Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bob Armstrong Dip: queso with taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream

Bob Armstrong Dip, queso with taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream

About 43 years ago or so, Robert “Bob” Armstrong walked into Matt’s El Rancho in Austin and asked the owner’s son, Matt Martinez, Jr., to surprise him with something new. Bob Armstrong was the Texas Land Commissioner at the time, and was not only a powerful guy but also a regular customer. Matt wanted to make him happy.

The story goes that Matt went into the kitchen, grabbed a large bowl and ladled into it some taco meat. Next, he hid the taco meat under a generous helping of creamy chile con queso and finished with dollops of guacamole and sour cream on top. He then took the bowl out to Bob and presented him with his kitchen creation.

At first Bob looked at the bowl, wrinkled his nose and said, “That’s just queso. I wanted something different!” But Matt insisted he try it and when Bob dipped his chip into the queso and discovered the layer of taco meat, he grinned and proceeded to eat the whole bowl without further comment.

Bob Armstrong Dip, queso with taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream

The next day, people came into Matt’s El Rancho asking for a bowl of Bob Armstrong’s dip. None of the wait staff knew what the heck they were talking about until Matt Martinez, Jr. figured out they were asking for the off-the-menu queso he’d made for Bob the day before. Apparently, Bob Armstrong had returned to the Texas state capitol and told everyone they had to try Matt’s queso with taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream. And at that moment, a chile con queso legend was born.

In later years, other queso compuestos, as that genre of chile con queso is called, also rose to prominence—quesos such as Kerbey Lane’s Kerbey Queso topped with guacamole and pico de gallo, and Magnolia Café’s Mag Mud with its refried black beans layered into the silky cheese. But Bob Armstrong Dip, as Matt’s queso creation is now officially known, may just be my favorite.

You can now find Bob dip in both Austin and Dallas, where Matt Martinez, Jr. later moved to open a few restaurants of his own. And it was there that I actually first encountered it, as in college we’d eat at Matt’s Rancho Martinez in Lakewood and spend lazy afternoons on the patio enjoying hot queso and cold beverages.

American cheese

A few years ago my college friends and I had a reunion in Dallas, so it seemed fitting that the first order of business was lunch at Matt's. I headed straight there from the airport, and it was a welcome sight to see not only my friends but bowls of Bob dip at the table. It felt like no time had passed at all.

Now, you may have heard that there’s a Velveeta shortage, and for many folks this is something akin to a tragedy, as everyone knows that a block of Velveeta along with a can of Ro-Tel is the quick path to queso happiness. That said, living in New York I’ve long suffered a Velveeta shortage as it’s never been easy to find here, so many years ago I learned to make do without. A more natural chile con queso was the result of my kitchen experiments, and it’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.

That said, Bob dip also doesn’t use Velveeta. Nope, in Matt Martinez’s books “Matt’s Culinary Frontier” and “Mex Tex” he provides recipes for his famous dip and he calls for just plain American cheese. While anytime is queso time, in my opinion, I do know that many especially enjoy it this time of year, so I decided now would be a fine time to try his recipes.

First, however, I made a couple of changes. For one thing, I decided to forgo the diced celery he called for, which just sounded strange. Also, his taco meat was lightly spiced with only cumin, salt, and pepper, but I found it a bit bland so I added a couple of shakes of chili powder to make it a bit more robust.

Bob Armstrong Dip, queso with taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream

In the end, however, when I assembled the queso (keeping the taco layer hidden as it was in the original bowl presented to Bob Armstrong), and then dipped my first chip, I was back in Texas enjoying a sunny afternoon with old, dear friends. And it doesn’t get much better than that.

Bob Armstrong Dip (adapted from “Matt’s Culinary Frontier” by Matt Martinez)

For the taco meat:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 bell pepper, seeded, stemmed, and diced
1 jalapeño, seeded, stemmed, and diced
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of cayenne

For the guacamole:
2 Hass avocados, peeled and pitted
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
Salt

For the chile con queso:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 jalapeños, seeded, stemmed, and diced
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound American cheese, shredded
1 cup grape tomatoes, diced
Salt
Sour cream, for garnishing
Tortilla chips, for serving

To make the taco meat, in a large skillet heat the oil on medium-low heat and add the bell pepper, jalapeño, and onion. While stirring occasionally, cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Add the ground beef to the skillet, along with the cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Stir until everything is well combined and then cook the ground beef for 15 more minutes, or until browned. Taste and adjust seasonings. Turn off the heat and drain any excess grease.

