Appetizer Tex-Mex

Felix queso

Felix queso DSC6409

So, first things first. I never had the famed Felix queso at its original home, a Southeast Texas regional chain of restaurants owned and operated by the late Tex-Mex pioneer Felix Tijerina that first opened in 1937. I’m not sure why my family never ate there but perhaps it’s because we’re Dallas transplants, and the people who are mad about Felix were usually born and bred in the Houston area.

That said, for years I’ve heard nothing but both praise and derision for this queso. The latter is due mainly to its peculiar appearance (some poorly lit photos make it look like unappealingly oily and inedible), while the former is due to its unique flavor and texture. And for those that love Felix queso, they really, really, really love it. It is so adored, in fact, that when the last standing Felix restaurant on Westheimer closed in 2008, people placed gallon-sized orders of the queso to stockpile in their freezers. These fans couldn’t bear life without their beloved dip.

Fortunately, another Houston restaurant named El Patio bought the rights to the Felix recipes and you can now get many of the old favorites there, such as the cheese enchiladas, the crispy tacos, and of course, said queso. Since no book about queso would be complete without a recipe for this Houston icon, last year when I was doing my queso tour across Texas while doing my research, I made a stop there one afternoon. I was thrilled to finally eat Felix queso at last.

When I got to the the restaurant it was around three in the afternoon, which is in-between meals so the room was quiet. I sat down and the waitress brought me a menu but without looking at it I told her that I was there for the Felix queso. She beamed and said, “Such a favorite!” I admitted to her that I’d never had it and was a bit dubious because of its bizarre appearance, but she shook her head and said it was excellent and that she ate it all the time. I placed my order then snacked on the crisp, salty chips and refreshing tomato salsa as I waited.

A few minutes later, she brought me my queso and it was indeed as odd looking in person as it was in photos. Perhaps not as ugly as some of the images I had seen, but it sat solid in the bowl like a whipped putty with a moat of red oil beginning to form on the queso’s outer edges. I grabbed a chip and made the first dip.

Felix queso | Homesick Texan

By the heft of the queso, I had assumed it would be hard to dip into, but the queso was yielding and my chip easily slid into the bowl. I took my chip, now loaded with cheese, and took a bite. Now, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the queso was rich with the earthy notes of ancho chile, cumin, and paprika, and there was a hint sweetness from tomatoes and onions, too. It was the flavor profile of classic Tex-Mex. As for the texture, it was surprisingly fluffy and while it was certainly thick it wasn’t heavy but instead pillow soft. To be honest, Felix queso is kind of hard to describe but I happily kept eating it and now understood why it was so beloved. There is no other queso quite like it.

After taking notes, when I returned home I attempted to make my own batch. After trying several recipes that have appeared over the years in various Houston publications that were all different, and after reading an interview with Felix’s wife where she revealed that ancho chile played a key role, I came up with my own amalgamation, which not only appears in my book but I’m also sharing with you today.

Purists may scoff that it’s not entirely accurate, but the slick of chile-spiced oil pooled on a thick bed of melted cheese is present and deliciously unique. And if you never had a chance to visit Felix when it was open or don’t have plans to be in Houston soon to go to El Patio, I suggest trying this unique queso. It’s not only a Tex-Mex classic and a piece of Texas culinary history, but it’s also just fun to eat.

The process to make the queso is a bit unusual, since after you cook down the tomatoes and aromatics with the spices you then stir in a paste made from water and flour. It’s not a classic roux, but this paste does give the queso its distinct texture. There’s a lot of stirring involved, but it does go quickly and once you scoop the queso into a bowl and pass the tortilla chips, I imagine that the queso will disappear quickly, too. Felix queso may be curious but it’s also wonderful. And while I’m late to the party, I’m so glad that I finally arrived.

Felix queso DSC6409
4.75 from 4 votes

Felix queso

Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain


  • 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1⁄4 cup diced yellow onion
  • 3⁄4 cup diced grape tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄4 cup water
  • 8 ounces yellow American cheese, shredded
  • Tortilla chips, for serving


  1. In a medium saucepan, warm the oil over low heat. Add the onion, tomatoes, garlic, chili powder, paprika, salt, and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have almost completely disintegrated, 6 to 8 minutes.
  2. Whisk together the flour and the water to make a paste, then add it to the pan. Stir a few times until the paste is well combined with the vegetables. Stirring constantly, add the cheese, which should combine quickly. As the cheese melts, the queso will become thick and almost like putty. Don’t be alarmed! This is the proper texture as it is not a creamy queso. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if you like.

