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Tex-Mex Essentials

I realize that this post has gotten off topic, but naturally like every Chowhound, I want to add my bit.

I am very biased. I was born in Texas and have lived for most of my life here with stints in Italy, Greece, Colorado, and California, but I always return home to Texas

My definition of Tex-Mex.......
(which I think of as an American or Texas version of Mexican food.)

IMHO Most NY/NJ Italian food is of the similar vein. Did you see the episode of the Sopranos where the crew went to Italy? Pauley was upset that he didn't get pasta with red sauce (Marinara originally meant related to the sea--mariner. It was a tomato based sauce with seafood.) I know that some restaurants in NY/NJ serve "real" Italian food, but 85% do not. I lived in Italy for two years and most of the wonderful food that I experience had very little to do with what I had eaten at authentic Italian restaurants in the states. So 85% of the restaurants in NY/NJ do not serve Italian food as an Italian would experience it at home. The same is true for "Texan" mexican food, but Texans are smart enough to add their own moniker on it to differentiate it.

Tex-Mex should

1. offer chips and salsa (complimentary with a meal)
2. have combination plates
3. have refried beans made with pork (fat or bacon or similar)
4. serve cheese enchilladas made with true cheese; cheese like products run very far down the list. IMO Velveeta and enchilladas make a terrible combination.
5. serve queso (here is the one exception to where processed cheese is allowable, but I personally prefer queso blanco or another cheese instead) Queso flameado does not count.
6. have the option of crispy tacos (it does not have to be the default option though)
7. serve both flour and corn tortillas (my experiences in Mexico have not made me an expert, merely an experienced beginner; but I rarely saw flour tortillas unless it was for tourists. Corn is subsidized by the Mexican government, they do not subsidize flour. The government recently removed the price controls off corn and there were a few riots.)
8. have Nachos on the menu OR at the very least understand what you are talking about if you ask for them (they should not stare at you blankly)
9. have ground beef as a taco option, but brisket and other beef option are a bonus
10. have a nonmeat or vegetarian option of some sort OR can accomodate the request without resorting to Spanish.
11. have at least one of the following items: Fajitas, Burritos, Chulapas, Guacamole, or Quesadillas.
12. have either mints for free OR sell chicle, peppermint patties, thin mints or have a cookies based upon sugar and any nut. Machines are acceptable, but a counter is preferred.

The next one is very controversial and the last is extremely controversial and people have come to blows over it.
13. have a deep fat fryer in the kitchen. I guess it is possible for a Tex-Mex restaurant to not fry their own chips, but it is NEVER as good, BUT at least an appetizer, an entree or a desert must be fried.
14. accept credit cards UNLESS the restaurant is more than twenty years old and then they are grandfathered.

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  1. This might interest you! A Houston newspaper did a six-part history of Tex-Mex. Here's part one
    and here's part two:

    I think they have links to the other parts somewhere in the first two articles, I'm too lazy to find them but it's worth reading.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Brian S

      You're right. Criticizing Tex-Mex for not being authentically Mexican is like criticizing sushi for not being Chinese.

      1. re: ekammin

        There are valid criticisms of Tex-Mex independent of whether its Authentic or not. 99.5% of it is inferior to proper Mexican... why eat something inferior when the country has the immigrant population & more or less the ingredients to offer something better?

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          >> 99.5% of it is inferior to proper Mexican <<

          Hoo, man, then you haven't eaten proper Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex stands on its own as a food genre, it's a meld of both Mexican and southwestern cuisines. I love Mexican food, I grew up on it, and I also love Tex-Mex after living in Texas for years. The two cuisines are distinct and they are not the same, even though there's much overlap. When I lived in Mexico City, I never saw tacos, enchiladas or burritos outside of hotels that catered to tourists. Tortas were the most popular proletarian food, followed by, oddly enough, pizza.

          >> Criticizing Tex-Mex for not being authentically Mexican is like criticizing sushi for not being Chinese.<< Ekammin nailed it.

          1. re: KenWritez

            I reserve the 0.5% for exquisite versions of South Texas style Barbacoa de Cabeza, Cabrito & Fajitas... but those types of dishes & eateries are the exception within the fold of Tex-Mex.

            Tex-Mex is inferior to real Mexican on so many levels. At the philosophical level... Mexican cuisine became really popular during the Great Depression... the cooks adapted Mexican cuisine to fit the reality of the times... including the need for cheap, fun flavored, abundant food.... and the lack of quality ingredients.

            OTOH... Mexican cuisine evolved from a higher reality. The Three Sisters were the cornerstone of civilization in Central Mexico... you really have to know the story to appreciate how amazing it was that these ancient Mexicans 6,000 years ago would figure out how to genetically improve naturally inedible plants like Corn, Squash & Beans... turn them into their modern appearance... and then figured how to cultivate them with such environmental efficiency that it can still give modern day agronomists chills of excitement.

            I remember in the 1990's there was a writer in Houston that was syndicated in the L.A. Times who would write up about food in Mexico all the time. His thinly veiled agenda was to prove that Tex-Mex was superior to Mexican cuisine and made so many arguments to try to prove why Mexican cuisine had to be inherently superior once it was incubated in a First World nation. Among the things he criticized about the Mexican food ecosystem at that time:

            > Modern, clean, efficient Super Markets are still rare in Mexico. The vast majority of Mexicans shop at less hygienic open air markets, traveling markets, and from roving street vendors.

            > Mexicans lack modern cooking equipment they still use inferior clay & copper based pots, griddles etc.,. and many don't have refrigeration in their homes.

            > Meat prices are out of reach for most meals.

            > Mexico lacks modern livestock techniques... they usually let their chickens roam around eating grubs, their cows eat grass etc., etc.,

            Well wouldn't you know that all the things there "backward" about Mexico in the 1990's now represent the height of culinary chic in the U.S.?

            While it is true that Mexico has gigantic Carrefours, WalMarts, Costcos & Comercial Mexican supermarkets that caterer to the growing modern, young middle class... the majority of Mexicans still get their produce & meats from the Mercados, Tianguis & roving street vendors... and their tortillas, breads & sauces straight from artisinal producers. Some of it is out of necessity (most Mexicans aren't part of the modern economy with the biweekly paychecks... instead they earn a little money each day and invest in food items as soon as its earned)... some out of conviction (even in L.A. in the 80's my parents would make trips to Grand Central Market, shop at the impromptu Tianguis at the church parking lot... buy produce from the guy walking around with a shopping cart full of pre-measured $1 bags of peaches, tomatoes etc.,... despite the fact we had a Safeway and other modern supermarkets in town... I won't even mention the foraging for Nopales, Greens & various fruits).

            So when we look at the typical Tex Mex restaurant... even forgetting the terrible Chains (which are usually from California anyway)... what we have is a huge menu of foods that are often reheated.... there are no real specials, nothing seasonal... alot of times its just multiple iterations of the same items... oh and everything is served with Mexican Rice & Refried Pinto Beans.

            The reality of Mexican cuisine is the exact opposite... its about specialization, freshness, seasonality & appropriate garnishes... a good Mole Poblano is made from turkey & is paired with an Anise tamal... Lamb Barbacoa is paired with Chickpeas cooked in its juices etc.,

            Lets forget the high level mumble jumble and get to specifics.... you never saw Tacos in Mexico City... that is ridiculous it is THE most common thing eaten outside of the home... you can even find Taqueros all around the Zocalo and near the Congressional building... where one of the local specialties is a NY Strip taco named Taco de los Senadores... because Senators are notorious for hitting the taco stands at the end of their sessions... similar to the way people in Wall Street historically hit the Hot Dog stands.

            Burritos are practically non-existent in Mexico City... but enchiladas are another popular item... with Enchiladas Suizas (proper ones made with Gruyere & heavy cream were invented at the flagship Sanborn's near the Zocalo).

