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Restaurants & Bars 1

Chile con queso face-off: Tortilla Heights vs. Velvet Cantina

kimchee | Apr 23, 200607:12 PM

Yes, chile con queso. That bad-for-you-but-oh-so-yummy nacho cheese dip, and one of my top guilty pleasures. Being from the midwest, chile con queso is rampant there, and everytime I have to go see my in-laws in Texas, at least I have chile con queso to look forward to. For the 3 years I've lived in the Bay Area, I've never seen queso on a menu, and now there are 2 places! I know there's lots of traditional mexican around here, but I really like tex-mex.

Tried out Tortilla Heights in lower Pacific Heights a few weeks ago. It's been open a few months and kind of like a local version of Chevy's. Some interesting latin-inspired mixed drink options with pomegranate juice, tangerine juice, etc. House made chips, light and fresh. Salsa had NO flavor. Actually I think the bigger problem is that it had no salt, and there is none on the tables to help it out. I asked for something hotter and they brought out a small helping of habanero salsa. It was very hot and you just need to add a dash to the regular salsa, but still not much improved. Heat + no flavor + no salt = fiery diced tomatoes. Also shared an order of shrimp fajitas, and the shrimp were WAY overcooked, like rubber. Service was not efficient.

But onto the main event: the queso. Perfect! Not too thick, not too thin, more of a white than yellow, good amount of chiles, not too many tomatoes, and an excellent flavor. We actually ordered a 2nd bowl. I know that's wrong, but they were small and I couldn't help it. You can also get it with chicken or chorizo added. All queso versions are $7 (which is a little pricey).

The atmosphere is pretty cheesy with latin decor everywhere, fountains, families, young yuppies. It's loud also. They have a bar area. The good thing is that the owner was going around to each table to ask how everything was & for suggestions on how to improve. Hopefully they'll have better salsa next time.

Last night we tried Velvet Cantina in the Mission on 23rd. Also house-made tortilla chips, but much thicker. The queso was dark yellow, which can only mean one thing...cheddar! Cheddar is not the official cheese of queso, and american cheese truly suits it better, because it keeps it smooth. It was pretty decent, but due to the cheddar I presume, the texture suffered as time passed, tasting more chalky. The flavor was more "smoky" tasting than Tortilla Heights.

They also have a good drink menu (mango, cucumber concoctions). The place was down-right rambunctious around 10:00, with Mission hipsters pre-/post- bar hopping. Shrimp Diablo with grilled thin peppers & onions had great spice, but a little more "BBQ sauce-like" flavor than I prefer. Lots of shrimp. Avocado-cactus enchiladas were very good (jalapeno cream sauce and cilantro pesto - yum). These are also avaliable with chicken, and their chicken is all ORGANIC! Beef is not organic. Service was fine and prices are good with entrees around $10. Too much food and drink to try those bizarre sounding smores nachos or peantut butter chocolate tamales.

Overall, Tortilla Heights definitely wins the queso challenge.

1750 Divisadero St at Sutter
Tue-Sun 11am-2am
no reservations

3349 23rd St at Bartlett
5:30 - 10:30 Sun - Thurs
5:30 - 11:00 Fri & Sat
takes reservations

Link: http://velvetcantina.com/

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