Sausage City: Chorizo Queso Fundido at Big Star
Big Star opened some three years ago, but trying to get a table in the summer, you'd think it was the hottest new spot in town. The place is so busy it's become a hassle; getting elbowed by tattood hipsters and treated poorly by a hostess too cool for school is not high on a list of pleasurable summer activities.
And yet, I keep going back. Maybe I'm drawn by pitchers of margaritas or cheap shots of whiskey. (It could also be the cheap, almost universally good food). But I do know that I crave one thing more than any other, which they've wisely never taken off the menu: the salty bubbling queso fundido ($8.00).
Obviously, sausage doesn't always have to come in a casing. In Mexican cuisine, chorizo is often crumbled and fried until it's crisp. (I'm especially a fan of it mixed with cubed potatoes and sutffed into tortillas.) The result is spicy, porky goodness. When it's homemade, the types of chiles and levels of spice can be better controlled, as can the qualty of pork. And the chorizo they turn out at Big Star is top-notch.
Queso fundido, often seved with chorizo, is perhaps the most indulgent use of the stuff ever. The gooey bowl of melty cheese is only a distant cousin of chile con queso; in fact, it's actually authentically Mexican and, when done right, is far more balanced.
At Big Star, the queso fundido is heated just until it's melted but no longer, so it doesn't break and become oily. It's served with tortillas—the melty cheese layered in amongst the chorizo—along with rajas (strips of smoky, skinned poblano chiles) and the housemade chorizo. The rajas give it a crucial spiciness to cut through some of the richness.
A pass under the broiler gives it a caramelized, crisp top, and a sprinkling of dried oregano adds an aromatic and almost floral note to the richness of everything else.
The menu at Big Star changes often, sometimes sadly (I miss the huitlacoche tacos like mad). But the queso is a reliable mainstay I've come to depend on—just like Big Star itself. Once you've tasted it, it's almost impossible to resist ordering. And the good thing is, you don't have to.