Sunday, March 4, 2012

An Arkansas Cheese Dip Primer.

I'm a lucky girl.  I've been able to try so many neat and unique dishes over these past several years.  And there are few dishes that represent Arkansas better than cheese dip.

Created here in the 40s by a man named Blackie Donnelly, credited to his restaurant Mexico Chiquito, the dish has become a Southern staple.  The simplest version marries Velveeta and Rotel together, two simple ingredients that dance well together.  The recipes for the more complex recipes are hoarded away.  Restauranteurs and families alike keep the secret to their cheese concoction to themselves.

I've never found another state that offers so much, so many and so widely varied offerings of cheese dip as Arkansas.  Strangely enough, I have yet to try a few on this list... but I'll update it when I do.  Here's to dipping your chip.

American Pie.  A non-traditional white, Kyle's Spicy Chicken Cheese Dip is an imulsion of roasted and spiced chicken chunks in a white queso.  America Pie does gluten free evenings, by the way.  Check out one of these three locations:

  • 9709 Maumelle Blvd./(501) 758-8800
  • 4830 North Hills in NLR /(501) 753-0081
  • 10902 Colonel Glenn in Little Rock/(501) 225-1900
And the website.
Arkansas Burger Company.  Known best for its burgers (especially The Rock), ABC's cheese dip is consistently ranked among Central Arkansas favorites.  It's a white queso flaked with green jalapeno pepper bits, smooth with a bit of heat and well salted.  It's served up with thick yellow tortilla chips; alternately, you can use the Lay's potato chips that go with your burger.  It's located at 7410 Cantrell Road in Little Rock.  (501) 663-0600 -- and check out the Facebook page.  Yup, those are my photos, used with permission.

Balcony Restaurant.  The chips and queso at this restaurant inside Eureka Springs' Basin Park Hotel is smoky, a little salty and quite yellow -- and it's accompanied by homemade salsa.  The 1905 Basin Park Hotel is at 12 Spring Street, right next to (you guessed it) Basin Park.  (479) 253-7837 or check out the restaurant website.

Buffalo Grill.  One of Little Rock's classic dips, the yellow dip is calm and mild and served up with big round yellow tortilla chips.  For some reason they now serve the dip on the signature Tortilla Flats instead of cheese... but that's all right.  Perfect for dipping that quesadilla.

In Little Rock:

  • 1611 Rebsamen Park Rd./(501) 296-9535
  • 400 North Bowman Road #9/(501) 224-0012

And check out the restaurant website.
Cactus Jack's.  This average white dip comes close to white Velveeta, but somehow it's gained a following.  Mild, creamy, completely expected, at least Cactus Jack's serves up thin and crispy yellow tortilla chips to go along with it.

  • 4120 East McCain, NLR/(501) 945-5888
  • 11414 West Markham, LR/(501) 227-7556

Casa Manana.  Can a cheese dip go well with coffee?  This one does.  Casa Manana's reliable thick and creamy white dip has nice friendly notes of queso anejo and queso Chihuahua.  It's also good poured over Huevos Rancheros.  Served up with fresh-fried-daily corn tortilla chips and a salsa redolent of red bell pepper and cumin.
Three Little Rock locations:
6820 Cantrell Road/(501) 280-9888
18321 Cantrell Road/(501) 868-8822
Oppenheimer Market Hall at the River Market/(501) 372-6637.
Check out the restaurant website.

Cheddar's.  Yes, it's a national chain.  Yes, it's a Velveeta meets Rotel yellow.  But they throw in ground beef for free... surprisingly, it's not strong on Cheddar, as you might think from the restaurant name.  The chips are thin yellow tortilla, and the salsa is fresh and strong with cumin and onion notes.  I'm just going to give you the website -- there are several locations in Arkansas with more as time goes past.

Chip’s Barbecue.  Chip's used to put smoked meat in their cheese dip, which was pretty good.  They stopped doing that, but that's all right.  It's a Mexico Chiquito style dip with lots of cumin and paprika and strong Cheddar flavors, with good cling for the house-fried thick tortilla chips served with it.  I adore the fresh tomato salsa that comes with each order.  Also great on fries, which is usually how I have it there.  9801 West Markham.  Check out the restaurant website, too.

Cow Pen.  I don't know what's the better deal -- the cheese dip, the bean dip or the salsa that comes in the Chip & Dip ($6.95) at The Cow Pen in Lake Village.  The yellow cheese dip is a Velveeta-Rotel blend but has an additional dairy element that makes it creamy.  Spice is just right.  The salsa is sweet and the bean dip is garlicky, and the whole affair comes with a picnic sized basket of thin tortilla chips.  Highway 82 Bridge (Lake Village).  (870) 265-9992.  Check out the restaurant website.