  3. Transfer the queso to a serving bowl, a small slow cooker, or a chafing dish over a flame. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Recipe Notes

One of the characteristics of this queso is that the oil separates from the cheese. The amounts of oil used in the various recipes were all over the place but I found ¼ cup provided enough without it being overly greasy. Though if you like it super greasy feel free to add 2 tablespoons more oil.

  1. Anne Fleetwood

    If by any chance there are leftovers, how do you suggest reheating?

    • Lisa Fain

      Anne–Yes, it can be reheated! You can put it in a pot over low (maybe add a touch more oil) and stir while heating, or you can microwave it. Though I have to admit, it’s not bad cold!

  2. My mom was friends with Janie Tijerina as a result of their membership in either the Women’s Club of Houston or Women of Rotary (for the wives of Rotary Club members) and my oldest sister while a freshman in high school went on a couple of dates with Felix Jr. (arranged by the mamas). Their restaurant was our first exposure to TexMex although picky eater that I was at the age of 7, I only ate a fried chicken leg & the queso. I wonder now if the chicken was made as a favor to friends of the owner & the beginning of kids meals. I know that was the beginning of my love affair with all things queso and ultimately TexMex. Apparently, the nut didn’t fall far from the tree, as my son followed the same pattern as a child and since we are Texpats living in North Georgia made it his mission to experience every taqueria he comes across in his travels. Thanks for bringing back a childhood memory and happy travels!

    • Lisa Fain

      TX2GA–What a wonderful story and memory. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Lisa, you made a couple of mentions of ancho chile, I would assume “chili powder” in the ingredient list would be ancho chile powder?

    • Lisa Fain

      Derek–Ancho chile powder is the foundation for commercial chili powde and in the early days of Tex-Mex queso, chili powder was a common addition so I went with that. Back then, people probably didn’t have pure-ground ancho chile powder available, but a bottle of chili powder, such as Gebhardt’s, would have been sold in most Texas stores.

  4. I grew up in Houston in the 50’s. My parents knew Felix Tijerina and his lovely wife. Their queso was the best and yours is similar. To be honest, back then we couldn’t get grape tomatoes so very ripe tomatoes were used. The texture is the same but his was not as spicy..good job though.

    • Lisa Fain

      PD–Ripe tomatoes are always better, they’re just so hard to find except during their brief season but at least grape/cherry tomatoes are delicious and available year round! Glad you liked it!

  5. Anonymous

    Just had some last Friday, at El Patio. I grew up, eating Felix’s. Every birthday, both or one of my parents would take me there for lunch and dinner ! I never got tired of their food. There has never been another “Tex-Mex restaurant, that can compare. My parents had their rehearsal dinner there in 1951. When their last restaurant closed on Westheimer, it was like losing a family member. El Patio definitely nailed the queso !

    • Lisa Fain

      Anon–El Patio serving the old recipes has been such a gift to Felix fans! It’s good to know they nailed the queso. And how wonderful that your parents had their rehearsal dinner there. The restaurant was a part of your family.

  6. One of the churches (in the appearance list) your Mom’s?

  7. Shirley Thompson

    Your narrative refers to “ancho” chili powder; even that the Felix’s wife said it played a key role. However, your recipe calls for “chili powder”. Do you not consider “ancho” chili powder crucial?

    • Lisa Fain

      Shirley–Ground ancho chile powder is the foundation for most commercial chili powders

  8. schoolmaven

    Loved reading the article, ate at Felix’s several times with family and friends and I remember that queso very well….we are going to be at St. Mary’s Nov. 14 to see you there with one or two cookbooks…..

    • Lisa Fain

      Schoomaven–Their queso was pretty unforgettable! And I look forward to seeing you at St. Mary’s on the 14th!

  9. marla.mcmahan

    Just bought tickets for the queso tasting in San Antonio on November 11th. Looking forward to seeing you there.

  10. Anonymous

    Cheese brands vary so please tell the brand of cheese you used. Thank you.

    • Lisa Fain

      Anon–For American cheese, I like Andrew & Everett, Applegate Naturals, Horizon Organics, Trader Joe’s, and Kraft Deli Deluxe.

  11. sara cheri

    I just made and it’s wonderful. I’m so glad to find a tastier way to make queso. My husband will be thrilled..he loves this stuff,always orders it.

  12. I just made it and I was quite pleasantly surprised. It is definitely addictive. It seems that any good American style cheese works well. I was really surprised at the sort of paste consistency but it dips and tastes great!

  13. Gail Dosik

    Holy wow, Lisa! Another winner!

  14. xiutecuhtli

    I’m going to express a dissenting opinion. I made the Felix queso and followed your recipe as written (I have learned better than to start modifying the FIRST time round), but … I couldn’t bring myself to like it. It was a lumpy, oily mess.

