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California Mexican vs. Tex Mex?

This is a bit of a thread jack, but what is the difference between Tex-Mex and California Mexican food?
I have got into several arguments with people over the years trying to say that I thought California was the better of the two but I have a hard time defining it.
To me California Mexican tends to be a little healthier, with an emphasis on fish, avocados and generally with more vegetables. Beans are sometimes whole and not refried. Tacos tend to be crispy. Garlic is use more liberally than in Tex-Mex.
The cheese enchilada with a meat sauce seems to be the quintessential Tex-Mex dish. Tex-Mex in general has an emphasis on cheese and beef in all their forms.
Tex-Mex rellenos use Hatch peppers while California uses Anaheim. California chips are usually not thin while Tex-Mex often are.
Which of these points am I wrong about and what am I missing?

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  1. I'm under the impression that California Mexican food has a lot more fresh herbs and cheeses, as well as lean steak and chicken. Tex-Mex is more about the processed glop.

    3 Replies
    1. re: brattpowered

      I'll beg to differ on the "processed glop" comment -- but Tex-Mex is heavier on the cheese and beef side of things and heavier in general.

      When I first moved to San Antonio many, many years ago, the food was better (when you sat down you'd get a bowl of hot, greasy chips and some butter to smear on 'em), lots of green sauce, everything was made with lard . . .there was no cilantro to be found. In college at UT, we'd go into East Austin (when NO one would venture to that side of 35) and get a hefty bag full of chips just fresh out of the grease for $4. But damn, that was good eating.

      Now, with more people moving into the state from elsewhere, the Mexican food seems to be moving more toward the Cal-mex side of things to accommodate those tastes (and later-day health concerns): black beans, more cilantro, fish tacos, more vegetables.

      1. re: bebevonbernstein

        This is so old I hesitate to answer to it, but.. someone on that side of 35 did the cooking for you, and presumably even (gasp) lived there.

        1. re: shanagain

          Though old, and some of the contributors might not be around any more, this is a subject that comes up in several boards, especially those along the US/Mexican border. Over the years, I think that I have contributed to a half-dozen.

          I feel that the discussion will continue, with, or without, some of the original contributors here. I also feel that it serves a good purpose, as newer subscribers to CH should be able to benefit from the discussions.

          This is not an easy, nor a black-and-white subject, and many will have their own opinions on what constitutes the differences. Every time that I visit this thread, I learn some new ideas/observations, and find some things that I had not considered.

          Comment away, as others will likely benefit.


    2. As a native California who grew up on CalMex, and now a long time resident of Texas, where (surprisingly?) TexMex originated, to me, the differences are these:

      First off, when you move from one area to another, you'll find name changes. What I grew up calling a tostado in California, changed from being a whole flat crispy tortilla topped with a layer of beans, maybe some kind of meat, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheese, maybe sliced jalapenos, and topped with a dollop of sour cream turned out to be a... tortilla chip in texas! Blew my mind. Lots of name differences, but with the passing of time and population mobility, I think a little progress has been made toward consistency.

      Things I was used to and took for granted in California, were black olives (NEVER in Tex Mex!), avocado and guacamole in California, are now far more common in Texas than they were 25 years ago (apparently thanks to Taco Bell!), sea food in California (one of my faves was crab enchiladas at Su Casa, in La Jolla) but fish tacos, for example, are only recently reaching Texas. Shredded beef is more common in CaMx than in TxMx. And I found a greater variety of cheeses, especially Mexican (type) cheeses, used in California, whereas my experience is that generally in Texas you'll find a lot more cheddar.

      When I first moved to Texas, the tamales made me cry. Sooooooo stingy with the filling (like they filled a thin drinking straw with the filling and then injected it into the masa) and a Texas tamale is rarely as large as two fingers in diameter.

      I've never found bowls of pickled carrots and other veggies served with soft tacos in Texas the way they are in both southern California, and Tijuana, Mexico.

      TexMex food seems most reflective of west Texas, and the desert, leaving the food sort of barren when compared to California's wide and rich variety of everything. Even when you move into the richer and greener parts of Texas, where cattle ranching is common, agriculture doesn't lean much in the direction of fresh produce. This is all reflected in the food.

