Appetizer Tex-Mex

Queso with black beans, Austin style

Queso with black beans, Austin style | Homesick Texan

When I was in my early 20s living in Austin, after a night on the town my friends and I would find ourselves at one of the city’s all-night cafes. The menus at these establishments were vast and we had the choice of anything from pancakes to migas to burgers to tacos. But the one item that always hit the table without fail was an order of queso, an always-welcome bowl of sunshine that let us know life is sweet.

In Austin, there are a multitude of iconic chile con quesos. For instance, there’s Bob Armstrong Dip, a hearty dish that’s loaded with guacamole and taco meat. Also beloved is Kerbey Lane’s queso, a creamy white-cheese dip lashed with green chiles.

The one I associate the most with the capital city, however, is a molten bowl enhanced with black beans, pico de gallo, and avocado slices such as Magnolia Cafe’s Mag Mud. This combination of silky cheese, spicy beans, and lively fruits and vegetables has a warm aura of good health, which makes it perhaps the most emblematic Austin queso of all. 

As restaurants have been struggling during these challenging times, I was saddened to learn that the original Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard was closing for good. While the South Austin outpost on Congress Avenue is still here, it was the West Austin one that my friends and I used to frequent the most, as its laidback vibes set amongst the hilly, natural beauty of that part of town always made it a welcome place to chill after a long night or hectic day.

Queso with black beans, Austin style | Homesick Texan


The restaurant first opened in 1979 as The Omelettry West, with the original Omelettry beginning its long run the year before in North Austin on Burnett. The Omelettry is where the inclusion of black beans to Tex-Mex breakfast plates first became popular in Austin, and when the married managers of Omelettry West, Kent Cole and Patricia Atkinson, bought out the owners and changed it to the Magnolia Café in 1987, that Austin-style flourish continued.

A year later, the couple divorced, with Patricia starting Kerbey Lane Café, another all-night diner famous for both queso and black beans. Magnolia Café at this time also opened its Congress Avenue location, so it’s been around almost as long as the first.

Queso with black beans, Austin style | Homesick Texan

Despite that longevity, however, I still associate the first Clarksville Magnolia as the quintessential cafe. It was even immortalized in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” with the protagonist sitting in its bright dining room, dipping his chips into a bowl of queso and deciding that luscious blend of chiles and cheese gave purpose to his life.

I agree. And when you enhance that elixir with black beans, pico de gallo, and avocado, life comes into focus and you realize it’s a beautiful, sunny treat.

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Queso with black beans, Austin style | Homesick Texan
5 from 2 votes
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Queso with black beans, Austin style

Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound shredded yellow American cheese
  • 1 (4-ounce) can green chiles and its juices
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • Salt
  • 1 cup cooked black beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup pico de gallo
  • 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
  • Torilla chips, for serving

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter on medium-low. Add the onion and jalapeño and while occasionally stirring cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
  2. Whisk together the cornstarch, milk, and water until well combined then pour into the pot. Bring to a simmer and while stirring cook for a couple of minutes until it begins to thicken, then add the cheese. Turn the heat down to low and while stirring cook until the cheese has melted.
  3. Stir in the green chiles, cilantro, cumin, and cayenne then taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt if needed. If the queso seems too thick, you may thin it with more milk or water.
  4. Transfer the queso to a serving bowl, a slow cooker, or a chafing dish over a flame. Top with the black beans, pico de gallo, and avocado slices. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Recipe Notes

To avoid unwrapping multiple cheese slices, you can get American cheese in blocks from the deli counter at your grocery store. I also like to use Kraft's Deli Deluxe, which has a good flavor and also comes in 1-pound packages, unwrapped.  

  1. Cynthia Jauregar

    Thank you! Have lived in Dallas area most of my life. I do make my pilgrimage to Austin 2-3 times a year. I love that queso dip! Make my own version too. Will miss going to Austin this year ( Covid-19).

    • Lisa Fain

      Cynthia–I hear you! I miss traveling to Austin, as well. Hopefully the world will return to a more normal state soon.

  2. TexaCaliGerman

    Can you suggest a substitute for “American” cheese? I live in Germany and have managed to find most of what I need to make pretty good Tex-Mex… except for queso. We do have cheddar, but it’s the wrong consistency and Emmentaler and Butterkäse aren’t quite right, either. Danke schön!

    • Lisa Fain

      TexaCaliGerman–Hmmm…I would have suggested butterkase as readers have used it. Some have also cooked with edam or gouda. Perhaps Romadur would work. But to get that American-cheese texture, which comes from an emulsification you’d need something processed, and I’ve seen Schmelzkäse suggested.

    • stone_cold

      when I don’t want to use american cheese I go the modernist route and use sodium citrate mixed with the liquid I am using. sodium citrate is the ingredient that makes velveeta and american cheese and land o lakes redimelt melt so well.

      • Lisa Fain

        Stone_Cold–That also works! In my Queso book, I share a recipe for making processed cheese with it. Basically it’s 1 teaspoon sodium citrate heated with 1/2 cup liquid, then after it’s dissolved you stir in 2 cups shredded cheese and stir until melted. TexaCaliGerman–In the States, you can find it at Kalustyan’s and on Amazon. I’m not sure where you can find it where you are, however. Any shop that sells modernist cuisine ingredients or perhaps a restaurant supply.

  3. I have tried dozens of queso recipes and this one (got it from your Queso! book) is my absolute favorite! The consistency and flavor is PERFECT. Everyone always asks for the recipe. I must admit—I’ve started cutting corners by skipping the onion, jalapeños and chiles and dumping either a jar of Central Market hatch salsa or Texapeño salsa from HEB. Same great taste! Just wanted to say thank you for the recipe, from a fellow queso queen.

    • Lisa Fain

      Regan–Thank you for the kind words, my fellow queso queen! And thank you for the short-cut tip. Next time I’m at Central Market I’ll pick up a jar of salsa and give it a spin!

  4. Deborah Good

    It’s been a long time since I’ve left Austin, but I remember both Kerbey Lane and Magnolia Cafe. Brings back such good memories; thanks for highlighting them. This queso is so good; I didn’t have enough American cheese so added some small cubes of sharp cheddar and Monterrey Jack. I loved the black beans on top. A bowl of this and a margarita and that’s all I needed. Delicious!

    • Lisa Fain

      Deborah–That’s excellent to know that it still works with the addition of some sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack. And I’m so glad that a bowl of this queso with a margarita took you back to Austin and was just what you needed. Hooray!

  5. I made this dish yesterday. My husband was so impressed by the taste. It was really delicious. Thank you so much for the recipe, we had a good dinner together.

  6. Sadly the Lake Austin Magnolia Cafe has closed for good, although the one on South Congress will be open again when things get better. Sadly, I’m another who will miss my annual Austin trip and queso fix.

    • Lisa Fain

      Janet–It’s very sad news, I agree. Though I’m grateful that the South Congress location is still there as well as Matt’s El Rancho, which also serves a very fine queso and has a lovely patio to enjoy it on as well.

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