There’s possibly no dish that screams fun quite like chips and dip. They’re a home entertaining staple that’s front and center on gameday spreads, the most requested recipe at potlucks and a natural conversation starter.
You can even make a meal out of it. Many Middle Eastern cultures do so with meze, and hey, if you want to have tortilla chips and salsa for dinner, we’re not here to judge. Beyond the home kitchen, chips and dip are a mainstay on restaurant menus, too.
But why would restaurants include something so seemingly simple on their menus, and why are we so powerless to resist ordering it?
“Chip and dip is everything we all crave, all of the time: salt, fat and crunch,” shares Andrea Reusing, executive chef of The Durham hotel’s restaurant, referring to the Chip & Dip, a perennially popular carrot dip served with homemade chips (More on that in a moment).
She’s right. The snack food trifecta of salt, fat and crunch makes chips and dip utterly irresistible. Plus, its shareable nature makes it a fun way to kick off a meal out.
Each of these restaurants deliver some of the Triangle’s most craveworthy chips and dip combinations, using stepped-up ingredients and inventive twists to deliver flavor and fun with every scoop.
Bonus: Several of the restaurants have shared their recipes, so you can step up your entertaining game, too.
Goat Cheese Guacamole at Cantina 18
Chef Jason Smith, owner of 18 Seaboard, is known for translating fine dining finesse into approachable, Southern-inflected dishes made with local ingredients. He applies the same philosophy to his other restaurants, including his Southwestern-inspired spot Cantina 18, where he adds a surprising ingredient to the guacamole: goat cheese.
“We were looking for ways to incorporate local ingredients into Southwest cuisine and knew the tanginess of the goat cheese from Holly Grove Farms would be the perfect contrast with the richness of the avocados,” Smith said.
The double dose of creaminess is balanced with a vibrant medley of tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, black beans and cilantro, creating a dip that’s like guacamole and salsa rolled into one. Besides being a natural match for tortilla chips, we think this would pair well with assorted seasonal vegetables or pita chips.
Pineapple-Jalapeño Salsa at Salt & Lime Cabo Grill
As far as we’re concerned, you can’t write an article about dips without including salsa. At the baja-inflected restaurant Salt & Lime Cabo Grill, you’ll find a dizzying array of housemade salsas, including the newly added pineapple-jalapeño salsa. The sweet-spicy combination of diced pineapple, jalapeño and cilantro is supremely addictive with Salt & Lime Cabo’s chipotle-dusted tortilla chips, but it’s also very versatile.
“The mix of the spicy jalapeños and sweet pineapple make this the perfect salsa to serve with chips, fish and salads,” said Katie Smith, who owns Salt & Lime Cabo with her husband, Ken.
Order a sampling of salsas to complement the pineapple-jalapeño. Be sure to include the super spicy but punishingly good orange habanero salsa, which is especially good drizzled over fish tacos (or if you find yourself with leftovers, on breakfast tacos at home the next morning), along with the roasted tomato salsa.
Jalapeño Cilantro Hummus at Sassool Mediterranean Café
Sassool has a built a following for its classic, expertly executed Lebanese and Mediterranean salads and dips, but it’s not afraid to buck tradition. At the request of customers, they started experimenting with different flavored hummus, adding ingredients like roasted bell pepper, avocado and sweet potato to the chickpea-tahini-based dip.
But the one that earned a permanent menu spot was the jalapeño and cilantro variation. With a pound of cilantro in every batch, the hummus is fresh and herbaceous up front while the jalapeño lends background heat, so it’s not too spicy. The dip is served with one of three flavors of housemade pita chips made from locally baked Neomonde pita: za’atar, a dried thyme spice mix; garlic; or simply salted.
Make a meze meal of dips and order it alongside other fan-favorites like the classic hummus; baba ghanouj, a smoky eggplant dip; or tzatziki, a minty yogurt dip; and order grape leaves and falafel for dipping, too.
Chip & Dip at The Durham
When devising appetizers for The Durham’s menu, Reusing found inspiration in the global melting pot of flavors synonymous with the New American restaurant menus of the ’50s and ’60s.
For example, the Chip & Dip, which is described simply as “carrot, coriander, sumac, housemade chips,” features barely cooked carrots that are combined with tahini (roasted sesame butter), lemon and a flurry of spices like coriander, espelette pepper, and cinnamon, then finished with za’atar, a dried thyme and sesame seed spice blend.