      A short true life story that, for me, reflects the difference between CalMex and TexMex... When we first moved to Texas (El Paso), I was working two jobs. One day I was running late for a meeting across town but was starving! Saw a huge sign that said, "Chico's Tacos." Parked, dashed in, wanted two beef tacos. FOLDED beef tacos! The counter girl looked at me like I was crazy. "We only serve rolled tacos, ma'am." I irritably replied, "No. You don't sell ANY tacos! You sell FLAUTAS!" And I left, still hungry. IMO, Chico's Tacos serves the worst flautas I've ever tasted, but they are HUGELY popular in El Paso. But hey, that's TexMex!

      54 Replies
      1. re: Caroline1

        "What I grew up calling a tostado in California, changed from being a whole flat crispy tortilla topped with a layer of beans, maybe some kind of meat, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheese, maybe sliced jalapenos, and topped with a dollop of sour cream turned out to be a... tortilla chip in texas! Blew my mind. "

        Native Texan here, and I have NEVER heard of that item called a "tortilla chip." Those are known as either tostadas or chalupas, which are basically different names for the same thing. Chalupa is more common in the panhandle.

        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

          Well, when I moved to El Paso, every time I asked for tostadas (as in two for lunch) I was brought a bowl of tortilla chips. When I asked what was going on, the reply was, "Ooooh... You mean CHALUPAS!"

          There was a great tortilleria there that also deep fried their tortillas and sold them by the brown paper grocery bag full, and they had them on their menu as "tostadas."

          Lots of things are regional. I just asked my housekeeper, who is a native of Dallas, and she says that in this area chalupas AND tortilla chips are both called "tostados," just as they are in El Paso.

          And here (http://mw1.m-w.com/dictionary/tostados) you'll find:

          One entry found.


          Main Entry: tos·ta·da
          Pronunciation: \tō-ˈstä-də\
          Variant(s): also tos·ta·do \-(ˌ)dō\

          Function: noun

          Etymology: Mexican Spanish tostada, from Spanish, feminine of tostado, past participle of tostar to toast, roast, from Late Latin tostare — more at toast

          Date: 1935

          : a tortilla fried in deep fat

          1. re: Caroline1

            Oh, wait. I just COMPLETELY misread what you had originally written. Clearly, I am a moron. Sorry about that.

            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              LOL! Welcome to the human race! Or are you just doing this to make me feel like I'm not the only one? '-)

            2. re: Caroline1

              well, El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than to East Texas.

              Coming from Houston, Tex-Mex definitely has more cheese than Cal Mex, and I also think deeper, richer flavors, more chile, more spice, more oomph. Hatch green chiles are a West Texas/Arizona thing, not seen as much in Houston/the Eastern part of the state. There are also planty of barbecue influences.

              1. re: cocktailhour

                I think people always prefer whatever it is they grow up with, or taste first and like.

                How picante/spicy/hot things are varies greatly from region to region, and sometimes changes greatly in just a few miles. For example, I would expect Houston's proximity to Louisiana, and the Big Easy, to influence the spiciness of Mexican food in your region. Here in Plano, and the parts of the DFW metroplex I've sampled, things aren't so spicy that I can't eat them. In El Paso, things were about the same as here, but drive thirty miles north to Las Cruces, and the New Mexico penchant for "if it don't cauterize your brain and make your eyeballs fall out on your cheeks, it ain't hot enough" kicks in.

                Bobby Flay has had a huge impact across the country on how "picante" things are, not only in Southwestern and Mexican style foods, but in everything. Not to mention what he has done for blue corn.

                In this area where I now live, in my experience with close to twenty Mexican restaurants, the large majority (about 75% of those I've tried) do not char and peel a chile for a chile relleno. The result is a crunchy chile that I've never had anywhere but here. Cheese chile rellenos are also more the exception here than the rule, with things like meat and poultry, sometimes with raisins and spices in the meat/poultry fillings, not typical of the chile rellenos I've experienced in the rest of the country.

                As for "deeper richer flavor," I think that, like beauty, that's something that is always in the eye -- and tastebuds -- of the beholder. '-)

                1. re: Caroline1

                  "drive thirty miles north to Las Cruces, and the New Mexico penchant for "if it don't cauterize your brain and make your eyeballs fall out on your cheeks, it ain't hot enough" kicks in."

