Blog Post

Is It Tex Mex or Authentic Mexican Cuisine?


According to census data and surveys, more than 200 million Americans incorporated Mexican food and Mexican ingredients into their regular eating habits in 2017. Mexican food is beyond ubiquitous in the U.S. these past few decades, and its popularity is growing. You probably count yourself as a fan of Mexican food, but can you tell the difference between Tex Mex blends and the best Mexican food? Many are unaware that there are distinct and broad differences between the two. The cuisine with Mexican roots that combines techniques and flavors from the southwestern U.S. is known as "Tex Mex." Authentic Mexican food is very different. The following is a quick primer on the many differences between authentic Mexican food and its more common Tex Mex sister.

What is Tex Mex?

While the best Mexican food has an appeal that reaches across the continent, and then some, Tex Mex is more commonly associated with the southwest, making it a more regional cuisine than authentic Mexican food. Tex Mex has roots in the culinary traditions of Tejanos, as well, of course, as Mexican cuisine. Tex Mex food is known for its use of meat, spices, beans, and shredded cheeses. Some popular dishes are Tex Mex natives, including chimichangas, chili con carne, and fajitas.

What is Authentic Mexican Food?

Authentic Mexican food is characterized by heavy use of ingredients that are native to Mexico, especially corn. Corn is a versatile staple of the best Mexican food, and it’s used in a limited way: ground into flour for the ubiquitous tortillas, or served on the cob. Bold spices, which also figure into Tex Mex, are well-utilized in authentic Mexican cuisine: chiles, epazote, coriander, and others are mastered in the best Mexican food. Soft cheeses are common, and they’re not orange. And fresh ingredients are paramount in authentic Mexican food. As this is an attempt to describe the cuisine of an entire country, it is very general: Mexican food varies greatly from region to region and is as diverse as American food, carrying on influences from other Latin American countries, as well as the Aztecs, the Spanish, and even the United States.

Differences Between Authentic Mexican Food and Tex Mex

Due to Mexican food’s heavy and continuing influence on Tex Mex, the two cuisines have more in common than not. But there are significant differences and contrasts, and they are important if you’re looking for the best Mexican food. Some of them are narrow and concrete: in Mexico, hard-shell tacos are unknown. Burritos, another staple of both cuisines are very different in Mexican food. While rice and beans and other additions are used in Tex Mex burritos, Mexican burritos usually contain only meat. A surprising divergence is the use of cumin, which is used frequently in Tex Mex and very rarely in authentic Mexican food.

How to Tell If You’re Getting Tex Mex or Mexican

Aside from attention to the food and ingredients described above, there is one very effective rule of thumb, and it can be applied whenever you are choosing international cuisines. Are the people dining familiar with the cuisine being served? If the Mexican restaurant you’ve chosen is busy with Mexican and other Latinx people, you are likely enjoying the best Mexican food. Another way to be sure you’re enjoying authentic Mexican food is to dine at Talavera Cocina Mexicana in Coral Gables, one of the top Mexican restaurants in the United States.

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