            Of course Mexican cuisine is about so much more than Enchiladas... I am sure many Mexico City residents go years without having Enchiladas or any of the other dishes common in the U.S.

            I have to run but when I get back I will compare similar dishes which will really exhibits the superiority of authentic Mexican cuisine... something as silly as comparing the Nachos sold in Mexican Chains aimed at teeny boppers (the cultural equivalents of Foster's Freeze) with the Nachos at Tex-Mex restaurants targeting adults will exhibit the amateur, backward, overly processed reality of Tex Mex relative to the real thing.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              There is no such thing as an inferior cuisine. There are cuisines that are more complex than others, there are cuisines that I may PREFER over others, but these things do not in themselves denote superiority or inferiority. As for authenticity, I believe that this is defined entirely by what is served in its native location and how it is prepared there. A burrito is perhaps not authentic Mexican cuisine, but it IS authentic Californian, as Tex-Mex is authentic Texan.

              I love to explore as many regional cuisines as I can find: Sichuan, Alsatian, Tuscan, Northern Thai, Down-East New England, AND Cali-Mex, New Mexican Mex, Tex-Mex. Yes, and even Chop-Suey "Chinese" now and then. There is nothing inherently precious about any one set of recipes, only about using good ingredients and cooking them well. Taco Bell is no more "authentic" than McDonald's, but a well-prepared hardshell taco and a good, handformed-patty hamburger both are, by any reasonable reckoning.

          2. re: Eat_Nopal

            I definitely read from the Gospel of Authenticity when it comes to recommending Mexican restaurants on CH and I have lots of love for tortas, lengua and cochinita pibil. And I can understand how Mexicans can be annoyed that their culinary heritage is being misappropriated by the likes of Taco Bell (and some of the less high-minded on CH), but there is just something about a cheesy chimichanga, covered in sour cream and basted in an unnatural red sauce that is unbeatable. Tex-Mex is definitely not Mexican, but it is pretty good, nonetheless.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              "why eat something inferior when the country has the immigrant population & more or less the ingredients to offer something better?"

              To me, Tex-Mex and proper Mexican food are completely different and one is not necessarily superior to the other. There are days when I want a good mole or conchinita pibil. Other days, only a plate of nachos with mounds of freshly grated cheese and bacon-y beans will do. These two cravings are unrelated and no different than the fact that some days I want Vietnamese food and other days I want Ethiopian.
              Why must we belittle one cuisine to enjoy the other? They are both good when done properly...just different.

              1. re: Honey Bee

                "Other days, only a plate of nachos with mounds of freshly grated cheese and bacon-y beans will do."

                Perfect example... so let me tackle that with what I am proposing. So lets talk about Nachos... these were actually invented in Mexico and are fairly common. However, instead of ordering these at the traditional eateries where adults go to eat Cochinita Pibil & Mole etc.,... Nachos are dispensed by chains like Danchos... pretty much the cultural equivalent of Frostee's Freeze or the A&W chains... that is fun food for kids & teenagers. Chains like Danchos sell fresh fruit licuados, ice creams, frozen yogurt, tortas made from cold cuts etc., as well as their speciality.... Nachos. Nachos in Mexico are largely faithful to the original recipe by Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya... real cheese (Chihuahua & Asadero... most similar cheeses in the U.S. would be real Muenster & Provolone)... melted into a roux.... drizzled over fresh totopos (chips)... and garnished with homemade garlicky & intensely oregano-y pickled jalapenos, carrots, sliced cauliflour etc.... a pretty classy snack considering its just kid food.

                What is the Tex-Mex equivalent.... yello, uber-processed "cheese", blob of poorly crafted (often canned) refried beans, wilted, canned pickled jalapenos.

                The Mexican version is something even snobs might embrace.... the Tex-Mex version is generally baseball stadium level crap.

                So without going into the superiority of Central & Southern Mexican over Northern Mexican.... what I initiatially propose... is that if people were just exposed to the authentic version of similar Mexican dishes... they would prefer the authentic versions and reject the inferior Tex-Mex versions.

                Again I don't mean to demean all the honest, passionate, quality Tex-Mex cooking out there (I do consider a good rendition of Barbacoa de Cabeza, South Texas style Cabrito, Fajitas, & Chile Verde Stews to be in the same league as Authentic Mexican)... but I am not going to sing the virtues of all the mindless, processed, low quality crap that generally constitutes Tex Mex.

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  >> but I am not going to sing the virtues of all the mindless, processed, low quality crap that generally constitutes Tex Mex. <<

                  You're comparing quality Mexican food to crappy commercial Tex-Mex. This is like comparing Sofia Loren to an inflatable love doll.

                  You and I actually agree: >> Nachos in Mexico are largely faithful to the original recipe by Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya [and are] a pretty classy snack <<

                  Tex-Mex, made with fresh ingredients prepared properly, are delicious and tastes as good as Mexican food prepared similarly, as you state above.

                  I'm not defending fast food Tex-Mex made with shit ingredients. I'm defending good food made well, and in this thread it happens to be Tex-Mex.

                  1. re: KenWritez

                    Your Sofia Loren quote is right on the money and hilarious. Using 7-11 nachos as the standard-bearer of Tex-Mex is like using McDonald's as the epitome of American cuisine. As good as the "authentic" Mexican nachos sound, I can't turn down crispy tortillas covered with ground beef, melted cheddar, black beans, guacamole, tomato, onions, pickled jalapenos and sour cream. That's what I know as Tex-Mex: a far cry from the caricature of Velveeta on crap. And while I love a warm tortilla brimming with chivo, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, cauliflower, carrots, radish and salsa verde, I do sometimes miss the crunch of a hard shell dripping with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and ground beef.

                    If you grew up with authentic Mexican cookery, Tex-Mex probably looks like and tastes like a joke to you. It's a (d)evolution from Mexican, depending on how you see it. But as someone who grew up with both, I think they both have their merits. I certainly wouldn't judge Mexican solely by the Montezuma's Revenge platter in a Tijuana pit stop.

                    1. re: KenWritez

                      Ken.... the difference is that 80+% of the food dished out in Mexico (outside of some tourist sh1tspots like Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Cancun etc.,)... is prepared with good ingredients, solid technique, classic & innovative flavor combinations etc., whereas in Tex Mex its only 1% that fits this bill.... the typical Tex-Mex crap is the inflatable love doll.

                      Here in California its too common that you get quasi authentic restaurants... that end up devoting too much of the menu to crappy Tex-Mex to pander to the legions of ashamed ex-Taco Bell fans... and I end up with very little authentic stuff to enjoy.... the Nopales, Calabacitas, Handmade Tortillas etc., are crowded out to make room for ridiculous Taco Shells, Tostada Shells & the ever present mindless blob of Rice, Beans, Sour Cream, Pico de Gallo & Guacamole.

                      Even the places that serve well crafted Tex-Mex (and I do admit there are some).... you have to HATE VEGETABLES to really want to eat there over an authentic Mexican restaurant.... because it best they still do the depression era... slap Rice & Beans on whatever you eat... they usually lack good vegetable soups (Menudo is not a vegetable!)... they lack vegetable dishes & fruit salads etc. in other words they are against everything Mexican cuisine stands for!

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        not to go off topic, but that (removing vegetables) is what ALL americanized versions of cuisines do to the original. Take "italian-american" as most people know it. my grandparents came here from Italy and c ontinue to cook vegetables and legumes as their diet staples. meanwhile i have to put up with people telling me that spaghetti and meatballs is italian and/or italian-american. I don't even try to explain that most southern Italians actually eat mostly bean soups and roasted vegetables, along with pasta, bread, and other grains.
                        forget the huge amounts of melted processed mozzarella on everything, that is not italian, not italian-american, but AMERICAN food.

