loop for some decent queso.
Tip: Portion sizes are on the smaller side. If you plan on sharing, you might want to order two.
Queso blanco might get all of the praise, but Liberty Taco proves cheese doesn't have to be white to be delicious. The yellow/orange melted cheese is thick and creamy — a nice contrast to the light and crispy tortilla chips that are served alongside — and topped with just a dash of queso fresco and cilantro.
The appetizer is an excellent palate primer for the restaurant's eclectic fusion tacos with flavors like Thai basil chicken, honey chipotle pork rib, and cajun fish.
Leave it to Hugo's to figure out how to make melted cheese fancy. Like everything else on the menu, the chef has improved on a seemingly simple Tex-Mex dish by adding in some tasty extras.
In the case of their queso, they mix in some wood-grilled steak, onions, mushrooms and rajas — or strips of roasted peppers — in with the gooey, melted cheese. The result is a blast of complementary flavors and textures that is so good, you'll want to eat it straight with a spoon. While Hugo's is definitely on the pricey side — an order costs around twice that of the other quesos on this list — it's worth it.
Tip: If you want to skip the meat, you can order the equally excellent vegetarian version that comes with sauteed zucchini, peppers and mushrooms mixed in.
If Houston has Austin to thank for Torchy's, they can thank Dallas for Velvet Tacos. This mini-chain has a growing — and fiercely loyal — following in Houston. Like other places on this list, Velvet scoffs at the notion that there's only one way to eat Tex-Mex. In fact, they challenge the very notion that Tex-Mex staples — like tacos — need to have Tex-Mex flavors at all.
Nowhere is that truer than with its queso. Instead of the roasted peppers and sauteed meats, Velvet mixes red curry and coconut into its melted cheese. The concoction is served with pickled onion, Thai basil and — wait for it — blue chips. For the Tex-Mex traditionalist, this may raise some eyebrows. But if you're a rebel interested in trying a totally new and extraordinarily tasty version of this beloved classic, you're in for a treat.