Meanwhile, to make the guacamole, mash together the avocado, lime juice, and cilantro. Add salt to taste.

To make the queso, in a saucepot heat the oil on medium-low heat and add the jalapeño and onion. While stirring occasionally, cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Leaving on the heat, stir in the cumin, black pepper, and cornstarch until the dry ingredients are well combined with the vegetables. Pour in the chicken broth and while stirring cook until the sauce has thickened, which should happen in a couple of minutes.

Turn the heat down to low and working in batches, slowly stir in a handful of the cheese. After it’s melted into the sauce, repeat the process until all the cheese is added. Stir in the tomatoes, adjust seasonings, and add salt to taste.

This makes a lot of queso, so you can either serve it in individual bowls or in a larger dish, such as a 9-inch square dish. To assemble, layer along the bottom of the dish the taco meat, then pour in the queso and then top with the guacamole and sour cream. Serve warm with chips.

Yield: 10-12 servings

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53 comments:

Nancy said...

I've had queso with chorizo in it (well drained) It adds a slightly different flavor than the taco meat. And I've had the chorizo queso type that hd American cheese and cream cheese which is tasty as well. Thanks for the Bob Armstrong dip :)

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Nancy--Chorizo is terrific in queso!

Laura said...

I've made your "more natural queso" twice this football season for friends. I think that presenting something that looks just like the queso we've been eating (which has been enormously popular) but which actually has a hidden meat layer sounds like the perfect way to kick things up for the Super Bowl.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Laura--Taco meat will definitely work in the more natural one, as well. I'm so glad to hear y'all have enjoyed it!

Amy in Austin said...

Being a native Austinite, I can absolutely appreciate the sheer glory that is a fresh bowl of Bob. We celebrate most family occasions at Matt's, and tradition is that my brother be the one who gets to make that first stir. You just can't go to Matt's without getting a bowl of Bob. Thanks for sharing your take on it- this will be the perfect dish to share at our Super "Munchie" Bowl Party.

Ashley in MD said...

Oh my gosh, thank you! I am also a homesick Texan (I've lived in Maryland for six years now) and I have such fond memories of hanging out at Matt's El Rancho with family and friends drinking prickly pear margaritas and filling up on this dip. I am absolutely recreating this for the Super Bowl!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Amy--I love that your family has a tradition of letting your brother make the first stir!

Ashley--A taste of Austin in Maryland--it should be a delicious Super Bowl!

DessertForTwo said...

I'm pretty sure I could polish off a whole bowl of this by myself!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

DessertForTwo--Speaking from experience, that is not difficult to do!

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

I think this just went on my Super Bowl menu....

yep, it did!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Rocky Mountain Woman--It's a fine edition to your menu. Enjoy!

Not Your Mama's Martha! said...

Another native AUSTX girl (living in San Francisco for the last 8 years) who is in-love with this recipe and your entire blog. I'm really looking forward to your book, congratulations - it will go a long way in helping to explain the awesomeness that is TexMex that people all over just don't get. I can't wait to make this!

Emily H. said...

I'm currently living in Houston and only get to Austin every few months, but you better believe the first place I stop whenever I'm in town is El Rancho for a big ole Bob. Thanks for the wonderfully nostalgic post :)

meganrhyne said...

I lived in Lakewood Heights in Dallas, and I remember how "in" I felt when I learned to order Bob Armstrong, which wasn't on the menu, at Matt's. And I loved it. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Bob Armstrong dip is by far, my favorite! I was first introduced to it at Mattito's in Uptown Dallas and have been hooked ever since. It was our go to appetizer on birthdays and other special events. Now that I'm in NY, this will great way to warm up for the Super Bowl! Thanks!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Not Your Mama's Martha--Tex-Mex is indeed awesome. Thanks for spreading the word in San Francisco!