                        1. re: fara

                          You are absolutely right... and I guess I really don't care what mainstream Americans think... they are going to eat like crap.. and well they can enjoy all the Tex-Mex they want. As a promoter of Mexico's cusine... I am more interested in influencing & reaching out to people that already enjoy Thai, Vietnamese, Real Italian, Provencal, Ethiopian, Indian (and not just the carb rich dishes) etc.,

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            But we're not Mexican. Why SHOULD we care?
                            This whole authentic argument, whether applied to Mexi, Thai, or any other foreign cuisine, seems to be predicated on first denigrating whatever the eqivilent dish is here in America so as to make the point that the original dish from Country X is SO much better.

                            1. re: bbqboy

                              I would expect Chowhounds to care because we supposedly have better taste & are more culturally sophisticated than society at large... but that is just a supposition or perhaps a suppository.

                              The truth is the truth and it has to be said... I am more than happy to point out when the U.S. versions of a particular Mexican dish is better... it does happen sometimes. Although I get the feeling that so many culturally unsophisticated people live under the assumption that anything in the U.S. HAS to be better than in the country of origin.

                              1. re: bbqboy

                                I don't think it's an assumption that b/c it's from the U.S. it has to be worse- all one has to do is look at the end product. is it extremely bad for you? then it's not something that's eaten very often -if at all- in the country of origin. those people would have died of obesity long ago, or not had the resources to die of obesity.
                                There are so many great regional American foods that people who appreciate authenticity like a lot.. My impression of Tex-Mex from watching the food channel is that there's a lot of Texan, New Mexican, Arizonian, foods that are the result of a long history of chicanos maintaining their culture in the U.S. Some of these people have maintained their heritage and language since that area was part of New Spain. When I hear Tex-Mex I think of food that has been developed over generations, just as southern and creole food has. As someone mentioned in another post, you had better be darn good to compete with a recipe that has been developed for hundreds of years.

                  2. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Eat Nopal, do you consider the cuisine of Tex-Mex inferior, or the typical restaurant preparation of the food?

                    A huge problem with this discussion is that Mexican is a tremendously historic, culturally rich and diverse cuisine. Tex Mex is a fusion drawing from one region of Mexican cuisine. It's no a cuisine. It's like saying a pro athlete is better than high school player. Of course he is. He's older, more mature and stronger. But trust me, (coming from Texas, remember) High School football can be a great thing. You have to appreciate something for what it is.

                    Tex-Mex can be wonderfully prepared, but it can't ever be as complex as true Mexican.

                    1. re: kindofabigdeal

                      That is kind of my point. More than anything I would like people to realize that there is much more that we can enjoy about Mexican cuisine than is currently being delivered by the proliferation of Tex-Mex & Cal-Mex eateries.

                      I know there are some great dishes in Tex-Mex... I have mentioned Fajitas for example. But Tex-Mex should (ideally, based on merit) be 0.5% of Mexican cuisine served here in the States... not 99.5% (as it currently seems!)

                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                        that would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath.

                        Actually, we've probably come a long way in the last few years, so the momentum is at least in a good direction. On the other hand... I have in the past few months eaten at three highly regarded mexican restaurants. Bario Cafe in Phoenix, AZ, Frontera Grill in Chicago, IL, and Veracruz Cafe in Dallas, TX. 2 out of the three were disappointments. I would rather have well prepared Tex-Mex than poor food prepared authentically. Chicken at Bario (I realize that this is more modern than traditional) was terribly dry and the Mole was just good. Veracruz was similar. Frontera on the other hand was exceptional. Some people reject Frontera and Topolobampo and call them overrated. My one experience was very good.

                        1. re: kindofabigdeal

                          Topo is overrated. The food is dumbed down, pricey... and the Tasting Menus don't make sense. Sol de Mexico was opened by Topo alumni & serves tastier, quality food at mid-level ambience in the barrio.

              2. i dont agree with #14, I dont feel a restaurant needs to accept credit cards, why should a small restaurant have to share a percentage of their profits with AMEX, Master Card, Visa, or Discover.

                One of the best Mexican restaurants in the Chicago area Amanacer Tapatio in Joliet gets by without accepting credit cards.

                I would add to you list they should have Mexican Coke in glass bottles as one of their drink offerings.

                13 Replies
                1. re: swsidejim

                  From what I hear... isn't Amanacer Tapatio fairly authentic? Thus it wouldn't need to fit the Tex Mex category.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Yes, Amanacer Tapatio is pretty authentic, I was just giving an example of a small family owned restaurant that does not need to offer the use of credit cards, but is cash only.

                    Their daily specials are pretty authentic from what I have been told, but they also offer a menu with tacos, burritos, etc.

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      ...and unfortunately Chicago doesn't have much to boast by way of Tex Mex(of course this is contrasted by the depth of "authentic" Mexican cuisines on offer)...

                      Not that Eat_Nopal would enjoy it, but the only quasi-Tex Mex restaurant in town is the chain outpost Uncle Julio's Hacienda in Bucktown.

                      As a 6th gen. Texan I can appreciate both "authentic" cuisines(why the quotes? because all cuisines are always already morphing and mutating) *and*
                      Tex Mex...which if you've ever dined within the hallowed halls of such like Ninfa's and enjoyed their fajitas and blissful in-house flour tortillas...then there'd be no moribund us vs. them culinary border skirmishes...

                      1. re: aelph

                        I almost cried when I ate at Ninfa's: The fajitas were the best I'd ever had: Seared beef seared perfectly and seasoned redolent of the herbal scent of the desert on a summer night with cumin, salt, pepper and sage. Peppers that tasted fresh and nicely grilled with onions cooked al dente. The homemade flour tortillas were warm, pillowy, and hot with small dots of golden brown and barely charred surface.

                        I'm not going to describe the salsa because I don't want to break down completely. Ditto for the grilled shrimp.

                        Dang. I'm almost considering a road trip to Texas just to eat at Ninfa's again.

                        1. re: KenWritez

                          My first Ninfa's was back in the late 70's at the original location on Navigation (Ninfa's home). Tacos al carbon and garnaches - perfection on a plate. The pico de gallo would knock your socks off. Two salsas - red and green, different as night and day.
                          We live in central Mexico now. There is no restaurant in our area to compare with Ninfa's. Street food is far superior to the sit-down restaurants. The street tacos are really good. Hecho a mano tortillas, chewy griddled beef and onions and pickled veggies - super hot.
                          Pollo de Patzcuaro is amazing - chickens skewered and cooked over open fires. Chilis en Nogada a traditional food for this time of year.
                          Tex-Mex and central Mexican food are two different and distinct cuisines. They shouldn't be contrasted and compared. Each should be enjoyed for what it is - comforting, family food.

                          1. re: Pampatz

                            Chiles en Nogada is comforting family food?

                            1. re: Pampatz

                              Sounds like your in the Patzcuaro area... yeah not exactly known to be a culinary haven within Mexico.... the Uruapan area way to the West... and the Ciudad Hidalgo (near Mexico State)... are much more chow worthy.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                Yes, we are on the side of a mountain south of Patzcuaro overlooking the town and the lake. Some people love the food here, not me. We're eating at home almost all the time.

                                1. re: Pampatz

                                  You might consider moving to the Xalapa area.

                                  1. re: Pampatz

                                    FWIW.... the Purepecha linguage is believed to be from the same family as Quechua (Inca)... and I certainly see cultural similarities between the Purepechas & the Incas of the Cuzco area... and that includes a less remarkable culinary tradition. Although its in close proximity to the Valley of Mexico... I don't consider the cooking in your area as part of the Central Mexican tradition... Ciudad Hidalgo is roughly the boundary where that would begin.

