Taste Test: The Best And (Very) Worst Store-Bought Nacho Cheese Dips
We don’t think you need an excuse to feast on nacho cheese dip, but the Super Bowl taking place on Feb. 7 is as good as any. Whether you plan on tuning in to cheer against Tom Brady or to watch the ads (the ones that haven’t pulled out, anyway), having a bowl of cheese dip and salty tortilla chips nearby is a good idea.
You could make your own cheese dip, but no one would blame you if you just wanted to take it easy and crack open a jar purchased at the grocery store. (The molten appetizer has seen many iterations since its conception in a 19th-century San Antonio Mexican restaurant, but it’s always been made with processed cheese.)
Not so fast, though! Don’t buy just any cheese dip. Trust us, jarred queso is not all created equal — far from it, actually. To help you get the best bang for your buck when choosing jarred cheese dip, we consulted with Nick Melvin, an Atlanta-based chef and founder of Doux South Pickles, and Nicole Letts, a lifestyle writer, to get the scoop on 11 store-bought cheese dips.
When it comes to queso, Melvin said he’s quickest to judge the texture. “I don’t like when it’s almost like water. If the best part of the dip is the skin on top, then it’s too thin,” Melvin said. And of course, flavor is important, too: “Cumin, chilis, onions, garlic. It’s a total package.”
Behold, our guide to the best and worst jarred cheese dips.
#1: On the Border Creamy Monterey Jack
On The Border
Here’s something we weren’t on the border about: how good this dip was. It blew past the competition as the unquestionable winner of the taste test. The pleasantly chunky queso checked all the boxes: thick, well-spiced with cumin, and packed with a little bit of heat from jalapeños. It looked like restaurant-style queso and had the taste and texture to match. It’s also one of the few store-bought quesos that has actual cheese listed as one of the first ingredients.
#2: Pace Salsa Con Queso
“It hits me like a classic nacho cheese,” Melvin said of Pace’s salsa con queso. The bright orange dip has a thick consistency — serve it with round tortilla chips and questionable pickled jalapeños and you can re-create that pre-pandemic movie theater experience that we’re all longing for. The spices weren’t as obvious in this one, but the texture and taste of nostalgia were enough to win it second place.
#3: Siete Mild Nacho (Vegan)
Yeah, Austin-based Siete’s dip is actually vegan and therefore doesn’t have cheese or milk in it, but it holds up against the rest of them. (Maybe because the dairy in most queso dips is questionable anyway?) The texture was surprisingly thick, although a little grainy. The flaws were easy to overlook, though, because we could actually identify other ingredients, like peppers, onions and tomatoes. It was also just tangy enough. “Honestly, that’d be good cold on a wrap even, if you just spread it on there, it’d be nice. That’d be a way to get more flavor in,” said Melvin, who is as carnivorous as they come.
#4: Tostitos Salsa Con Queso
When it comes to store-bought cheese dip, there’s no question which one reigns supreme in Letts’ eyes. “Sinking a chip into Tostitos cheese dip is like dipping into nostalgia,” she said. Growing up, her mom’s go-to dinner when Letts’ dad was out of town was BLT sandwiches and corn chips with cheese dip. The peppers, gooey viscous texture and slight spice still stand out to her to this day.
#5: Herdez Queso Con Salsa Medium
This one was an all-around solid dip. It didn’t have that fake cheese taste that you either love or hate (Monterey jack cheese is the third ingredient), and the color wasn’t as neon as some of the other dips. It had a little bit of zippy acidity, and noticeable flavor from the garlic and onion, but it lacked any heat despite being labeled “medium.” This queso didn’t knock our socks off, but we would have been pleased to munch on it during a football game.
#6: Pancho’s White Queso
Pancho’s started as a restaurant owned by two white guys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in the 1950s, but now ships its cheese dip nationwide and you can find it in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores. The dip seemed promising upon opening the container; it looked thick and you could see that it was studded with jalapeño peppers. Once warmed up, it was far too thin, though still flavorful. In Pancho’s defense, the container says to eat the dip at room temperature, but that doesn’t sound very appealing, either. Ultimately, we decided that it’s a solid queso if you want something to drizzle on nachos or enchiladas, but it’s probably not your ideal dipping companion.
#7: Tostitos Queso Blanco
This is another of Letts’ favorites. The spice holds up even though the cheese itself is milder. Letts enjoys it straight out of the jar at room temperature. “That’s kind of the beauty of it. It doesn’t have to be warm to be delicious, unlike some other kinds (like the ones sold refrigerated, in a tub),” she said.
#8: Chi-Chi’s Salsa Con Queso Mild
The first word that came to Melvin and his wife, Kristen, to describe this dip: blah. It wasn’t completely unappealing, but it also didn’t make much of an impression. “You can taste the peppers. The salt’s good, but it’s a little flat,” Melvin said. It also had a thin consistency.
#9: Pace Queso Blanco
Pace’s white cheese dip had a great burst of acidity and some heat from the spices used (possibly cayenne?), but fell flat in the texture department. Overall, pretty forgettable.
#10: Herdez Queso Blanco Dip
After a strong showing from Herdez’s queso con salsa, it was surprising to discover that the queso blanco was such a flop. There was no identifiable seasoning or texture to speak of. Like Melvin said, “It doesn’t even taste like cheese dip.” We pushed this one to the side quickly.
#11: 365 Salsa Con Queso
The jar from 365 might have said “organic” and “made with real cheese,” but we couldn’t help but cringe — hard — when the dip hit our tongues. The flavor was off in a big way. Melvin didn’t mince words: “At the very end, it tastes like old Cheetos.” Who knows what the texture was like. After one taste of this strange concoction, we were quickly dipping new chips into the On the Border queso to cleanse our palates.