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Queso is the Spanish word for cheese but (in the US) it is often used to refer to a cheese-based dip or sauce for tortilla chips.

When I google "what is queso?", Google says "short for chile con queso". Looking it up on Wikipedia leads to a disambiguation page where the page for Chile con Queso looks like the relevant result. That page says chile con queso is "sometimes described simply as queso".

However I'm also finding a lot of people who think that it is just a cheese sauce that doesn't have anything to do with chile.

So is queso short for chile con queso or are they distinct dishes?

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    The two choices you gave aren't mutually exclusive: the term can be ambiguous. – Cascabel Jan 22 '17 at 15:22
  • This is queso. – David Richerby Jan 22 '17 at 17:52
  • Hey, there've been a lot of people answering about the literal "cheese" Spanish meaning even though you're pretty clearly aware of that and asking about the sauce, so I've tweaked the title - hopefully that helps. – Cascabel Feb 12 '17 at 18:29
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Google is correct, in that it can be a shortening of 'chile con queso' (most typically in the US to non-spanish speakers). But 'chile' is not the same as 'chili'.

'Chile' refers to peppers, so the dip is 'peppers with cheese'.

'Chili' is either an alternate spelling for the peppers, but more commonly in the US, it's a dish made from meat, tomatoes and chile peppers (chili con carne, literally 'peppers with meat')

And as Cindy pointed out, 'queso' may simply mean cheese and not a cheese dip. (typically of a central or south american variety of cheese; in the US typically queso blanco, queso seca or queso fresca). As best I can tell in the US, this is the more likely meaning when used by Spanish speakers.

update: and to make things even more confusing from an entomology standpoint: it's quite possible that 'chile con queso' led to 'queso dip' and shortly after lost its 'chile' ... and it's actually 'queso dip' that's been shortened to 'queso' by Americans.

  • 'Chile' might also be a country. – Joe Jan 22 '17 at 17:18
  • When I said chilli I meant the peppers. I've changed the spelling in my question to remove the ambiguity. – Richard Jan 22 '17 at 21:01
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    I think the missing piece here for the OP is that the chiles are optional. Once people think of "queso" as meaning a cheese dip with chiles in it, it's very easy for them to give the same name to the same thing without the chiles. So the answer to the OP's "which is it?" question is both. – Cascabel Jan 22 '17 at 21:16
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    +1 for the update. I think you're onto something. From the wikipedia article: Although chile con queso is commonly called "queso", it should not be confused with "cheese dip," which is specifically cheese without the peppers. (End quote.) Also I looked at several menus from Tex-Mex restaurants. All specify what type of dip, e.g. Chile Con Queso, Queso Dip, etc., but I didn't find any that only said 'Queso'. – Cindy Jan 23 '17 at 17:31
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    @Cindy : that might be due to formal vs. informal speech. It could also be due to the people writing the menus being spanish speakers. A restaurant also wouldn't want ambiguity as it could end up having food sent back and upset customers. (I was once in Italy, and ordered the Ragù Bolognese. As I was an english speaker, the waiter made sure that I understood it was not the British 'spag bol') – Joe Jan 23 '17 at 18:50
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Translated to English, queso means cheese. There are many kinds of Mexican cheeses and most are widely available.

The popular cheese dip, chile con queso, is melted cheese with chile peppers. Some where along the way, it became a 'thing' to simply call it queso.

From Bon appétit :

Get your mind out of the bowl of gooey Tex-Mex dip. When we say queso, we’re talking the many varieties of fresh white Mexican cheeses, which are distinctly salty and springy. They tend to taste more of milk than butter or cream, and range from melty to crumbly—you can even grill some of them. To go deep on Mexican cheese, you don't need to shell out at the fancy dairy counter. Seek out these inexpensive favorites (and their rad retro packaging) at your local Latin grocery.

A few popular types of Mexican cheeses are queso fresco, queso blanco, queso chihuahua, cotija, and asadero.

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    My question is about the cheese dip known as 'queso', I'm not asking about varieties of mexican cheese. You suggest that when referring to a cheese dip, 'queso' is a shortening of 'chile con queso'. Do you have a source to back up that claim? – Richard Jan 22 '17 at 13:56
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    Richard, you provided a source in your question. As per my answer, queso is not a 'dish', it is cheese. – Cindy Jan 22 '17 at 15:03
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    @Cindy Well, it's both, depending on who's speaking and the context. Most English-only Americans use it to mean the dip/dish, while Spanish speakers use it to mean cheese, with some blurring in the middle. – Cascabel Jan 22 '17 at 15:35
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It depends on the region and the context.

If my wife sends me to store for hamburger I know she means packaged ground beef. At a restaurant if I order hamburger I will get a cooked patty with a bun.

Queso is the Spanish word for cheese. At the grocery store I would (typically) buy the cheese. At a bar if I order queso I will get chile con queso. Chile con queso is a dish often shortened to queso.

I think most people would consider the dish queso to have chilies but it is going to depend on the person.

Some people don't serve beans with chili.

  • Yup - though note that the question is entirely in the context of the dip, so the issue is really just what a dip called "queso" might be, e.g. as the OP asked, is it still called queso if it doesn't have chiles? – Cascabel Feb 12 '17 at 18:25
  • Yup, for sure. Thanks for amending your answer to address it though! – Cascabel Feb 12 '17 at 18:35

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