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Best Thing I Ever Ate: Dips

I've been exploring The Best Things I Ever Ate around town. This time, I was on the hunt for Houston's best dips: creamy avocado ranch, Buffalo chicken, spinach and artichoke - you name it, I've tried it. All while looking for the city's best. And I certainly found it in the Smoky Queso "Knocked Up" by the Bar-Bar at Beaver's. When you can order something "knocked up," you know it's gonna be damn good.

When my fiancé and I first moved to Houston a little over a year ago, we stumbled upon Beaver's by accident (literally stumbled -- we were slightly intoxicated). Our friends had come to visit from New Jersey, and not knowing the lay of the land, the four of us had cabbed it to a wine and pizza joint that we found online. Unfortunately (or as it turns out, not), that pizza joint didn't exist. Instead we ended up at a random bar on Washington, loaded up on some Jack and Cokes, and upon our bartender's suggestion, headed over to Beaver's on Decatur St. (Thank you, bartender, whoever you are and wherever we were; I can't remember exactly).

As we walked up to Beaver's, I experienced a "Land of Oz" moment. According to its website, Beaver's is a "Gastropub Meets Texas Icehouse," but that meant absolutely nothing to me at the time. I knew that we had found the restaurant suggested, as I saw a giant Beaver's sign, but it seemed we were in a cutesy neighborhood. We stepped inside the restaurant, with its walls covered gloriously in beavers (stop it, you sicko) and the sweet scent of smoky barbecue piping through the air. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Jersey anymore.

Confused, excited, and a little drunk, we jumped in a booth and perused the menu. "Excuse me, can you please tell us what 'our bar-bar got caught bangin' the smoky queso' means?" This was, embarrassingly enough, an actual question we asked our waiter that evening. I'm pretty sure he thought we were joking, because we never got an answer. And since we couldn't figure out wtf it meant, we didn't order it.

It wouldn't be until a year later and a couple more visits from patrons of the Trash Dump Garden State that we would experience the love child that is conceived when a smoky cheese sauce and barbecue brisket get freaky. Fresh from the airport, we took our first-time visitors to Beaver's for some good drinks and some Texas-style grub. This time I was prepared, as I expertly ordered the Smoky Queso "Knocked Up." My friend asked me what that meant - I told him not to worry about it (side note: that made me feel really cool).

Tack on a Bad-Ass Po-Boy, a Pit-Boss "Chickwich" or two, and four expertly made cocktails (I tried the Gin N' Jam - Citadelle Gin, Lemon, House-made Pimm's Jam and Soda - and I want at least 10,000 more in my lifetime), and we were ready to go.

Even with all of that, the Smoky Queso & Bar-Bar combo shined through like the beautiful little star that it is. What was set before us was nothing short of a miracle: a Texas-size bowl of gooey smoked asadero cheese with a mound of slow-smoked, chopped barbecue beef shoulder sitting innocently in its center. Screw the Grand Canyon; this is the 8th Wonder of the World.

The white, mild cheese from Mexico is commonly used in traditional queso. But here, it's taken to a new level with a distinctive, yet subtle, smoky flavor, balanced by a kick from slightly spicy green chilies and topped with a fresh pico de gallo. The brisket, smoked daily with oak and maple, is bite-size, tender and coated lovingly in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Combined, these two appetizers (listed appropriately on Beaver's menu as "A Damn Good Place to Start") are a match made in heaven. The vessels themselves weren't too shabby either; I hoarded a pile of the hot, crisp, local-made tortilla chips so I could more quickly shovel the queso into my mouth.

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As our sandwiches arrived, I felt my first pang of motherly instinct as I protected our bowl of dip and basket of chips, pushing the dishes to the far inside of the booth to prevent our waitress from taking away what little was left of our smoky love child. This one's definitely a keeper.

What's the best dip you have ever had in town?


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