    • Lisa Fain

      Xiutecuhtli–I’m so sorry you didn’t like it, though I will admit that it’s definitely an acquired taste!

  15. Patty Hall

    Gosh, thank you for writing about Felix’s on Westimer in Houston. My first Mexican food was eaten there. I am 72 so that was a bit of an old memory.

    My son was wanting queso and enchiladas tonight. I have your cookbooks and decided to gift him with your great cookbooks.

    I can’t wait for more delicious recipes from you

    • Lisa Fain

      Patty–Thank you! I’m sad it’s no longer around as is it was such an iconic Houston place.

  16. Courtney Farmer

    Is processed American cheese ok? I gave queso fresco, Colby Jack and cheddar too. Thanks.

    • Lisa Fain

      Courtney–Yes, processed American cheese is what you want to use.

  17. Carla M

    It’s a little decadent with all that oil, but the way it comes together creates a heavenly melody …. mmmm! I got my first Felix queso in the early 1980s… unforgettable!!!!! Mwah!!!

  18. Rene Teel

    Oh what memories 50 years worth! My parents took me to Felix’s whenever we visited Houston. I introduced my husband to it and then we raised our kids in Houston taking them there monthly for Sunday lunches. The chili cheese enchiladas were also soooo good. Never been able to find better. Along with the salsa, you could tell they had perfected all 3 to compliment one another. I cried when they annpunced closing then yes I ran and got some queso to freeze. The minute I found out El Patio had the recipes I called my huband, jumped in my car and met him there. Ooh was I a happy gal. I live in Austin now but my son lives close to El Patio and almost anytime I visit we head there for a perfect margarita, memories and the best greasy tex-mex meal in Texas.

    • Lisa Fain

      Rene–El Patio has been a lifeline for Felix’s many fans. I always love hearing people’s stories about what Felix’s food and hospitality meant to them. Thanks for sharing!

  19. I tried Felix queso at a restaurant some time ago and loved its unique flavor and texture. The queso was so rich. I haven’t even thought of making it at home (now I’m wondering why). Should definitely give this a try. Gonna follow your recipe precisely. Really in the mood for something like this. Thank you for this idea and all of your useful tips Lisa. I really appreciate it.

    • Lisa Fain

      Ann–It’s certainly unique and while it may look odd, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it after eating it.

  20. A. White

    There is a long standing rumor that the Felix queso included drippings from the taco meat. Not sure if it is true, but it would help explain some of the orange tint to the grease.

  21. Hi, I just made this, and although I’ve eaten quite a bit in a short time, it falls short of my Felix memories. For one, mine is way too thick–not “fluffy” like you mentioned. I did back off a tad on the oil, not much, but some. I used diced canned tomatoes as that was all I had on hand (½ cup). My roux, after adding the flour/water to the veggies seemed dry. I did add some water after the cheese melted because it was waaaay too thick. My flavor is good but doesn’t have the depth of flavor as the original. But, I think the texture is what’s bothering me most. It’s not light and fluffy at all. Maybe I cooked my veggies too long?

    Thanks for the recipe and your help!!

    • Lisa Fain

      Claire–The oil is what creates the emulsification so it’s best not to cut back on it. Also, there’s a bit of a finesse in how much to stir to keep it on the lighter side.

  22. patrice jegi

    I cannot tell you how excited I was to see this article on Felix’s queso!!! I’m sitting at my moms nursing home and doing a window visit with FaceTime audio so we can hear each other through the glass – We spoke of her favorite foods in the world and of course Felix queso came up. I was telling her how said that it was that felixs queso went away when they closed – then I decided to search the internet and see if anyone had the recipe and that is how I can to your article !! We were soooooo happy to find out that El Patio serves Felix queso !!! This was a joy for my mom to hear too! We now have a lunch date this week at our glass door to have Felix tacos and queso!!! THANK YOU!!
    Pat and Patrice

    • Lisa Fain

      Patrice–What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing this moment with your mom! Enjoy the queso and the memories!

  23. I saw this years ago, and I saved this page as an if-I-ever-go-to-Texas. Who knew years later, I’d move from North Eastern Ohio to just south of Houston. I remembered this page, looked it up and couldn’t wait to go to Felix!! I was told it was just another basic Mexican restaurant; that went in one ear and straight out the other. I just ordered some chips and queso to go. I was so excited to finally try real queso for the first time!! And.. it was horrible!! I don’t know what happened where and when, but don’t go there for queso! It was a thick flour paste that had a very strong onion flavor. I couldn’t detect any cheese flavor. It had a layer of lard/oil floating around on top and in some pockets. I was trying to eat it just because… and my friend trashed it for me. This place doesn’t have yummy queso like this recipe here!!!! Make this recipe, enjoy it, and go eat somewhere else if you’re in Texas. There are many wonderful places to eat.

