Molten Cheese – Enjoying the Simplicity of a Mexican Skillet Dish


Queso fundido is a party trick. Just say the words, and hands go up with a pick me sense of urgency. After all, it’s melted cheese. This modest Mexican food tugs on our most primal instincts. Grab a spoon, scoop generously into a handmade corn tortilla, and garner instant smiles.


This dish traditionally cooks over an open flame in cast iron skillets or clay pots. The constant ingredient is cheese. The variables are few. Most, though not all, contain chorizo and can be purchased in the Greater Sacramento area for eight or nine dollars. Many include grilled onions and peppers. Some add beans, avocado, or even mezcal.

Chef Kurt Spataro, co-owner of Paragary Restaurant Group and Centro Cocina Mexicana in Sacramento, known for his expertise on Mexican cuisine, provides basic instructions for making queso fundido successfully. First, he says, keep it simple. The star of this dish is in the name: queso, Spanish for cheese. His recipe calls for a lot of it.

“Don’t skimp on the quality,” Spataro says.

The rest of the ingredients only support the molten (fundido) hero. Thus, queso fundido is ideal for sharing. A small appetizer portion easily will please four people.

In his cookbook, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, chef Rick Bayless says the traditional queso fundido uses a mild, Cheddar-like Chihuahua cheese called asadero. His recipes substitute mozzarella. He recommends using a chewy cheese, rather than one that’s runny or creamy. Yet, many restaurant chefs break from tradition here.

In Sacramento restaurants, you’ll find varying levels of chewiness to dip-like creaminess. Those at Sacramento’s Centro Cocina Mexicana and El Rey are the chewiest. Meanwhile, Zocalo (in Roseville and Midtown Sacramento) and Sacramento’s new La Cosecha by Mayahuel offer slightly wetter, though definitely not runny, consistencies, by combining both firm and softer cheeses.


Spataro suggests another must: Like the cheese, superior add-ins are essential.

“When things are so simple like that, each ingredient is so important,” Spataro says.

At Centro, caramelized onions, roasted poblano pepper strips, and grilled flank steak are stirred into Monterey Jack cheese and topped with a unique morita pepper salsa. Spataro believes the table sauce elevates this basic dish to interesting.

Chef Adam Pechal, who opened La Cosecha in downtown Sacramento this spring, says he wants extra flavor profiles in his queso fundido. His contains mezcal that’s been infused with charred garlic cloves.

One recipe served at Zocalo includes sautéed mushrooms, while El Rey’s features roasted red bell peppers.

Spataro notes that homemade corn tortillas complete the ideal dish.

Importantly, he adds, “It’s hard to go wrong. It’s a good, simple, easy thing for people to do at home. It’s a crowd pleaser.”

Raise your hand if you agree!


Queso fundido


El Rey on K
723 K St., Sacramento

Centro Cocina Mexicana
2730 J St., Sacramento

La Cosecha by Mayahuel
917 9th St., Sacramento

1801 Capitol Ave., Sacramento

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