                                    I pick on the Patzcuaro area a little bit... but I should say the homecooking is vastly superior to the Restaurant infrastructure... with some intriguing flavor combinations, I plagiurize in my own Contemporary Mexican style of cooking. Among the winners of course is the Duck Carnitas with Blackberry Sauce which is of course re-interpreted in to a modern style in Mexico City's chic restaurants... although it might have been one of the institutions in Morelia that first popularized & brought it mainstream.

                                  2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    That's funny - some Nashville friends of ours also have a house in Patzcuaro, and are totally in love with the food. When Dan was here in Pasadena for a school program, we took him around LA, and made a stop at Tacos Michoacan on Broadway, where we all indulged very enjoyably in what he allowed was pretty authentic stuff. If that's inferior food, I REALLY want to try the better!

                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      Tacos Michoacan.... was that Carnitas Michoacan on Broadway and Avenue 19? Just east of Chinatown? I grew up nearby... back in the 80's Carnitas Michoacan was the real deal... they have gone down hill big time. Compared to Taquerias around Patzcuaro... its a dog. But then again... Patzcuaro's tacos are generally uninspiring compared to what you get in Uruapan, D.F., Puebla & other places.

                                      Patzcuaro has good tasting food... it just lacks the variety, sophistication & delicacy of the more chow worthy towns / cities in Mexico. Oh yeah... its restaurant scene is not great. The places with atmosphere don't serve food that even matches the average home cook. The places that serve good food... lack atmosphere & variety etc.,

                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        Yes - I had a Senior Moment (SeƱor Moment?) there - it IS Carnitas Michoacan. Yeah, the stuff we had there wasn't perfect, but it was pretty special. I've gone back.

                                        Two things about these friends: first, they're Southerners born and raised, and "good tasting" trumps sophistication any day in that culture (as in mine). They're also more likely to eat street food when they're out shopping, then buy food in the market and take it home to cook. In fact, I didn't hear Dan talk about any kind of Patzcuaro food other than street food.

                        2. I have read all your counter arguments... and I will just say we all have our Trailer Park moments... for some of you its Tex-Mex for me its cartoonish versions of American regional foods. I am still convinced Tex-Mex is inferior to Mexican... and what I would invite any of you to do is to travel to Cuzco, Peru.... and sample through the city's tourist culinary offering... and I will propose that Inca-Tex-Mex and Inca-NY-Style-Pizza are different but equivalent to Tex-Mex and NY Style Pizza.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Eat_Nopal


                            Calling Tex-Mex, a Trailer Park Moment, at the very least is insulting, but obviously a show of IGNORANCE as well. Having lived and traveled in many places throughout the world, I can say that different cuisines is what makes life especially enjoyable. If I don't like sweetmeats such as kidney, that doesn't make regional cuisines that favor them, terrible. I love food from street vendors to Michelin three stars in Paris. If I don't like yellow curries, that doesn't make Indian food with yellow curry awful.

                            I can admit my bias of being born in Texas, but it is not a guilty pleasure to love Tex-Mex merely a superb pleasure. Evidently you can not see that the fact you were born in Mexico and that your parents are from Jalisco might seriously affect your opinion.
                            That is fine.

                            If you prefer food from the various areas of Mexico, that is great, but to equate Tex-Mex food as trashy (Trailer-Park) is contrary to the Chowhound Posting Etiquette. Perhaps before sharing your opinion, you should read that post and apply it.

                          2. I submit that all 4 US border states have distinct cuisines owing to their relation to Mexico.
                            This whole authentic thing is BS. The intermingling's been going on for 200-300 years.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: bbqboy

                              Of course. Should we not eat pasta, on the grounds that it was originally not Italian but Chinese, evidently introduced to Italy by Marco Polo? Or tonkatsu, a Japanese version or pork cutlet, introduced by the Americans when they began commercial relations with Japan in the 19th Century?

                            2. I wont go on and on with the subject here but I will agree with Chefdavis. My one point would be that when I came back home from spending some time in Germany I went to the Hoffbrauhaus in Las Vegas, Neveda which was suppose to be the same as the one in Munich, but guess what ?? They Americanized the menu so bad that the dishes didn't even taste the same nor did they look authentic to what you get in Munich !! Blah, America trying to keep is simple and quick again. Good things come to those who wait but everything was rushed and tasted exactly that. My wife is Bavarian and told them how much they were off. The woman who was seating people was also bavarian and was surprised to see another in her presence but couldn't do much but agree !!

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: Jimbosox04

                                Why should they have been authentic? It's Las Vegas! If you wanted something closer to Germany you could have hit numerous small towns in the Great Plains.

                                1. re: bbqboy

                                  because when you advertise something as an "EXACT REPLICA INSIDE AND OUT", to me that includes the menu.


                                  You won't find chicken fingers and fries on a menu in Munich, maybe Pommus.

                                  1. re: Jimbosox04

                                    I can partially agree with your expectation, but that's why the whole "authentic" thing sucks.
                                    Ain't that America, Land of The Free....

                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                      Bingo! Don't get me started on the difficulty of finding good chicken-fried steak in California.

                                      1. re: KenWritez

                                        let me just say that I was only in Texas for a few days but I miss the food.

                                        1. re: KenWritez

                                          "Don't get me started on the difficulty of finding good chicken-fried steak in California."

                                          Or cornbread that isn't like some kind of dessert!

                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                            Where did you grow up? We are on the same page here, particularly with the cornbread. I generally avoid cornbread in local places because it is always so cakey & sweet. I grew up in SC. Our cornbread was relatively coarse compared to the restaurant cornbread here. I especially loved my mother's cracklin' bread - usually make in a cast iron corn stick pan.

                                            1. re: rfneid

                                              I grew up in Illinois, thinking that what you made with Jiffy Mix was really cornbread. 27 years in Nashville taught me WAYYYY different.

                                              Never done cracklin' bread exactly, but I do like to put chopped bacon in the skillet instead of lard when I put it in to preheat, then pour in the batter before the bacon gets too done.

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                I've never done it that way, but really like the idea. Thanksgiving is coming, so..........

                                      2. re: Jimbosox04

                                        What is the point of going to Vegas to eat? Did you have high expectations?

                                        1. re: fara

                                          Usually that is what one does when they are there for a week on vacation.

                                  2. I agree with the list you gave as the essentials for Tex-Mex. Our family calls it "glop on a plate" and we just love it! Then there are times we go to a place called Penachos in DeLand if we want real Mexican. It just depends on what you're in the mood for.
                                    Sometimes nothing will satisfy like a good old chimichanga, salsa and chips and an ice cold beer. And yes, I like Corona with lime!

                                    1. I largely agree with your list--not all of it, but I won't quibble with the details. The important thing is that Tex-Mex is a distinct food to true Mex. I too grew up on Tex Mex in Texas. In places in Texas that I lived, foodies knew the difference between Tex-Mex and Mex (Cafe Noche in Houston v. Chuy's or Ninfa's, e.g.). People who call Tex-Mex inferior or trash don't understand it.

                                      I would also add that I have yet to have decent Tex-Mex outside of Texas, and that especially includes California. California makes some other kind of Mexican and there are plenty of imitators and wanna be's, but if that is your main exposure to Tex-Mex, then you have not had real Tex-Mex. One test: do they have burritos, but put rice in them? then it's Cal-Mex, not Tex-Mex.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: cocktailhour

                                        I'd like to see a cookbook offering recipes and some study on the differences between Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex. Having lived years in both states, I've found one isn't better than the other, just different. In California, I miss carne guisada. In Texas, I miss sopes.