                  Sounds like my kind of place! Any recommendations?

                2. re: cocktailhour

                  well, just because I have driven from San Antonio to Los Angeles more than once ~~ and always stopped for the night in El Paso, I had to check this on google maps.

                  El Paso to Los Angeles ~~ 802 miles
                  El Paso to Houston ~~ 745 miles

                  thus providing conclusive proof that East Texas is still closer. I hope you can read my tongue in cheek

              2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                I grew up in Dallas from 50's on. I've been reading a doctorate dissertation in the UT archives where Vanessa Fonseca says that chips and salsa is a Texas invention. As early as 1918 the Dallas-based El Fenix, served whole fried tortillas with salsa. Around 1940 they started cutting them into wedges. She states that “tostadas” were commercialized around 1912 by B. Martinez Sons Co. (founders of El Fenix) and "tostados" is the word used by non-Hispanics for fried tortillas. These were fried but not called "Fritos" but "tostadas" because they thought it would have a less negative connotation in Spanish.
                I don't know if this explains anything or not but I have always known a chalupa as a bean, lettuce, tomato and cheese topped, whole, fried tostada.

              3. re: Caroline1

                I don't know about West Texas, but here in Houston, Taco Bell had nothing to do with avocados and guacamole being more common now than 25 years ago. And Flautas are rolled and fried tacos type things. Just to have a taco rolled doesn't make it a flauta. Maybe it's an El Paso thing, or maybe it's a California thing. I don't know.

                1. re: danhole

                  Don't know why I seem to be raising so much controversy? A taco USUALLY has some sort of fresh stuff in it, along with the standard fillings of meat, poultry, beans and/or cheese. For example, chiffonade of lettuce, diced tomatoes, chopped onions or scallions, stuff like that in a beef or chicken taco. Fish tacos are usually served with Mexican cole slaw. A flauta, however, is simply a meat or chicken filling rolled inside a corn tortilla, and sometimes secured with a toothpick or other means prior to deep frying. Even when rolled, tacos are rarely, if ever, deep fat fried with all of the fresh goodies inside them, not to mention any cheese or sour cream. It would make a splattering dangerous mess!

                  Apparently I didn't make clear that a place In El Paso (and while they do have multiple locations, I believe they are all within that ciy) called "Chico's Tacos" does not sell tacos at all. None! They sell flautas, and flautas only. Deep fat fried until they are break-your-teeth hard, topped with shredded cheese, then served in a cardboard boat with a cup of chili flavored liquid that looks like red dishwater to pour over them to soften them. I had never heard a flauta called a "taco" until I moved to El Paso, and stopped in Chico's Tacos looking for a real taco. My point is that there ARE regional differences in what things are called.

                  Sorry it's so difficult to follow. And again, Houston may well have been on the avocado band wagon long before many other parts of Texas because of your proximity to Florida. If it's too far to cart the avocados by land, it's a short sail on the gulf.

                  Houston, however, is not like the rest of Texas. And the rest of Texas isn't like the "rest of Texas" either simply because this is such a very very very large state. California, on the other hand, even though it is the third largest state, after Texas ranking second only to Alaska, is far more uniform in its "CalMex" style of food, despite its size. Even prior to California's vast overpopulation, it was like that. Historical factors probably play a role in both states.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    I didn't get the part about the "tacos" being deep fried. Also I think perhaps Houston has more avocado because of Mexico, not Florida.

                    We moved back to Houston in 1970, and I was 13. The only mexican food I was familiar with was out of a frozen dinner, so I was pretty amazed at the Tex Mex. I went with this family, that we knew from living here back in the early 60's, on a trip from Houston and around the state in a clockwise direction. We were in Laredo and stopped at a mexican cafe. The menu was in spanish, so my friends father ordered for me. It was a soft taco with stuff in it like you described, and I liked it. I had never had anything like it before. I asked what kind of meat was it, and he told me it was goat. My eyes bugged out, and he quickly said no, it was pork. He lied, I was pacified and didn't find out for a few years that I was tricked! That trip showed me how diverse this state truly is. From the Forest at Big Bend to the border towns, the desert, and then the rolling plush greenery in the panhandle. First time I had ever had figs off of a tree, in Abilene. Gorged myself until I got sick! Ah, good times!

