Mexican-ish: How Arkansas Came to Love Cheese Dip (Gravy Ep. 32)

The winner of the World Cheese Dip Competition, held in Little Rock, AR on October 31st, 2015: Poblano Goat Cheese Dip from Café @ Heifer. Photo by Tina Antolini.

There’s a dish you’ll find at every kind of restaurant in Little Rock, from the pizza places to the burger joints: cheese dip. How did it become so beloved in Arkansas? And what does it reveal about the state’s past—and present? In this episode of Gravy, Dana Bialek and I investigate this story of highways, demographic changes, and a food’s shifting identity over time.

You can find Kat Robinson’s website—and her write-up of last fall’s 5th Annual World Cheese Dip Championship—here.

Cheese Dip at Lost 40 Brewing, Little Rock, AR.
Cheese Dip at Lost 40 Brewing, Little Rock, AR.

Here’re some of the restaurants we visited in Little Rock, in order of appearance in the episode:

Mexico ChiquitoTrio’s RestaurantLost 40 Brewing (one of Scott McGeehee’s Yellow Rocket Concepts restaurants), and Fonda Mexican Cuisine and Tequila Bar.

Eduardo Martinez teaches Dana Bialek how to eat Queso Fundido at his restaurant, Fonda Mexican Cuisine & Tequila Bar, in Little Rock, AR.
Eduardo Martinez teaches Dana Bialek how to eat Queso Fundido at his restaurant, Fonda Mexican Cuisine & Tequila Bar, in Little Rock, AR.

Arkansas’ Tourism Bureau has conveniently put together a “Cheese Dip Trail,” which you can find here.

And, of course, a passionate Arkansan (named Nick Rogers) made a film about cheese dip, called In Queso Fever.

Cheese Dip at U.S. Pizza Co., Little Rock, AR.
Cheese Dip at U.S. Pizza Co., Little Rock, AR.