                                        1. re: KenWritez

                                          Since I just got done saying that Tex-Mex isn't "worse" than real Mex, far be it from me to disagree with you about Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex. Let's just say that my personal preference vastly prefers Tex-Mex. (smile)

                                          As to the comparison of "chimichangas" with Asian fillings and a wrapper different than a flour tortilla, you have completely lost me. I love eggrolls, spring rolls, and various rolled tortilla products (fried and unfried) but I won't say that one is infinitely better than the others, whether or not I have a personal preference. Now of course, the frozen eggroll from La Choy is not nearly so good as the fresh eggroll from a good restaurant or my own kitchen, but that is completely different from saying that an eggroll, for instance, is better than a flauta. And by flauta I am referring specifically to the fried tacos in Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen cookbook. corn tortilla, black beans, bacon, and cheese, rolled and fried. I don't remember what Rick calls them.

                                          1. re: cocktailhour

                                            >> corn tortilla, black beans, bacon, and cheese, rolled and fried. I don't remember what Rick calls them. <<



                                      2. In the Summer of 1994.... I drove from California to Chiapas back up to Texas... and places in between. After having Chimichingas in Guaymas, Sonora (where they were invented by Chinese immigrants)... at a "Chino" owned street stall... and then comparing to a couple of versions in Texas.... I am pretty confident that the difference in quality is so infinite that I can say Chimichangas are non-existent in Texas.

                                        The Sonoran version wasn't a dish but a genre... with many versions ranging from more traditional Sonoran flavors like spicy Machaca with potatoes... to more Chinese flavors like Eggplant in spicy Garlic-Ginger sauce.... they were served straight from the fryer paired with pickled vegetables, slices of lime not "gloppy" combination plates.... oh and the starch was more like an Eggroll wrapper than a Flour tortilla (although it wasn't an Eggroll either) resulting in a much better ratio of filling to dough.

                                        Not even close.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Why would you associate Chimis with Texas? They're an Az/Sonoran dish for sure.
                                          Now deep fried /puffy tacos I would associate much more with the Southern Plains,
                                          (Texas Oklahoma Kansas), and really haven't encounted them outside the center of the country.

                                          1. re: bbqboy

                                            sorry eat, that post was to supposed go under pdeveaux's.

                                        2. Looks like the NY Times has revived the Tex-Mex vs. Mexican debate.

                                          15 Replies
                                          1. re: JungMann

                                            Here is what is funny about that article.... the author choose to devote a lot of precious words on the Authentic aspects of El Mirador's offering... the Mole & Sopa Azteca. Further his photos are of authentic dishes like Sopa de Lima, Shrimp Skewers & Beef and the Flank Steak with Grilled Vegetables.

                                            The disgusting aspects of Tex-Mex cuisine... which we Mexicans tend to complain about is the 3 Tamale Plate with Gravy & Cheese all over it. I understand this may be a Southern way of eating... and I understand the LEGITIMACY of Tex Mex as a U.S. Regional Cuisine... but that in no way means its on the same level as Authentic Mexican Cuisine.

                                            If you can find 10,000 New Yorkers to sign a declaration that Cuzco's pizza culture is the equal of New Yorks pizza culture then I will concede Tex-Mex' equality.

                                            Futher... I don't Mexico is requiring an apology for Tex-Mex... that takes the Mexican Government's (along with Mexico's food related chamber of commerce) actions completely out of context. Mexico has every right to augment its tourist industry with food tourists. The two entities mentioned conducted market research to find out why Mexico wasn't perceived as a World Class culinary destination (which it is)... and guess what was found as the culprit? The proliferation of U.S. based Tex-Mex chains in Europe but mostly in Asia. This is about jobs, identity & pride.

                                            Tex-Mex has eroded Mexico's reputation around the world... and the Mexican people & government have a right to try to do something about it.

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              But, it is "Tex-Mex". No one is claiming it to be "authentic. I watch Rick Bayless and because of him I know the difference. I don't see that Tex-Mex has "eroded Mexico's reputation around the world . . ." When we went to Mexico we saw the difference, and still we eat both!

                                              1. re: danhole

                                                When the French see a Visit Mexico for Culinary Adventures commercial... they think Tex-Mex... and they say to themselves... are you kidding me?

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  Really? How would they know what Tex-Mex is? Unless the commercial shows enchiladas swimming in cheese, and queso made from velveeta, how could they tell?

                                                  1. re: danhole

                                                    Because the crap Tex Mex chains have made their way to France, Spain, Japan, China & other places... and that is what those consumers think when the see the Visit Mexico commercials.

                                                    Further... even in the U.S. the vast majority of people think greasy, combination plates.. blanketed with cheese served with the same predictable rice, beans, sour cream, guacamole combination.

                                              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                Are you talking about crap tex-mex served in chains outside of Texas? During the past 20 years, living in Houston and Austin, I have become addicted to Tex-Mex. However, I and most that I know in Houston do not consider crap Tex-Mex to be representative of the cuisine. I would be appalled if someone poured gravy on my tamales. I've found that you just can't get good texmex east of Houston, south of Brownsville, west of san antone (or many would say El Paso) and north of Dallas (and the food in Big D is pushing my tolerance). If you have not enjoyed a great tex mex restaurant that makes their own chips and tortillas and serves quality fajitas, carne asada, carnitas, carne guisada and mole, I'm quite sure that you are missing out. Ninfas on Nav, La Escondida and Laredo taco company are truly great in Houston. The nachos at Teala's on Dallas might change your mind about nachos (fajitas, real cheese and guac on individual fresh tortilla chips).

                                                1. re: Phil W

                                                  I think a definition of Tex-Mex is in order. Places like Ninfas that serve Carne Asada, Carnitas, Carnes Guisada & Mole... tend to consider themselves to be plain Mexican cuisine.

                                                  Tex-Mex is a term coined by Diana Kennedy to describe the cheesy combination plates, 3 tamales with chili gravy etc.,... that is what is uniquely Texan (along with BBQ, Chili etc., which are more of 19th century Mexican influence)... and Fajitas which are one of the few positive Tex-Mex innovations.

                                                  Nachos? Do you mean the authentic snack served at teenybopper chains in Mexico... or the fake, yellow cheese crap you tend to get NOB?

                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                    Could be we're talking about the same thing. I've always refered to Ninfa's as Tex-Mex. I really can't stomach the stouffer's microwave chili gravy slop that you might find in a chain in Pittsburgh. I guess my pride in the Mexican food we have in the great state of Texas has kept me from calling the crap outside the state Tex-Mex. As to Nacho's, I mean the authentic kind with skirt steak, real cheese, fresh guac and jalapenos (maybe some dice serranos too). The stuff you find at the ball park is really pretty gross.

                                                    1. re: Phil W

                                                      Yeah I think that the term Tex-Mex is different than Mexican food served in Texas... just for fun I am going to breakdown Ninfa's menu by Tex-Mex versus Mex-Mex (with provincial origin):


                                                      Queso Flameado (Northern Mexico)
                                                      Shrimp stuffed with Cheese, Jalapeno & Garlic Mayo (Tex-Mex)
                                                      Sopes (Jalisco)
                                                      Tostadas de Tinga (Puebla)
                                                      Nachos with Beans, Cheese, Jalapenos, Pico de Gallo, Sour Cream (Tex-Mex)
                                                      Chile con Queso (could be either... depending on ingredients)
                                                      Shrimp & Red Snapper Ceviche (Golfo de Mexico)
                                                      Guacamole (Central Mexico)
                                                      Torta de Jaiba with Poblano Cream Sauce (Puebla)
                                                      Corn Tortilla Quesadilla with Chicken & Poblanos (Central Mexico)


                                                      Red Onion, Avocado, Tomato (Yucatan)
                                                      Cobb (California)
                                                      Fajita (Tex Mex)
                                                      Chalupas (Tex-Mex)
                                                      India (Tex Mex)


                                                      Sopa de Tortilla (Central Mexico)
                                                      Caldo Xochitl (Mexico City)
                                                      Black Bean Soup (Southern Mexico)