“It’s earthy, spicy and bright from the sumac and lemon and with a little sweetness from the carrots,” Reusing said. It’s available at lunch and dinner, but the move is to pair it with a beer (they recommend Steel String Brewery Big Mon IPA) for a leisurely afternoon snack.
Smoked NC Fish Dip at The Lakewood
At The Lakewood, chef-owner Phoebe Lawless is committed to serving a menu that reflects the seasons, which means supporting the farmers and producers who make that possible.
For the Smoked NC Fish Dip, Lawless features local fish sourced through Raleigh purveyor Locals Seafood that she cold smokes in house. She prefers using North Carolina bluefish, which she describes as rich, oily and intense (and therefore perfect for smoking) and buys as much of it as possible when it’s in season in late summer and fall. When it’s out of season (or her supply of smoked bluefish runs out), Lawless subs in local mullet, which she says works just as well but admittedly sounds less sexy.
The smoked fish is then crafted into a creamy dip using crème fraiche and loads of fresh dill and parsley, which gives it a tangy punch and fresh burst to offset the richness. It’s served with housemade potato chips.
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter @glassofrose and Instagram @theglassofrose. Her blog is glassofrose.blogspot.com.
Cantina 18’s Goat Cheese Guacamole
Recipe courtesy of Cantina 18
4 avocados, halved and pits taken out
1 tablespoon of cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 pickled jalapeños, finely diced
3 tablespoons goat cheese
3 tablespoons chilled black beans
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mash the avocados in a medium-sized bowl; for best results, use the back of a spoon. Add the finely chopped cilantro, lime juice, cherry tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, goat cheese and chilled black beans. Mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with 4 cups of corn tortilla chips.
Yield: Serves 4-6 (makes approximately 6 ounces of guacamole)
Salt & Lime Cabo Grill’s Pineapple-Jalapeño Salsa
Recipe courtesy of Salt & Lime Cabo Grill
2 pineapples, cored, grilled and diced
2 cups red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 jalapeños, finely diced (see note)
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped roasted garlic
Note: Keep in mind the size of the jalapeño peppers. If they are on the larger side, you may want to only use two. It’s easier to add more if needed, so add based on your heat tolerance.
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.
Yield: 12 servings
Sassool’s Jalapeño Cilantro Hummus
Recipe courtesy of Sassool.
2 cups dry chickpeas
1/2 bunch cilantro
4 cloves garlic
1/2 jalapeño, deseeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini paste
1 teaspoon salt
Boil dry chickpeas for 2 hours, or until they become soft. Drain from water and cool in refrigerator for 1 hour. Wash and dry cilantro and jalapeno, then peel the garlic cloves.
The key to Sassool’s hummus’ exceptionally creamy texture is a Lebanese home cook’s secret: add ice cubes during the blending process, which also keeps the hummus fresher, longer.
In a food processor, add in the boiled chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini paste, salt, cilantro, jalapeño and garlic. Blend until smooth.
Yield: 8 servings
The Durham’s Carrot Dip
Recipe courtesy The Durham
3 1/2 pounds carrots
10 cloves garlic
1 cup tahini (homemade or store bought)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin, toasted and ground
1 large pinch ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground espelette pepper
3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup cooking liquid from carrot and garlic
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon citric acid (powdered form, see note)
Potato chips, for serving
Note: Citric Acid can be purchased in powder form online at Amazon.com. You may also find it in the spice section of your grocery store. Always check to make sure the product you buy is food grade, as it is also sometimes used in non-culinary applications. In this recipe, it adds brightness without the use of additional lemon juice, which would alter the flavor of the dip.
Peel and slice carrots into uniform 1-inch pieces. Barely cover carrots and garlic cloves with water seasoned with salt, bring to a boil and cook, about 15 minutes or just until the carrots are fork tender. Drain cooking liquid and reserve.
Puree 1/3 of the carrots and garlic in a food processor until very smooth. Add some of the cooking liquid to aid in pureeing.
Pulse the rest of the carrots and garlic in a food processor until minced but uniformly slightly chunky. Fold chunky carrots and garlic into carrot puree together.
Fold in tahini, spices, oil, cooking liquid, lemon juice and citric acid.
Top with za’atar spice mixed with olive oil. Serve with potato chips, raw vegetables or warm pita.
Yield: Makes 2 quarts of dip