                    Didn't mean to offend you Caroline. Sorry if I did.

                    1. re: danhole

                      So you had the "cabrito surprise" eh? LOVED this story!

                      1. re: danhole

                        You certain you live in Texas? The forest at Big Bend? The Chisos Basin is relatively lush, but surrounding it(and contributing much of Big Bend and the neighboring reserve) is the Chihuahuan Desert. The Panhandle is mostly prairie. Maybe you are thinking of verdant Houston and The Piney Woods?

                        To bring it back to Tex-Mex, I disagree with many of Caroline1's apprehensions(I usually do), but here's a specific: I've never had a Tex-Mex chile relleno made with a Hatch chile or an Anaheim. Until you get to far West Texas...Hatch chiles are basically unheard of...
                        when I think chile rellenos, I think stuffed poblanos. Also, as another poster mentions, proximity to Florida has nothing to do with avocado usage in Tex-Mex...that's a definite Mexican influence.

                        1. re: aelph

                          It was a LONG time ago, and I was new to the state, but I know we camped out in a forest with lots of trees southwest of Houston, and darn you are right about the panhandle. I got Amarillo confused with Abilene. Abilene was the plush greenery! Oops! And we didn't get to the Piney Woods that trip, but I went to college in East Texas.

                          Yes, I learned what cabrito was, in a very roundabout way! LOL! Cabrito is very popular around here and is served at a lot of places.

                          1. re: aelph

                            aelph, I need to come to the defense of my buddy Dani. In the mountains, that reach over 7800 feet, not the basin, there a is remnant forest of ponderosa pine that go back to the late pleistocene era, along with douglas fir and other trees found in cooler climates. This is part of the beauty of Big Bend, you go through several climate zones, from desert floor to pine forests in the mountains.

                            1. re: James Cristinian

                              Thanks James. I could have sworn there was a forest.

                            2. re: aelph

                              Since I am a Texan and was a Dallasite for 50 years, and a avid connoisseur of everything Tex-Mex and Mexican, I can think of numerous instances where I have had the long green one...
                              While you are mostly correct, that mainstream, "popular with Gringos" Tex-Mex joints typically use poblanos, I have had Hatch or Hatch-like chiles in those places and at hole-in-the-walls (that were more Mex than Tex), many times. I remember because I thought Whaaaat (?), till I got used to it being as good or better than the poblano.
                              See, Big C, I'm watchin your backside".

                              1. re: Scargod

                                The first time I had a poblan, I thougt I was getting rooked. In New Mex, the big green rellano.

                              2. re: aelph

                                So, I'm not certain any of the supposed Texans actually live in Texas. If you did, you would know that EVERY YEAR! Central Market does a Hatch Festival in August. Which is glorious btw, go and try all of the delicious hatch foods that they create, especially hatch sausages.

                                Also, (and I say this as someone who's tried Mexican food and variations all over the place, Chicago, New England area, California, Florida, Texas, and some of the border towns in Mexico) your interpretation of Tex Mex doesn't do the cuisine justice. I will admit that Tex Mex is less healthy than Cal Mex, and quite frankly, that's the way we like it. Also, your interpretation of tacos is inaccurate. If we're going to talk real authentic tacos, then we've gotta talk street food, because that's what real Mexican tacos are. They're made on soft corn tortillas, almost always homemade, and have only the meat filling, chopped raw onion, cilantro, and a dash of lime juice. Maybe there will rarely be cheese.

                                In that sense, the Cal Mex taco is definitely a healthy reimagining of that, and the Tex Mex taco is a bigger, fuller version.

                                I feel like Tex Mex evolved out of a plentiful supply of red meat and cheese, whereas Cal Mex reaps the bounty of the land, especially with regards to the vegetables. Neither is really better or worse. The flavors of Tex Mex, in my opinion, are more bold, spicy, explosions-in-your-mouth, whereas I find a more subtle flavor in Cal Mex cuisine, with multiple, harmonious flavors come together.

                                That being said, I'm a kick in the mouth flavor kinda gal, and I'll take Tex Mex over Cal Mex any day of the week, hands down.