                                                      BURRITOS... all Tex-Mex

                                                      NINFA'S ORIGINALS

                                                      Carnitas (Central Mexico)
                                                      Tacos Musicos (Tex Mex)
                                                      Pollo Asado (Sinaloa?)
                                                      Faijitas y Chile Relleno (Tex Mex)
                                                      Chiles Rellenos (Pan Mexican)
                                                      Mixta Ninfa (Tex Mex)


                                                      Antiguas (Tex Mex)
                                                      Granjas (Tex Mex)
                                                      Al Carbon (Tex Mex)
                                                      Verdes (Jalisco)
                                                      Suizas (Mexico City)

                                                      PLATOS MEXICANOS

                                                      Tejas Combo (Tex Mex)
                                                      Delirio (Northern Mexico)
                                                      El Henry (Tex Mex)
                                                      Aldo (Tex Mex)
                                                      El Eddie (Tex Mex)
                                                      El Benny (Tex Mex)
                                                      El Dannie (Tex Mex)
                                                      Ninfa's Delicioso (Tex Mex)
                                                      Tamales Compuestos (Tex Mex)
                                                      Taco de Pescado (Tamaulipas)

                                                      PLATOS FUERTES

                                                      Carne Asada with Grilled Onions & Nopalitos (Pan Mexican)
                                                      Mixta Campesino (Tex Mex / Mex)
                                                      Mixta Diablo (Tex Mex / Mex)
                                                      Codorniz Tres Modos (Pan Mexican)
                                                      Mixta Rio Grande (Tex Mex / Mex)
                                                      Costillas de Puerco Asado (Tlaxcala)
                                                      El Nopalito Platter (Tex Mex / Mex)
                                                      Parilla Mixta (Tex Mex / Mex)

                                                      SEAFOOD SPECIALS

                                                      Mariscos Diablo Navigation (Tex Mex)
                                                      Mariscos Tampico (Pan Mexican)
                                                      Mariscos Con Jaiba (Veracruz)
                                                      Filete de Tambor (Tamaulipas)
                                                      Xuachinango (Tabasco)

                                                      Other items... Charra Beans (Frijoles Charros).... Northern Mexico


                                                      In general having all these dishes automatically served with Rice & Beans is a very Tex-Mex & Cal-Mex tradition... as well as having such a huge menu... it goes against the principles of Mexican cooking.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          what are enchiladas "antiguas" and "granjas"?

                                                          1. re: fara

                                                            Antiguas have Chili & Cheddar Cheese, Granjas have Ranchero Sauce & Cheddar Cheese... safe to say these are Ninfa or other Tex-Mex innovations.

                                                            Check out the menu link I posted for greater details.

                                                    2. re: Phil W

                                                      The gravy thing is more of a 1940s/50s style of Tex-Mex, now mostly extinct. I ate at a restaurant in San Antonio that served me enchiladas topped with a brown gravy. Notably, that restaurant had been around since (I think) the 1920s and was run by Mexicans, so I guess they never bothered to change with the times.

                                                      1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                        There is a really good Tex-Mex cookbook that has both recipes and a history of Tex-Mex starting back in the 1800's. The recipe for red chili gravy is one of our favorites. Aside from grinding the chilis, the recipe takes about 15 minutes to prepare and is terrific on Sonoran-style stacked enchiladas.
                                                        The book is "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" by Robb Walsh. It's available on Amazon.

                                                        1. re: Pampatz

                                                          Ooh, that sounds good. Thanks! The gravy that restaurant served me was somewhat different than traditional American gravy, though no less mild and bland.

                                                  1. re: cmarie

                                                    "It is hard to pin down experts and restaurateurs as to what happened to Mexican food when it crossed the border. The best explanation is perhaps the most inelegant: it got cheesier, chili-er and meatier." NYTIMES

                                                    Mexican food did not cross the border. The border crossed into Mexico. As Anglicized Mexican food, there is a history of colonialism, frontier violence, land grabbing and cultural appropriation involved in all of this. I am not Mexican, but it seems to me that a lot of things have been stolen and changed for the use of European settlers, including the regional food of what was northern Mexico. There definately is a TexMex cuisine (which I sometimes like), but it has very dark origins and a creepy colonial feel to it. Further, although I believe all cuisine have cultural value, even colonial cuisine, there is no way tex-mex will ever match the culinary complexity of Mexican foods. But, like all things cultural, try not to insult people too much. At the same time, people need to speak out concerning the social reproduction of cuisine in historical context. It is what it is.

                                                    1. re: Feed Me

                                                      most of it is colonial food the way Southern food is colonial. the people cooking it developed the food based on their own expertise, and they were cooking for the Anglo wealthy. I think there's some Tex-Mex that is strictly the evolution of Mexican food within the U.S.. There were many families that became American b/c of that border change and have maintained their roots to this day.
                                                      However, how is good Tex-Mex any different from good Southern food in terms of quality? If you want to disparage colonialist food, you will have a hard time eating any regional American food or any Americanized version of anything. Please stay away from any southern Italian food that involves a lot of meat - completely adapted to American tastes. ditto Chinese, ditto any cuisine with a lot of sugar --etc, etc.

                                                      -And the Iberians were arguably just as bad as the Anglos- just enjoy the food.

                                                  2. If you refuse to accept any cuisine that adapts itself to local tastes and ingredients, then you also have to throw out Italian-American restaurants and even home cooking.

                                                    Why not just accept it for what it is and enjoy.

                                                    Even classic french cooking was started when an Italian (forgot her name) became the French queen and brought along her personal cooks. The Irish got the potato from the americas.The Italians got the tomato.

                                                    So where do you draw the line? How about based on whether food is done with good ingedients and it tastes good?

                                                    By it's very name, Tex-Mex is not claiming to be 'authentic' Mexican food.

                                                    19 Replies
                                                    1. re: waveguide33

                                                      There may be less to this subject that meets the eye.

                                                      I juist returned from a week in Mazatlan, which is a Mexican city not at all near the U.S. border. I had breakfast one day at a restaurant called VIPS. This is a large, bright, clean establishment which was, when I was there, full of prosperous-seeming Mexican people and families - as far as I could tell, my wife and I were the only gringos in the place. Not at all touristy.

                                                      The thing is that just about every item we deride as "Tex-Mex" was on the menu. Eggs (rancheros or divorciados) were served with refritos, topped with grated cheese, with a few chips stuck in. Your choice of bread or tortillas, and (excellent) coffee,

                                                      The dinner menu had enchiladas, queso fundido, sopa de tortilla, etc. And everybody in the place seemd to be enjoying themselves greatly (the food is very good) without caring one bit whether they were eating "real" Mexican food or not.

                                                      Also, I recall a recent thread in which a number of people in the Los Angeles area wondered where they couild buy Mexican Coca-Cola around L.A., since it is so much better than the U.S. variety. Well, I had a bottle of Coca-Cola there, Hecho en Mexico. I didn't notice any difference.

                                                      1. re: ekammin

                                                        None of those dishes are Tex Mex per se... they are classic Mexican diner or cafe dishes. Not regional specialties, home cooking or Alta Cocina dishes... but classics.

                                                        There are differences.. you get 3 chips on your beans, not a basket as an appetizer. They don't serve rice, beans, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo with every item. Each item is served with its appropriate garnish... some may be served with beans, others with rice, some with salad or pico de gallo etc.,

                                                        Further... anyone who has a Bayless cookbook knows that the most important course in Mexican cusine is Soup... the Mexican diners always have several choices of fresh homemade soups to start the meal. Also there are delicious fruit plates & desserts. Again contrasting with the Tex-Mex places where you order one giant plate of starchy food & only have a choice of Flan or Sopapillas as dessert etc., VIPS & Sanborn's and other Mexican chains in Mexico... are closer in line with Mexico's lifestyle & definition of an "Appropriate Meal"

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          >Again contrasting with the Tex-Mex places where you order one giant plate of starchy food & only have a choice of Flan or Sopapillas as dessert etc., VIPS & Sanborn's and other Mexican chains in Mexico... are closer in line with Mexico's lifestyle & definition of an "Appropriate Meal"

                                                          This is just not true. There is bad Tex-Mex, just like there is bad Chinese or bad real Mex. No one here is defending badly prepared food. But good Tex-Mex is more than starch and glop, as you keep describing it. By taking the best of Mex and comparing it to the worst of Tex-Mex you do a real disservice to the many people who understand the differences and still like both. It's like saying you hate all steak because Sizzler and Steak n' Ale are terrible.

