Did you know that Cinco de Mayo is much more popular in the United States than in Mexico? Did you also know that it is NOT the Mexican Independence Day? That is actually on September 16!
The reason Americans celebrate the holiday is due to the clever marketing of a certain beer, the one into which you squeeze a lime. THAT is a result of mass marketing also, Mexican citizens don’t do it. Currently, Cinco de Mayo generates as much beer sales as the Superbowl.
Cinco de Mayo is Spanish for "Fifth of May". The date is observed to commemorate the smaller Mexican Army's victory over the much larger French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza.
All that being said, I am a great fan of Mexican cuisine, and take pleasure in promoting it for any occasion.
Having spent some time in Texas, I developed a love of Tex-Mex, a succinct style that is a hybridization of the two cultures. Since we Americans celebrate a Mexican holiday more than the Mexicans do, I see it totally appropriate as to promoting my favorite Tex-Mex delight.
Whenever Bob Armstrong dined at the classic Tex-Mex restaurant Matt's El Rancho, he would get up from his table and circle the room. If he spotted a group gathered around a bowl of queso heaped with taco meat and guacamole, the former Texas Land Commissioner would lean in and ask, "Are you enjoying that?"
They usually were. The appetizer is the restaurant's most popular dish; Matt's chef estimates they sell at least four hundred a week. Most patrons order it by asking for "a small Bob" or "a large Bob." Its full name is Bob Armstrong Dip.
After discovering the table is enjoying his namesake, he would announce, "I'm Bob Armstrong." Matt's El Rancho tends to be packed with regulars who have been ordering the Bob for years. People would gasp. They requested photos and autographs. Armstrong could not stop himself from visiting tables. Matt's could not have picked a better regular to name a menu item after. Bob Armstrong's dip is famous, and he loves it.
Matt's El Rancho opened in 1952 on what is now Cesar Chavez downtown, and quickly evolved from a tiny restaurant serving plate lunches to a Tex Mex destination for politicians, sports writers, and other movers and shakers in mid-century Austin, including LBJ.
In the Matt's El Rancho cookbook MexTex: Traditional Tex-Mex Taste, Matt Martinez Jr. tells the following story of the dip's creation: Bob Armstrong came into the kitchen and asked a teenaged Matt Martinez to whip him up "something different." On a whim, Martinez added taco meat and guacamole to a bowl of queso, and when Bob Armstrong tasted it, "his eyes got as big as saucers."
Back at the Capitol, Armstrong ignited a craze for the new dish he'd had, which politicians started calling "that Bob Armstrong dip."
Since its Austin invention, versions of the Bob have spread across the country. According to Armstrong, a "Bob Armstrong Dip" popped up on menus in D.C. and Miami, and Matt's menu boasts, "Mexican restaurants everywhere have tried to duplicate this El Rancho original."
Here in D.C., Armstrong worked for the Department of the Interior under Clinton, and he said the former president had "definitely" enjoyed the Bob.
Matt's El Rancho has a long history of presidential catering: Johnson used to send a jet to pick up their Chile Rellenos, and the Bob was a fixture at events at the LBJ ranch.
Armstrong gained another namesake, the Bob Armstrong visitor center at Big Bend Ranch State Park, a swath of 212,000 acres he fought to preserve since he first visited it in 1970.
Bob Armstrong passed away on March 1, 2015, but his namesake dip lives on!
Bob Armstrong Dip
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef chuck (20% fat)
½ medium onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
Queso and Assembly
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 large poblano chile, chopped
3 jalapeños, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups (or more) milk
½ pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
½ pound young medium or sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Chopped Chives, Chopped Cilantro, and Corn Tortilla Chips (for serving)
Heat oil in a large skillet over high. Cook beef, breaking up with a spoon, until browned on all sides but not completely cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, leaving as much fat in the pan as possible.
Reduce heat to medium and cook onion, bell pepper, and garlic, stirring, until tender but not browned, 6–8 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
Add cumin and chili powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add chicken stock and reserved beef along with any accumulated juices to pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from the skillet, until liquid is evaporated, 8–10 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a medium bowl, cover, let sit until ready to use.
Do Ahead: Picadillo can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Reheat before assembling.
Queso and Assembly
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Cook onion, chile, jalapeños, and garlic, stirring, until tender but not browned, 8–10 minutes.
Add tomatoes, season with salt, and continue to cook until juices have evaporated, about 6 minutes.
Stir in flour and cook until incorporated, about 1 minute.
Whisk in milk and continue to cook until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 4 minutes.
Reduce heat to low, gradually add both cheeses, and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese is completely melted and queso is smooth. If it seems too thick, stir in a little more milk.
Spread warm picadillo in a 2-qt. baking dish.
Pour hot queso over meat.
Top with a generous scoop each of pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream.
Sprinkle with chives and cilantro. Serve hot dip with chips.
Do Ahead: Queso can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Reheat before assembling.