                                1. re: wanderingtexan17

                                  Hey -- I even won a place in one of the annual Hatch cooking contests at CM!

                                  Also, I am not going to agree that Cal Mex is any healthier. Just because you add fish or veggies to the mix does not make it healthier if is not prepared with this in mind. In fact, fish tacos can have more calories and fat than you would imagine. What do you think is in Baja sauce?

                                  1. re: RGC1982

                                    I wouldn't define "fish tacos" as "Cal Mex." Fish tacos are "Baja Cal Mex" and I don't recall the originals being made with FRIED fish! But now fried fish tacos are ubiquitous. Here in the Dallas/lFort Worth area, EVERY place has them. Even Long John Silvers! Fried fish tacos are disgustingly un healthy! To me (a fifth generation native Californian on my father's side), Cal Mex is better typified with avacados and black olives. Avacados are now more common throughout the country in any type of Mexican food, primarily because of guacamole, but black olives are still pretty much a California thing. Pity!

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      I definitely agree with Caroline1 on the fish taco thing, they are not indigenous to Cal-Mex food.

                                      Everyone thinks fish tacos were "invented" or originated in San Diego. Not. The fish taco chain Rubio's did originate in SD and was the brain child of Ralph Rubio who ate tacos in San Felipe, Baja California del Norte when he'd go surfing down there during Spring Break. The reality is that fish tacos have long been a staple of the Pacific coast of Mexico and pre-date Ralph's surfing days by many years.

                                      Where I differ with Caroline is in the frying. A Baja-style fish taco is almost always fried in a light beer batter and served in a corn tortilla, topped with shredded cabbage and a "white" sauce. In Baja that white sauce is most likely going to be McCormick's Mayonesa (that comes with lime already in it) that has been thinned with crema and lime juice. NOB, the fish taco is going to come grilled or fried, in a corn or flour tortilla, the cabbage morphs into a zillion variations of "slaw" and the white sauce is everything from ranch dressing to sour cream and almost always included shredded yellow cheese (which you will almost never see SOB)

                                      For me the difference between Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex is a difference in flavor profiles. It's also the difference between green and red. Cal-Mex is the green cuisine and is based more on the use of fresh green chiles (jalapeños, serranos, poblanos and Anaheims) and Tex-Mex is the red cuisine base more on the use of dried chiles. Cal-Mex is going to make more extensive use of lighter meats and seafood (because, well, because we're on the coast) and Tex-Mex more extensive use of beef and pork. The flavor profile of Cal-Mexi is lighter, less spicy and more subtle; Tex-Mex is bolder, spicier and more in -your-face. Cal-Mex is probably also going to include more vegetables and a greater variety of vegetables because they are readily available, particularly in areas like the Central and Imperial valleys where Mexican migration firt settled. California raised vegetables, Texas raised beef, both of which gave birth to the regional variations of the cuisines the Mexican brought wtih them

                                      It's certainly not cut and dried and both Cal-Mex and Tex-Mex are delicious sub genres of Mexican food. But a fish taco is always fried ;-)

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          Words like "always" always make me nervous when talking about food. My first fish taco was from a street vendor on the beachy outskirts of Tijuana, in the '50s. It was made with ceviche of white fish on a soft corn tortilla with a few crunchy veggies. I remember sliced pickled carrots, but don't recall the rest. It was some time before I had another fish taco and it was fried fish. I was VERY disappointed! I have always regretted that ceviche tacos are not the style that caught on. Better flavor and healthier! I also remember (not fried) shrimp tacos. And Su Casa restaurant in La Jolla did a mean crab leg enchilada back then. I think frying everything, from Twinkies to chicken fried bacon and fried fish tacos are a development of the late twentieth century, not mid. If you've never had a ceviche taco, try it, you'll like it! At least I hope you will! '-)

                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                          Ah, avocados. Had not thought of that as an ingredient. Now, I have had great Tex-Mex guac., but if I see sliced, I know that I am having Cal-Mex, in most cases.

                                          Good call,


                                      1. re: wanderingtexan17

                                        I would also add that Tex-Mex is usually a bit heartier, than Cal-Mex (or AZ-Mex). The flavors in the latter are more subtle, and are often imparted by the veggies involved, where one will often have more cooked (often to almost the point of burning) onions, and beef stock, in lieu of so much tomato and the juices of those.

