Kerbey Lane has some great queso. But is it enough to win a showdown with Magnolia Café?
Which restaurant has the best queso? This time around Emily Teachout checks out some Austin staples: Kerbey Lane and Magnolia.
Delicious, delicious queso – life as an Ausitnite just wouldn’t be the same without it. This cheesy, hangover-killing dip can be found everywhere from Mexican cantinas to barbecue joints, but one of my favorite places to order it is a good old 24 hour diner. With an abundance of options around town, which diner has the best, most queso-y queso? Let’s compare two Austin standbys.
The contenders: Kerbey Lane vs. Magnolia Café
Five locations; see website
First opened in 1980 and now spanning five locations all over the city, Kerbey Lane is serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites all day every day (literally). They pride themselves on focusing on local, fresh ingredients, and offer a rotating seasonal menu to showcase the best of what’s in season. Of course, queso has no season – or should I say, every season is queso season!
Kerbey’s basic queso is tasty, but what they’re known for is their Kerby Queso, which has guacamole and pico de gallo. For $8.25 (including salsa and tortilla chips) it’s a hearty portion that can easily satisfy two to four hungry diners. Add black beans for an extra .95 cents to make it a Kerbey Cowboy Queso, a pro move I highly recommend. Kerbey Lane’s queso is more white than most, and its flavor is mild (in a good way) and combines nicely with the creamy, cool guac and the earthy beans. Sometimes Kerbey’s chips are almost too thin, breaking off in the queso as it cools and hardens, but they’re crispy and salty, which I can’t complain about.
2304 Lake Austin Blvd. Austin, TX 78703 (Map)
1920 S. Congress Ave. Austin, TX 78704 (Map)
Magnolia describes themselves as "kind of like your favorite aunt's giant kitchen, if she had one" and I find that statement to be very accurate. Funky, homey, and decked out in tacky flamingo glory, Magnolia is a classic Austin hangout any time of day or night. Their big breakfasts, sandwiches, and Tex-Mex plates are all local favorites, but of course the queso is one of their main draws.
Actually, queso is only part of the equation. Magnolia's best app is their Mag Mud, which is queso mixed with black beans, avocado slices, and pico de gallo ($7.50). Served with chips and hot sauce (which is really salsa – why do they call it hot sauce instead of salsa here? The world may never know), this big bowl of decadence is definitely sharable. I find it to be a bit more hearty and filling than Kerbey's queso, plus a bit more Velveeta-y (in that orange, super smooth sense). No matter how filling it is, though, I can always seem to find room for a plate of migas after devouring my share.
The Verdict: For the first time ever, I actually have to call a tie! I just can't make up my mind about which queso I like better, and I've sampled both varieties on many, many occasions. It's hard to go wrong with melted cheese mixed with beans, avocado, and pico. Especially when you're chowing down in a diner after or before a late-night bender. In this case, I gotta give it up to our amazing city of Austin for inspiring so many fun, queso-filled restaurants.
All photos by Emily Teachout