                                                          1. re: cocktailhour

                                                            Ninfa's is held up as the standard for Tex-Mex... and they serve everything with Rice & Beans, don't have the fresh fruit & the variety of desserts... that is different than places in Mexico.

                                                            Further see the discussion above for what constitutes Tex Mex.... with few exceptions the non Authentic Mexican dishes served at places like Ninfa's ARE starch & glop.

                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                              In your first paragraph, you compare Ninfa's to Mexico. Every proponent of Tex-Mex agrees that it is different from traditional Mexican food. (In my trips ot Mexico, by the way, not every restaurant was exactly the same and not every restaurant had "fresh fruit and the variety of desserts." I know your experience is wider than mine.)

                                                              In your second paragraph, you claim the "non-authentic" dishes are starch and glop. Are you complaining about poorly done (in your opinion) Mexican food, or poorly done Tex-Mex?

                                                              If you had said this, although you didn't, that Tex-Mex often (not always) has lots of cheese (more than traditional Mex), I would agree. Some people may not like that much cheese, I would agree. Do decent restaurants use plastic fake cheese? NO. Does the use of cheese make Tex-Mex inferior? NO, just different.

                                                              Nobody wants you to like Tex-Mex, nor will its glory be sullied by your opinions of it. I wish I had a Chuy's chile relleno (battered and deep fried, baby!) with chicken and deluxe tomatillo sauce right now. Or a cheese enchilada with "Tex-Mex" sauce--dark chiles and beef. Or Ninfa's beef tacos al carbon.

                                                              1. re: cocktailhour

                                                                Tex-Mex was coined by Diana Kennedy as such we should use her definition to guide us. Further, I would propose that Tex-Mex includes any dishes (of Mexican inspiration) invented on Texas soil... the most respectable (for which Ninfa's takes credit) is a plate of superbly prepared Fajitas.

                                                                In genreal, Mexican is about fresh, quality, seasonal, non-industrialized ingredients, lots of herbs & real cooking... something finally being appreciated in the U.S. after decades of domination by the processed food giants & their silly recipe books.... Tex-Mex tends to gravitate around institutional ingredients, starch & glop (with some exceptions... but that is the general course).

                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  I donn't know about ths. The last time I was in a Mexican supermarket (where the customers were overwhelmingly Mexican, not tourist), which was last week, I saw as much in the way of turkey frankfurters, frozen flautas and processed cheese as in any supermarket in the U.S. or Canada.

                                                                  1. re: ekammin

                                                                    Sure Mexico had big-box supermarkets with furniture & the whole deal well before Costco & Sam's were out doing their thing... but the difference is that they serve a minor section of the population... most concentrated in Northern Mexico which has an inferior food culture to Central & Southern Mexico.

                                                                    In most parts of Mexico... the majority of people still shop at the traditional Mercados & Tianguis. In Mexico City for example... there is Mercado La Merced... where specialized produce stands sell daily shipments of produce picked within a day (most fresh produce is liquidated at the end of the day, to make room for the next day's shipment). La Merced's produce section is huge... its about 5 times the size of the Santa Monica Farmer's Market (the biggest I have seen in California).

                                                                    On top of La Merced there are a dozen smaller mercados... & then you have Tianguis (open air markets) that hit each neighborhood 2 to 3 times a week. In the Mexico City area... you can probably find 20 or 30 different Tianguis on any given day.

                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                      I have been in plenty of Mexican supermarkets, including several in Guadalajara, which is hardly a border town. It seemed to be full of shoppers, obviously local people, buying, among other things, prepackaged foods, prepared and canned foods, and the like, even frozen enchiladas.

                                                                      Of course, I am not a statistician, and I was perhaps just seeing minority of the people of Guadalajara, the rest being out shopping at various local markets.

                                                                      I can't help but feel, though, that many people tend to romanticize Mexicans, thinking they are like Marlon Brando in "Viva Zapata", just eating tortillas and whatever chickens and veggies they raised in their own back yards. Mexico is, of course, becoing increasingly prosperous, and prosperous Mexicans seem to enjoy just the same things as prosperous Americans or Canadians. One acquaintance, who moved back to Mexico after five years in California so that his family could have "a more Mexican way of life" told me that one thing he and his wife enjoyed was going to a good restaurant, having a shrimp cocktail followed by a juicy steak and a good Bordeaux.

                                                                      1. re: ekammin

                                                                        I don't dispute that new industrial era "prosperity" in Mexico has brought around some of the baggage from other industrialized countries... particular as the new middle classes tries to imitate its nearest role model... in this case mainstream, sub-urban U.S.

                                                                        But the other thing that can't be disputed... is that Mexico also has very deep, traditional roots that fight these homegenizing forces that inadvertently destroy the real world and replace it with a cariacature of the real thing. Maybe that sense of deep history isn't as prevalent in Guadalajara as it is in Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, Xalapa etc.,... but I think its still strong enough that Guadalajara will retain more character than say Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana or Monterrey.

                                                                        Diana Kennedy has been reprimanded by U.S. expats for describing Guadalajara & Jalisco as blah compared to Mexico City, Oaxaca & the surrounding areas. My parents were both born in the highlands of Jalisco, yes I love my Tequilas, Birria, Carne en su Jugo, Gelatinas & so forth... but I don't hesitate (the slightest bit) to label Guadalajara as a 4th rate foodie city in comparison. Even then just quantify Guadalajara's Slow Food assets versus cities in the U.S. Manhattan might be the only place in the U.S. that compares to Guadalajara in terms of Groceries purchased from independent markets, farmer's markets, street vendors etc., versus big chain supermarkets with all their super process items.

                                                                        I am not naive... I see the bottles of Knorr Suiza, boxes of Nestle brand Moles etc., at Commercial Mexicana, Wal-Mart & Costco... and yes I look around and see my cousins all going to College & Trade School and not learning how to cook... but I know per capita... you will find many times more home cooks in Mexico that regularly cook fairly complex food from scratch, using fresh, seasonal & artisinal ingredients than you will in the States.

                                                                  2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                    Houston Press had a great series on Tex-Mex. Here is the link to the first of 6. While Mexican and other foods started with all seasonal, fresh ingredients (because that's all that was available), there are people now who make it with shortcuts and "industrialized" ingredients, In Mexico and elsewhere. Tex-Mex is the reverse. It started out as a blanding-down and perversion of Mexican, but now has its own standards and qualities and people who make it fresh. Tex-Mex has more cheese and cumin than Mex. Many dishes have more carbs than traditional Mex. So what?

                                                                    I went to a "tex-mex like" restaurant last night, since I don't live in Texas to get the real thing. The "fajitas" were a little saucy. They don't sell queso. Very sad misrepresentation of the genre.


                                                              2. re: cocktailhour

                                                                The more I read this thread the more I'm convinced "authenticity" is ludicrous, at least as the term is used in this thread. Recently I read somewhere about foodies in France debating about authentic bouillabaise. Some people claim the soup has to contain scorpion fish to be authentic, others say it has to be made in sight of Marseilles, still others claim it has to be made with water from a specific area. Which is correct? Is the bouillabaise I make in Paris inauthentic to one made in Marseilles if I substitute monkfish for scorpion fish? What if I use oil instead of butter as a cooking fat, or vice versa?