                                        I have also found that more salsas are purees with Tex-Mex, where with Cal-Mex, one has more veggie chunks.

                                        I do not care which is the healthier option, as it's about the taste. In AZ we have a small chain of "healthy Mexican" restaurants. They use no lard, no animal fats of any sort, and the food is just plain bland. Which is "better?" I'd say that it's up to the palate of the diner.

                                        Now, I do find that NM-Mex/Indio is closer to what I typify as Tex-Mex, with the addition of blue corn, which I do love. Still, there are influences from East & West of NM in their cuisine, plus a very healthy (not in the Healthmark terms) doses of Native American (Indio) influences. Different, but good in their own right, at least to me.

                                        If one gave me a plane ticket to go and get "Mexican food," I'd head for San Antonio, with maybe a side-trip to Del Rio, or Laredo.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Bill, where do you go in San Antonio? I've been there 3 or 4 times over the last couple of years and haven't really found a whole lot that was very inspiring. I'm sure it's just a matter of not knowing exactly where to go. I may be there again this Spring; I'm definitely open to suggestions. Oh, and I usually have a car.

                                        2. re: wanderingtexan17

                                          I can respect that, and that's cool and all, but I'm just the opposite. I go for Calmex hands down, no contest any day. The flour tortillas in California are so much better tasting than the thicker smaller Tex Mex variety. I always go to Otay Farms Market in Chula Vista in California and bring back tons of dozens of flour tortillas to DFW where I live, and my friends who tried them absolutely loved them. The flour tortillas in DFW are not that good in my opinion.

                                          1. re: SoCalnative74

                                            I was born in Texas and spent my formative years up and down the Eastern seaboard from Florida to NY/CT and can definitively state that your "home" food will always be superior to the versions of said food prepared anywhere else. It's just human nature.

                                            Also, if your friends in DFW are Texans, they're just being polite if they stated they liked your version over "their" version. ;)

                                            1. re: shanagain

                                              True, good point. I will agree to that, although I have consistently received comments from people as well as experienced having lived in Mexico that the food from Arizona and California is more consistent to what is found in Mexico. I like some of the Tex Mex foods, don't get me wrong. And when everyone says "let's go get some mexican", we're all running out the door to the next best place here in Fort Worth to go eat. But the comments on the tortillas I've heard are very consistent. My co-worker said that they were more like what was found in his home state of Zacatecas and he never really could acquire a taste for the tex mex variety. Another one of them always liked this bakery in Lewisville until I brought him some of Otay Farms. Now he always asks me when I'm going back to San Diego and bringing back some more. I always eat at and promote San Diego Tacos Shop in Irving and always eat there. People I sent there absolutely loved it and went back. I eat their carne asada and machaca burritos all the time. Like you said, regional preferences. Valid point. I eat anything good here in DFW but will always bleed San Diego. That said, Go Mavs!

                                              P.D. When on the east coast, how did you survive away from all the good food? I suffered during my half year in Orlando without my home cooking. lol

                                              1. re: SoCalnative74

                                                I'm a regional chameleon - when in Virginia, eat blue crabs. CT? Strangely, the BEST hot dogs anywhere. Ny, pizza, etc, etc. The trick is to appreciate what you have, while feeling smugly superior over what everyone else is missing. (The saddest East Coast foods I've ever had were chicken fried steak and enchiladas - I learned that lesson quickly.)

                                                On trips to Texas our very first stop was always at a Dairy Queen for steak fingers, which I never, ever eat now that we're back home in rural Texas.

                                                1. re: shanagain

                                                  I hear ya. I lived many years in Owensboro, Kentucky, and we always eat "burgoo" over there when we go back. It's a soup with mutton and vegetables and is oh soooooooo GOOD!! You can order some from Moonlight BBQ in Owensboro in case you're curious. It's the country music BBQ version of beef stew. When in Southern California, we eat the special quesadillas, which is a cotija cheese filled empenada on steroids. It is VERY large and tasty yet fattening. And of course, when we go back to the Dominican Republic, we 1) eat sancocho and 2) I make them enchiladas and tacos and they eat them all up. None leftover hardly. lol

                                                2. re: SoCalnative74

                                                  Tex Mex is it's own thing though, it's not trying to be what is found in Mexico. It's a regional cuisine. I would absolutely agree that it is closer to what is found in Mexico, but again, Tex Mex is not trying to emulate food from Mexico. It is very comforting and heavy.