Emily--You're welcome. It's always a first stop for me, too!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Megan--Yep, I remember those days. You'd order it and then wonder who was Bob Armstrong.

Unknown--You're welcome! I have to admit that I've never been to Mattitos--I need to go there next time I'm in Big D.

Smalltowngirl said...

Just had this yesterday at lunch...we call it queso compuesto here in my small town (West Texas). Yummy stuff!!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Smalltowngirl--The first time I encountered the term "queso compuesto" was in Marfa. It's definitely a West Texas thing!

Anonymous said...

Just died and went to heaven. Thanks, Lisa!

Debra in TX

D.L. Thomas said...

We eat this a lot at most rest. in Houston, and I've made it many times. New recipe for me to try. I'm wondering about the American cheese? Sorry but I only know about sliced American cheese that comes in a package. Is this cheddar I guess?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Debra--You're welcome!

DL--I got my American cheese from the deli department at my supermarket. They can cut you a 1-pound block that's easier to shred (and less expensive) than using the pre-wrapped American cheese slices.

Mary said...

Yes the blue box American cheese is usually next to the yellow Velveeta, is grateable and is also fantastic for mac n' cheese.

Jenilu said...

Love queso, my late dear Hubby made it always during superbowl, but he added browned jimmy deans hot sausage to the crockpot then the rest of the ingredients and let it crock!! Yes queso compuesta is very popular in Corpus Christi. One nice place has it with seafood or other yummy meats. :-)

Tamara said...

I just found your blog, via Smitten Kitchen.I grew up in San Angelo, Tx but have been away from TX for about 11 years. Im so excited to dig into a bowl of Bob soon ... and all your other recipes! Thanks!

erica said...

The lovely people at Matt's will graciously accommodate a non-meat request for this dip by subbing the taco meat with refried beans. It's delicious too!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the background story on the name of this dip. My uncle was Bob Armstrong – not the one whose name is on this dip – but when I first saw this on the menu, I thought maybe he was better known than I thought. :-)

janmaus said...

I lived in Austin between 1985 and 2000, but only had this queso version in Dallas. Of course, most of the time in Austin, we ordered queso fundido con rajas, so it was our own fault we missed this deliciousness

Lea Ann (Cooking On The Ranch) said...

I love a good recipe with a good story. Thanks for sharing.

Robert said...

Dear Lisa - thanks for this post AND the recipe. I fondly recall Matt's and the then "off-the-menu" Bob Armstrong dip from when my wife and I lived in the Lakewood neighborhood. Now we've been in beautiful [really] Glen Ridge, NJ for almost 20 years, [current temp = BRRRR]. What do we miss most? Good Tex-Mex & BBQ. We WILL be trying this recipe at home in the near future.

Gail Morton said...

During a recent lunch at Matt's, a nice looking gray haired gentleman was walking around, sipping a margarita. He stopped at our table and introduced himself as THE Bob Armstrong! Pretty cool!

Anonymous said...

I grew up just south of Austin in San Marcos, and never knew about Bob dip. Will make some tonight!

Janus said...

There's a Velveeta shortage? It must be only in certain areas, because there is plenty of Velveeta in all of the supermarkets in my area. Not to mention the various store brand versions thereof.

Anonymous said...

Not only does this sound like a terrific spin on queso, who can turn down a glorious snack so popular it can simply go by it's first name?! Bob, welcome to our Super Bowl party! Thanks.

Cindy said...

This sounds so good....I have made "American cheese dip" in years past and never thought of using for this....duh....like the idea of using beans too....next trip to Texas I am definately going to try this restaurant! Love your blog!

David Lloyd said...

“Bob” and I have been friends for over forty years.

In the late ‘sixties to mid ‘seventies my parents lived in San Antonio, and I would drive there from my home in Fort Worth every two months. Always—ALWAYS—I stopped in Austin (coming and going) to eat at Matt’s El Rancho. One afternoon I overheard Matt Jr. talking with a man about his layered queso dip. That man I later found out was Bob Armstrong and he was telling Matt how to make it for him. Matt disappeared for a while and came back to serve Bob a big bowl of the stuff. I thought it looked great, but I had already eaten, so I paid up and left. When I returned to Austin a couple of months later everyone was eating it. And so have I ever since.

