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If You Ain't First, You're Last: On Losing the World Cheese Dip Championship

Sara Deseran | October 31, 2014 | Story Restaurants

Sara Deseran, San Francisco's editor-at-large and co-owner with her husband Joe Hargrave of Tacolicious and Chino, chronicles the continuing adventures of her life in the restaurant world. Reprinted with permission from

San Francisco, a city that purports to love the local, sustainable, and kale salad, you’d think that the queso at Tacolicious would be met with disdain. But au contraire—it’s one of our best sellers. And it’s not just the gauche plebeians who clamor for it. Michael Tusk, the Michelin-starred chef and owner of Quince, has admitted to his queso addiction. I could be wrong, but I think something made unapologetically with Velveeta provides a comfortingly creamy, to-hell-with-it antidote to our city’s often exhausting, holier-than-thou food scene. But I might be projecting.

How Joe and I came to love cheese dip enough to put it on the menu is a long story. However, the abridged tale is but two words: Mike Harden. You can read all about our friend, the Arkansas native and cheese-dip aficionado, here and here. For years Mike has encouraged us to fly to his adopted hometown of Little Rock—a city that makes well-documented claims to be the true home of cheese dip—to enter the World Cheese Dip Championship. This year, Tacolicious took the leap.

So last Wednesday, Joe, Telmo, his fiancĂ© Jena, and I arrived at SFO with a bright yellow suitcase, packed to the point of breaking, full of ice and 15 pounds of our housemade chorizo. Also packed: 1 gallon of our escabeche (pickled jalapenos, carrots, and cauliflower), “Chip Happens” t-shirts that I had made, and Jay-Z–style gold chip medallions DIY’ed by Telmo who had discovered his inner Etsy.

Telmo gets ready to rumble.

After a stop-over in Memphis, including a sick amount of barbecue and fried chicken (a food tour which merits its own blog), we found ourselves on a warm autumn night in a rented kitchen in downtown Little Rock listening to “Insane in the Membrane” and giddily putting 45 pounds of Velveeta on the stove. In total, we made 14 gallons of cheese dip spiked with chorizo, escabeche, and chipotle en adobo. We tasted it and, perhaps arrogantly, deemed it a winner.

The next morning, we drove to the Big Box land of Little Rock and ponied up for some flair for our booth, plus an extra hot pot to warm our cheese at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I’d packed our Mexican Virgin Mary candles to decorate the table, but after driving past Arkansas’s endless Pentecostal churches, I thought the better of the rest at

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