                                                                Where do you draw the line between "This dish is authentic" and "This dish is inauthentic"? ISTM authenticity is another term for "What I grew up eating" and not really a universal constant.

                                                                I'm convinced there is no such thing as "authentic" cuisine. Here's why: As cuisines develop, the culture containing them develops when influxes of peoples bring new foods, new ways of cooking, preserving and flavoring food. Trade route changes, introduction or elimination of certain foods (the tomato going to Italy from the US, for example), even climate changes, natural disasters, agricultural developments or disasters (plant pest infestations, for another example) and wars also have huge impacts on cuisines. Don't forget the powerful influence of religion on what people eat or avoid eating, and how and why.

                                                                If someone wants "authentic Mexican food" then, well, he's screwed. Dish ingredients vary from region to region. Even our own venerated Rick Bayless talks about the wildly varying forms a dish will take when found in, say, Chihuahua, Tampico, and Veracruz. Yes, our diner can get enchiladas in Houston made "just like" the ones in Chihuahua, but there will be differences: The taste of the water used in the cornmeal, the grind quality of the cornmeal, the quality and flavor of the corn used in making the cornmeal, quality of the beef, breed of peppers, cooking method (gas oven vs charcoal grill), the type of cheese used, et al.

                                                                "Authenticity" falls down because there's no universally-recognized determination of authenticity between differing versions of the same dish. In a roundabout way this makes my point:

                                                                >>Overall, America contributed an incredible variety of foods to Europe, including tomatoes, corn, pineapples, green beans, kidney beans, limas, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, peppers, tapioca, turkey and chewing gum.<< (Source: http://www.cellinteractive.com/ucla/c...


                                                                Cuisines change, not instantly but over time. What is an "authentic" in 1700 has changed by 1800. If quinoa replaces wheat in US agriculture (as some people are trying to effect) then what will happen to "authentic" bread? What we make sandwiches with in 2050 might not look or taste a whole lot like what we use now.

                                                                Cuisines change. None is better or worse than another, all have strong points and weak. All that matters is if you, the diner, like what's on your plate.

                                                            2. re: ekammin

                                                              VIPS is a Wal-Mart company, as is El Porton, an upscale VIPS. I like both for breakfast.

                                                              1. re: Pampatz

                                                                VIPS predates Wal-Mart by 5 decades... must have been an acquisition. Sanborn's was also started by an American.. initally to serve American diner food.

                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  VIPS is a Wal-Mart de Mexico company according to their website. Don't know an acquisition date.

                                                                  1. re: Pampatz

                                                                    VIPS predates the existence of Wal-Mart by several decades.

                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                      VPS may have been bought out by Wal-Mart.
                                                                      I like Tex-Mex if it's good, and Mexican if I can get it.
                                                                      Tex -Mex evolved from what people had locally and available at the time I guess,though Robb Walsh's book says it better than I can.
                                                                      As you said, most think of the enchilada plate with rice and beans,not some of the dishes in the books by Diane Kenedy.
                                                                      I'm with KenWritz on this one.
                                                                      But even though I like tex-mex,i do wish sometimes they would have say rice and squash or other vegetables,or beans and some other vegetable instead of say rice,you know variety.
                                                                      I know in Mexico they do cook other vegetables and have salads.I have an old cookbook by Catherine Ulmer Stokes of mexican recipes which does have salads in it,though i haven't tried them yet.
                                                                      By the way,why does northern Mexico have an inferior food culture Eating Nopal?Is it due to the climate and what the people could grow?

                                                                      1. re: HollyDolly

                                                                        I have heard Mexicans refer to the northern part of their country as "The land where culture ends and barbecue begins." I recall the food there (Monterrey, Saltillo, etc.) as being somewhat similar to that of the U.S. west. Why this is inferior I do not know.

                                                                        1. re: HollyDolly

                                                                          "By the way,why does northern Mexico have an inferior food culture Eating Nopal?Is it due to the climate and what the people could grow?"

                                                                          Its quite interesting.... I am in the middle of building a website... and brainstorming on essay response to a question posed here about six months ago... What is Authentic Mexican Cuisine?

                                                                          In my research & brainstorm I have thought a lot about the inequality between regions in Mexico... and really taking a deep dive into the history... and then it hit me a couple of days ago. After 15 years or so of being obsessed with Mesoamerican history, culture, arts, archeology etc., I finally came to understand Mexican cuisine (or at least I feel I have achieved a new level of understanding).....

                                                                          Why is Northern Mexico inferior to Central & Southern Mexico?

                                                                          1) Northern Mexico's ecosystems are less diverse, less productive & more forbidding than those of Central & Southern Mexico. However... even accounting for that... Northern Mexicans don't seem to exploit natural resources anywhere near as well as people down South.

                                                                          For example, in tiny Tlaxcala the locals have identified, experimented with & found uses for no less than 100 wild plants... including a dozen or so culinary herbs & greens... 50 or so medicinal plants & the remainder used for aesthetic purposes (shampoo, baths, skin producs, decoratives etc.,).

                                                                          Even more is the Nahuatl people's use of Maguey / Agave... they drank its sap, fermented it, ate the grubs & insects it atracted, made paper & "roasting pans" out of its leaves, ate its flowers etc.,

                                                                          Northern Mexico doesn't seem to have that same level of understanding & sustainable technology.

                                                                          2) There were no major civilizations in Northern Mexico... the Olmecs, Teotihuacans, Mayans, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Mixes, Aztecs etc., all of Mesoamericas great civilizations are found no further north than Jalisco. The best of Mexico's cuisines comes from a very long history of civilization and all that it entails.

                                                                          The real revelation I had was when I was thinking about the nature of Mexico's regional specialties. These are complex dishes, classics that would make de La Varenne & Escoffier scream out in pleasure... but yet on Chowhound & other places these dishes are often referred to as peasant dishes. So I thought about it and realized if these really are peasant dishes... than Ancient Mexican grassroot cooks were all geniuses & extraordinarily talented. But I became greatly confounded when I thought about how utterly simple most everday Mexican cooking can be... some corn tortillas, a wedge of queso fresco, roasted jalapenos, sliced tomatoes & avocados.

                                                                          As I researched how these dishes could have come about & how they filtered down to the masses... it all came together.

                                                                          a) Mexico's complex regional specialties... particularly those that rely on special, seasonal ingredients & game meats... are descendants of Mesoamerican palace cuisine.

                                                                          b) Mesoamerican government style forced the filtering down... a calendar full of holy days & celebrations were an essential part Mesoamerican cosmology... and the Emperors / Kings / Spiritual Leaders would designate particular dishes for each celebration.

                                                                          Contemporary Mexico has more celebrations than any other country I know. Those who are familar with Italy should imagine it on steroids... today the celebrations revolve around Christian deities & symbols.... but these were just replacements for the Pre-Hispanic deities & symbols (for example the Spanish chose December 12th as Virgin de Guadalupe day... because that used to be the day of Tonantzin the Aztec Mother deity).

                                                                          Now the key to realize is how neatly organized Mesoamerican tributary economies & trading relationships were setup... to see how foodies like Moctezuma (documented by the Spaniards) would direct his army of cooks to come up with new & exotic dishes... those he liked he shared with the Priest class... and my theory is that they would choose among those... dishes of great spiritual importance... as the official dish of x community on y day.

                                                                          Mesomamerica had festivals like Muslims pray... more than anyone else around.

                                                                          Northern Mexico didn't have that... so what you really have there is a layer of Spanish cuisine combined with Native cuisine of the smaller, less sophisticated tribes in the North... and you are really missing the generous, foodie, palatial layer. That is why Northern Mexico has so much less diversity in recipes, cooking techniques & special traditions.