Shelley said...

If you were on a desert island with one avocado and could choose one spice to have at hand--what would it be?

Stacey said...

We always get at least two bowls of this wondrous creation at Alamo Café in San Antonio. I can't wait to make it myself Sunday, with chorizo of course.

Carol said...

My husband and I ate regularly at El Rancho for years but somehow missed the Armstrong queso. Now we live in Wisconsin so I have to make my own Tex Mex (easy to do with your wonderful recipes). We tried the queso last night with soy crumbles instead of taco meat and it worked out really well. Had to restrain ourselves from scarfing it all down in one sitting. Thanks!

purplerangerfood said...

That's one small dip for a Texan, one giant dip for Texaskind.

And on a slightly different note, YAY! You and Grilled Cheese Social both posted new entries the same day!

Jennifer Robinson said...

LOVE! I just found your blog and this is the first post? So fun!

Bob is my favorite. I'm in Dallas and my husband and I have a nerdy tradition of stopping at Matt's for Bob and margaritas after every trip. I never thought of making it, but I'm definitely going to try!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa, make your way to Brooklyn for velveeta... this supposed shortage must have skipped us, as both the Key Food and Foodtown in Williamsburg were both stocked FULL as of this week... I think the shortage was used to drum up press for queso. Which, as a homesick Texan myself, I wholeheartedly support.
All the best,
Tom

Anonymous said...

I eat at Matt's (the original) several times a month and they've never put sour cream in the Bob Armstrong dip (side note -- Bob still comes into the Austin location and told me once that he only put guacamole in his dip when he started asking them to make it this way and that Matt (the older one) put the taco meat in it later when customers asked for it -- I'm not saying which story is true and Bob's memory may be fuzzy). Regardless, do they make this dip differently in the similarly named restaurants outside of Austin? I'm not sure if they're all same as Matt's Original El Rancho, so it could be some sort of legal issue where the others have to add sour cream? Not sure why I'm so interested in queso this morning.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Mary--Good to know!

Jenilu--That's a fine addition to queso!

Tamara--Happy cooking!

Erica--Thanks for the tip!

Unknown--Ha, what a great story!

Janmaus--I'm also a fan of queso fundido.

Lea Ann--You're welcome!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Robert--Yep, that's what I miss, too.

Gail--Very cool indeed!

Anon--It's never too late!

Janus--Yes there is in some parts of the country.

Anon--It's a great name!

Cindy--Yes, I can't wait to try it with beans myself.

David--What a great story! Thanks for sharing!

Shelley--One spice for my avocado? I don't generally add spices to my guacamole though I would hope garlic was available.

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Stacey--Chorizo is a fine addition!

Carol--Oh, that's good to know it's terrific with soy crumbles!

Purpleranger--Glad you're happy!

Jennifer--That's a fine way to welcome yourselves home!

Tom--Good to know! I haven't seen any in Manhattan but it's always hard to find here. And yes, I wouldn't be surprised if you're analysis of the situation is correct. It certainly received a ton of press!

Anon--The story and recipe I based my post on came from Matt, Jr., so who knows?

Irishaggie said...

Awesome. When I was growing up in East Dallas my folks and I would frequent Matt's and we ordered the Bob Armstrong. It was never listed on the menu. Thanks so much for posting this recipe. Homesick in Portland, OR.

Lupita Laber said...

Love your blog and recipes. How would you recommend serving this for Super Bowl party so it stays warm? In a crock?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Irishaggie--I remember those days!

Lupita Laber--Yes, I'd keep it in a slow cooker.

Anonymous said...

Does this need to be served fresh or can I make it the night before and slowly reheat the next day?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Anon--You can make-ahead the taco meat and the queso and then reheat but I'd make the guacamole the day of your party.

LB said...

Thanks for the lovely Matt's flashback! My (homesick) Texas boyfriend and I live in Boston but used to live near Lakewood (Lower Greenville right on Oram St.). I'm making this as soon as I can get to the store to help us get through the next snow storm.

girlplusdog said...

I agree, thanks for the lovely flashback! I miss Austin and Texas!

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