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If your experience with Tex-Mex-style queso is limited to bubbling pots of processed American cheese laced with canned chiles, you might find the “Bob Armstrong” version at Javelina (119 East 18th Street, 212-539-0202) somewhat paradigm-altering. On the menu, the Bob reads like typical nacho toppings, apropos for something you’re about to dip corn chips into: Choose a queso base, and it’ll be filled with guacamole, ground beef, pico de gallo, and sour cream. You can pick from a traditional yellow queso, which looks like the Velveeta with which you’re familiar, or have a white queso base, which mixes a smooth white cheese with verdant jalapeños and poblanos. Go with the latter — it eats lightly, with a slight tang. Before you know it, you’ll have devoured the bowl.
Javelina owner Matt Post told us recently that queso is the first dish by which to judge a Tex-Mex restaurant. It should have an addictive quality, he explained, though there’s no strict recipe for making it. In Texas, it’s often creamy, bubbly, chile-studded, and yellow (though it doesn’t have to be). At Javelina, you can add brisket, chorizo, or carnitas to your dip, or you can try a sampler of three different combinations.
It’s bound to be a highlight of your meal, and it pairs well with a margarita — particularly a frozen margarita — to whet your appetite for dinner.
The Bob Armstrong may be the current king of Tex-Mex queso in New York, but there are other pots of molten cheese worth seeking (and at least one worth avoiding).
If the gooey Tex-Mex variety isn’t your bag, consider posting up at the bar at La Contenta (102 Norfolk Street, 212-432-4180), where you’ll find a queso fundido in the style of northern Mexico, updated by a little New American license and French technique.
Queso fundido is to queso what Swiss fondue is to Midwestern Super Bowl cheese dip. It’s stretchier than its Lone Star counterpart, and you often get to use a chip to free crispy bits of cheese that have glued themselves to the side of the pot. Some places lace theirs with grasshoppers.
The La Contenta version is also more pungent — the cheese base here is part goat, part monterey jack. It’s underpinned by the sweet heat of roasted red peppers and other chiles, and bolstered by a briny base of black olive tapenade. It comes with flour tortillas, which you can tear and use to roll little bits of cheese into mini-burritos. It’s so good you’ll often see a half-dozen orders on the bar, where neighbors pack in and sip high-concept agave cocktails long before the dining room begins to fill up.