Cozymel's.  The chain operation has a location in Little Rock off Markham at Shackleford.  They call their cheese dip Chile con Queso, and describe it as a blend of mexican cheeses topped with pico de gallo.  What they serve up is a strong yellowish-pink dip full of spices, very strong in flavor.  It's pretty good.  (501) 954-7100 or check out the website.

Dizzy’s.  The restaurant's three-part dip won the first ever World Cheese Dip Championship; it went over so well, they replaced their old dip with it.  It's a yellow dip chunky with onions and peppers and it's served up large.  Dizzy's is in the River Market at 200 River Market Avenue #150.  (501) 375-3500.  They too have a website.

Dogtown Coffee and Cookery.  The 2011 winner of Best Cheese Dip at the World Cheese Dip Competition.  In fact, Dogtown had just opened up when they entered this dip, which is reminiscent of the famed Mexico Chiquito dip, full of spices and different cheese flavors.  Definitely meant to be a classic.  You'll find Dogtown Coffee and Cookery in Dogtown - er, Argenta, er, North Little Rock at 6725 John F. Kennedy.  (501) 833-3850 or check them out on Facebook.
Faby’s.  The dip at Faby's is so thick, it almost doesn't qualify as cheese dip.  Instead, what you get is a queso fundido, thick enough to eat with a fork, the sort of hot cheese sauce you want on a cold day.  It's a blend of white Mexican cheeses that stands well on its own but is even better when ordered as fajita queso with chunks of beef or chicken.  2915 Dave Ward Drive in Conway, (501) 329-5151 -- and  1023 Front Street, also in Conway, (501) 513-1199.

Flying Burrito.  Jill, one of my travel writers, swears the cheese dip served up at the Flying Burrito in Fayetteville and Springdale is the best she's tried.  Since the one in Little Rock has closed, I am going to have to place a marker here for when I go try it in April.  For now, go look at their website.

Godsey’s Grill.  Godsey’s actually sells a traditional Rotel and Velveeta dip, along with about eight other dips.  The Drunken Chicken dip includes smoked chicken -- and the Chicken Enchilada dip that comes so heavy on the spices you won’t be able to tell there’s Velveeta under the surface on those homemade potato chips.  226 South Main St. in Jonesboro.  (870) 336-1988.  And of course, there's a website.

Hamburger Barn.  The Arkadelphia mainstay still serves up the same sort of cheese dip you'd come to expect at any backyard barbecue -- the traditional straight-up Velveeta and Rotel dip.  Goes well with the charbroiled burgers, tortilla chips, fries and onion rings.  2813 West Pine Street, (870) 246-5556.  They're on Facebook.

Izzy’s.  You have to drive way out Cantrell Road to after it turns into Highway 10 to get out to Izzy's, but it's worth it.  The dip is packed with white Cheddar, fresh tomatoes and spices, and manages to be pretty light.  I like to order it up with the Big Tamale and salsa... and strangely enough, it's very good on saltine crackers, go figure.  Izzy's is out at  5601 Ranch Road.  (501) 868-4311.  Check out the website. And have some tea there, too.

Juanita’s. Remember that great white cheese dip from the Blue Mesa Grill?  You can get it at Juanita's... it's almost as good as it was at Blue Mesa.  Of course, Juanita's has its own yellow Chili con Queso... which is decent.  Just beware -- service at Juanita's sometimes seems to take a backseat to the venue's other attraction -- live concerts.   You'll find Juanita's at 614 President Clinton Avenue in the River Market..  (501) 372-1228.  And here's that website. 

Loca Luna.  The Roasted Green Chile Con Queso is starting to gather a real following.  It's sharp, spicy, fresh and served up with tricolor chips that somehow aren’t as colorful as that great queso flavor.  You'll find Local Luna at 3519 Old Cantrell Road.  (501) 663-4666.  Here's the website.

Maria’s. The smooth mild creamy Queso Blanco is the best cheese dip I've had in Fort Smith, with lovely complex flavors of Queso Asadero and, we suspect, some Jack cheese too.  Just a tiny bit better than the Chile “Coin” Queso they also do.  In addition to  Fort Smith, Rogers, Bentonville and elsewhere.

Maria's locations:

  • 2503 S. Walton in Bentonville,  (479) 271-0920
  • 2813 W. Walnut in Rogers, (479) 986-9276
  • 8640 Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith, (479) 452-2328

And then there's a website.

Mean Pig BBQ.  The barbecue joint best known for its Shut Up Sauce has one of the better quesos in the state -- a deep yellow dip inundated with shredded smoked beef brisket throughout, served with a zip-top bag of tortilla chips on a big plate.  It is indeed a meal in itself.  Still, make it healthy -- ask for a salad, too.  Highway 321 just east of Highway 67-167 in Cabot.  (501) 941-5489 or go to the website.

