“It’s not just melted cheese. It’s a movement.”
This is how Beaux Hebert, manager of the Queso Truck, a month-old food truck, describes the stuff.
“I’m from the South, and queso is a Southern food staple,” said Hebert. “I mean, my sister Cammy had a queso fountain at her wedding.”
Queso, the melted cheese dip typically served with tortilla chips, tortillas — or a spoon — became more than a mere blip on the local food radar when Bar Amá chef Josef Centeno placed it on the menu at his downtown L.A. Tex-Mex restaurant; the East Hollywood Texas-inspired restaurant HomeState has always had it on the menu. But despite the fact that it’s a bowl of melted cheese, and it’s delicious, it’s never quite picked up the momentum that, say, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts did. Maybe the Queso Truck will turn the cheese dish into the next Los Angeles food trend. (Despite our health-conscious reputation, Angelenos are willing to wait in line for fried chicken.)
A little over a year ago, Hebert’s queso-loving sister Cammy got together with family friends Carson and Katy Young, and they decided to bring a queso food truck to California. Carson is no stranger to the food truck game, having opened a Korean taco truck in Atlanta almost a decade ago. And so about a month ago, the trio launched the Queso Truck, with Hebert on board as the manager and Dan Latham (who has worked at Babbo in New York) as a consulting chef.
At lunchtime on a recent Wednesday, the bright pink, orange and chartreuse truck stood out in a sea of other trucks parked along Wilshire Boulevard across from LACMA. The over-saturated colors are hard to miss, as are the rainbow cactuses Hebert sets up on the sidewalk out front.
The menu is straightforward: queso nine ways. The classic is either a white queso with jalapeños, or a yellow queso with Ro-tel — yes, the can of diced tomatoes and green chiles. These provide the base queso for all the other variations on the menu. The yellow might remind you of that Velveeta and Ro-tel dip your roommate from college made in the dorm microwave — only this one is thick. And likely a great deal better.
Young developed the base queso recipes, which include Land O’ Lakes American or white cheese, milk and cream. The ingredients are fiercely stirred until the dip is silky in texture. When Young or Hebert train someone new on the truck, a ladle is dropped into a pot of queso to demonstrate what Young calls the “consistency test.”
“Imagine a person slowly sinking into a pool,” said Hebert. “That’s how we want the ladle to soak into the queso.”
The dip is an essay in texture, thick, but not so thick that you can’t scoop it efficiently with a chip. And if you don’t finish your bowl in half an hour, it doesn’t turn into a blob. It’s pretty magical stuff.
The menu reads like a love letter to queso, and all of the occasions appropriate for serving the dip. The Game Day is a bowl of yellow queso with ground beef, pico de gallo, cilantro and jalapeños — picture stadium nachos and a tailgate burger in a bowl. And the Chickale may remind you of your favorite restaurant artichoke dip, but with ribbons of sautéed kale, ground chicken, griddled red onions and lime juice.
“Queso is something you only understand if you’re around it, if you’ve tried it,” said Hebert, who grew up in Atlanta and went to school in Louisiana. “And we want to be the place people go to get their queso fix.”
Each of the quesos comes with blistered flour tortillas from Northgate González Markets, or tortilla chips. Or French fries, which come thin and crisp, and covered in a mix of Korean chile flakes, sugar, salt and sesame oil. You can also order raw asparagus to dip into your queso — or just ask for a plastic spoon.
The one dessert on the menu is a bowl of melted chocolate spiced with cayenne, served with warm tortillas dusted in cinnamon and sugar.
Do you want to eat a bowl of gooey melted cheese and a side of French fries for lunch today? It’s a heavier choice than you might be used to. But you didn’t come to the queso truck for a salad, did you?
“Who are we kidding?” said Hebert. “ We serve queso. We’re a guilty pleasure truck.”
To find the truck, visit the website at www.thequesotruck.com.