    Thank you for the delicious recipes. When I was back in Ohio, I couldn’t get any Mexican Chorizo, so I made yours for years. 😀 Anyone reading this, if you haven’t tried it, it’s a must try!!!

    • Lisa Fain

      Kristi–Welcome to Texas! Glad you enjoyed this recipe and the chorizo recipe! I’m sorry your Felix experience was not as delicious.

  24. Can you elaborate on the stirring technique? This is a longtime favorite of my parents and grandparents when there used to be a Felix’s in Beaumont. Thanks.

    • Lisa Fain

      Jared–After you mix the flour with the vegetables to make a paste, you add the cheese and then keep stirring until its melted. There’s no special technique–just keep stirring!

  25. Carla Martinez

    Why is mine so dark and gloppy? I used shredded mild cheddar instead of American. Otherwise I was very diligent in following the recipe – or so I thought. I don’t know where I went wrong. Its clumpy and brown! Not orange or yellow…. it needs to be creamier somehow?This is the 2nd time I attempted…. same results 🤔🤨🧐😕

    • Lisa Fain

      Carla–It won’t work with Cheddar, you need to use American because that cheese has ingredients in it that will get the queso to emulsify correctly.

  26. Carla Martinez

    Thank you!!! I will try, try again! I did need the guidance : — thanks!

  27. Tom Horne

    I lived in Houston in the 1980s and visited Felix in the Montrose and in the Village every week. I moved to Seattle in 1990 but still think about Felix often. Everything was very elegant; white tablecloths and handsome waiters and oh, that ghastly looking delicious queso. The Montrose location sold beautiful merchandise left over from the original Felix Main Street location. Cheap, delightful TexMex at its best.

    • Lisa Fain

      Tom–I’ve never met anyone who visited Felix who didn’t adore it. Next time you’re in Houston, go to El Patio for the Felix menu. The atmosphere isn’t the same but the food is still good.

  28. Carolyn Blake

    I can’t give it a rating yet as I have a question first about your ingredient…cheese. I have your book but came here to ask….you listed these cheeses as your go to’s. Andrew & Everett, Applegate Naturals, Horizon Organics, Trader Joe’s, and Kraft Deli Deluxe.
    I started going to Felix on Montrose with my family when I was 5, and regularly ate there until they closed. When my father was in his last days and we were caring for him, a friend would make the cross town trek to get Felix queso in large quantities for us as comfort food. Years ago I got the recipe from the Houston Chronicle. I found the cheese is critical and so far I have not found a cheese that makes it taste authentic. All the brands I have tried so far, I get a dark orange, stiff, salty and smooth rubbery texture. I remember it as very soft, slightly pudding like. So of those you named, do you have a favorite?

    • Lisa Fain

      Carolyn–My favorite is probably the Kraft, though I also like the organic deli cheese you can get from Whole Foods.

  29. Carolyn Blake

    5 stars
    With Lisa’s advice about cheese, I just made this and I give it 5 stars. It really takes me back to those wonderful meals at Felix’s back in the 50’s when the waiters would tell me my name in Spanish, and bring us delectable food. Thank you Lisa, as I have been experimenting with this recipe for years, always disappointed. As someone who has eaten a ton of this gold in the good old days…this is it! The only change I made is adding a bit more water because I live in the desert and flour gets dry as dust.

    • Lisa Fain

      Carolyn–Yay! I’m so glad it matched your memories of your beloved Felix queso!

  30. Carolyn Blake

    Now if we could only find the recipes for Felix’s deep fried tacos, and their table salsa. I have looked everywhere! I did find a taco clip, that clips and holds closed the tortillas for deep frying. I ordered one and will try it as soon as it arrives. But oh for how to make their fine grained meat filling. And the table salsa, which they also used on cheese enchiladas, thin, loaded with shredded cooked onions…delicious and mysterious.

    • Lisa Fain

      Carolyn–You have given me a quest, and I will see what I can find!

  31. Richard Forest

    I loved Felix Mexican Restaurant. I love the salsa, the queso, the tamal, the tacos, the creamy beans, the chalupas, the nachos. I remember Mrs. Tijerina chasing sales people out of the place. I remember Frank the waiter who would manually add up the tab with his pad and little pencil. How I miss that place and everything about it. I wish I could taste it again.

    • Lisa Fain

      Richard–Thank you for sharing your memories! Love the image of Mrs. Tijerina chasing sales people out of the restaurant!

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