Mexico Chiquito.  Of course, it's the standard by which all other cheese dips are judged, the first and still the most elusive to pin down.  Created after a visit to Mexico and based on real American and Mexican cheese, the deep spice mix marks the uniqueness of its flavor with lots of paprika, cumin and heaven knows what else.  Still as addictive as always.  I'm just going to give you the website, since there are Mex-To-Gos everywhere now.

Nick's Barbecue and Catfish.  Kerry, one of my other travel writers, swears by Nick's.  And it's a dang good cheese dip.  On the surface it appears to be of the Mexico Chiquito variety.  But there's something additional that you won't find in any other dip, an undertone that's both mellow and sharp at the same time.  I suspect there's a little Jack cheese and maybe a little Colby in the blend.  Served with thin and crispy tortilla chips.  Oh, the salsa?  Sweet, cumin-infused and fresh... I like it even better than the cheese dip!  Located
south off I-40 exit 183 on Bankhead Drive in Carlisle.  And here's that website.

Pancho's.  The only restaurant on my cheese dip list that serves their queso at room temperature.  The creamy  dip is extraordinarily mild; "hot dip" (a pepper sauce laced salsa puree) is brought to the table to add to get the right consistency.  The hot dip is as spicy as the cheese dip isn't.  Served up with tortilla rounds; you'll also find Pancho's cheese dip sold in original and white versions in some grocery stores.  Pancho's is at 3600 East Broadway in West Memphis. (870) 735-6466 -- or get the dip here.

River Rock Grill.  Part of a dip trio, the chefs at River Rock Grill at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Petit Jean Mountain have created the closest dip to the famed Mexico Chiquito cheese dip I've found anywhere.  The salsa is chunky and spicy, the guacamole fresh and the chips thin.  The problem is, the restaurant rarely seems open any more.  1 Rockefeller Drive (Morrilton).  (501) 727-5435. Might check out the website or call first.
Rolando’s.  The Queso Flamado at Rolando’s is not only thick and hot, it’s on fire.  As in, it's served flaming.  With or without chorizo, this Monterey Jack cheese confection has amazing pull -- not just for its fabulous flavor but for the lengths you can pull the stringy cheese.
Three locations:

  • 210 Central Avenue (Hot Springs), (501) 318-6054. 
  • 223 Garrison Avenue (Fort Smith), (479) 573-0404.  
  • 224 South 2nd St. (Rogers), (479) 621-1002.  

And of course, the website.

Santo Coyote.  Thin but packed with flavor, Santo Coyote’s light cheese dip matches its light and crispy housemade tortilla chips.  And you can get your dip full of stuff, like the El Santo Dip that's full of shrimp, chicken and beef chunks.  You'll need a fork with that. They also have about 100 tequilas on board.  2513 McCain Blvd.  (501) 753-9800.

Senor Tequila.  This cloying, almost sticky queso likes to grab your chip.  With excellent cling, it’s the perfect pungent dip for mixing with the restaurant’s lightly spicy cilantro-heavy salsa.  Also good on the enchiladas.  Multiple locations.

Sparky’s Roadhouse CafĂ©.  You can’t really call Sparky’s dip a yellow dip -- it’s actually Queso Rojo, a blend of cheese and spices so concentrated it actually appears an orangish-red, even redder the longer it sits.  Sweet, salty, cheesy, complicated, it’s just about my favorite cheese dip in the state.  Of course, I eat it with French fries.  It's at 147 E. Van Buren in Eureka Springs. (479) 253-6001 -- and yes, there's a website.

Stoby’s.  The restaurant’s eponymous yellow cheese dip is a smooth, creamy blend of cheeses that’s almost sissy mild but also heavily addictive.  It's so dang famous, American Idol star Kris Allen did a big call-out on it on that show -- and got free cheese dip for life.  The newer white dip is spicier, with a long-growing heat from jalapenos under its smooth deceptive surface.  Served on big round yellow tortilla chips.

  • 805 Donaghey (Conway), (501) 327-5447.  
  • 405 West Parkway (Russellville), (479) 968-3816.  

Check out that website, too.

Taco Villa.  My old college favorite keeps winning more fans, thanks to consistent low prices and a family attitude.  The smooth yellow cheese dip has a strong garlic flavor; thick tortilla chips are always on hand for dipping.  Also good on the apple sticks, strangely enough.  420 East 4th Street in Russellville.  (479) 968-1191.

U.S. Pizza Company.  Judy’s White Cheese Dip isn’t just great on the thick tortilla chips that regularly accompany the bowl.  It’s also popular with some customers served over salad instead of dressing.  Creamy, mild and inoffensive -- it's a great white dip .  Multiple locations.  Check for them all on the website.

If you have an Arkansas cheese dip you feel should be on this list, drop me a line at or leave a remark in the comment section.

1 comment:

  1. If eating cheese dip for breakfast is wrong, I don't wanna be right!


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