                                                  1. re: sisterfunkhaus


                                                    Once I got beyond the border, the closest that I found was in the state of Jalisco - but there were some major differences.

                                                    Tex-Mex is, well Tex-Mex, and is great, at least to me. It is what I grew up with, and still suits my palate. To others, maybe not so much. It is about what one enjoys, and nothing more, though also nothing less.

                                                    Thank you,


                                                    1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                      I think that is correct. Otherwise it would't have it's own name to describe it. As in Cal Mex also.

                                                  2. re: shanagain

                                                    BTW, the text mex brisket absolutely kicks butt! It's very similar to the machaca found in San Diego and at San Diego tacos shop. Never had brisket till I came to DFW. Wish we had more of that on the west coast.

                                                  3. re: SoCalnative74

                                                    I believe that 'Tostada' is just a word that describes. Something toasted crispy. In California, we call a crispy corn tortilla with toppings a tostada, but really it's a regionalism. So, too with what constitutes 'tacos'. Tacos are probably defined by a corn tortilla with filling. Whether it is folded, fried or or rolled are incidental regionalisms. Here in the west, soft tacos, corn tortillas grilled dry or with some grease till soft and then filled are a delicacy.

                                                    1. re: SoCalnative74

                                                      I know this is really old... but if you're still in Dallas, hit up Baleadas Express in the NW strip-center off Coit and Spring Valley.

                                                      To me a good flour tortilla isn't regional. It's about the simplest thing you can do with flour after all. It's wether it's made fresh. And there they're made fresh. The frijoles con queso baleadas are awesome. Like a vegetarian-ish, (they have lard I'm sure) quesadilla.

                                                      Also at Coit & LBJ, in the Texaco, Taqueria Rosy makes the best fajita tacos in the state. Two corn tortillas grilled with lard. Nobody gets that right. Their other meats are decent, you'll find better pastor at Fuel City. But the fajita. You'll never had better for the rest of your life. :-)

                                                3. re: danhole

                                                  I wasn't offended. But you were the second one who seemed to miss what I was trying to say, so I was becoming frustrated with my own writing skills! And I'm a writer...!!! Scary.

                                                  You're right about avocados from Mexico being quicker and easier to reach Houstan than from Florida.

                                                  Love your story about the cabrito taco. Depends entirely on what part of Texas you're in for availability. My experience is the closer to the border, the easier to find. But they are spreading! Try a cabrito burrito some time. Or if you can't find them, it's at least fun saying it! '-)

                                            2. re: Caroline1

                                              I have found the pickled carrots and other veggies served with soft tacos right here in the Dallas area. I have also found black olives. There are great tamales and terrible ones, just like you might find anywhere else. There is also a ton of pico de gallo and avocado on most platters in Texas. Nope, I don't agree 100%.

                                              I am originally an East Coaster who has spent a lot of time in California, so it is not "Texas Pride" that you are seeing in my answer. It is just a fact.

                                              There are good places to eat and bad places to eat in both regions. Over time, most restaurants of all kinds have begun shifting to more fresh veggies in all dishes. It is a fact that this area is dominated by carnivores, as evidenced by the relative scarcity of great seafood restaurants versus, say, steak houses. It is likely just a general reflection of the tastes of the the people who live here. 300 miles from the ocean seems to be enough to make fish less popular, but not impossible to find.

                                              And, oh yes, many restos offer borracho beans or black beans as an alternative to refried, so I can't say that is entirely true.

                                              I think if you are thinking about the typical fast food place, Taco Bell, Taco Bueno or Taco Cabana, yes, everything you are saying is true. But not in the higher quality places.

                                              1. re: RGC1982

                                                Right on the pickled carrots, onions and jalapenos, but not that common. And you can find all kinds of beans, a lot depending on the class of restaurant. I remember several (and not necessarily dives), where they would give you the complimentary small bowl of simple pintos, which bordered on being borrachos, as an appetizer.
                                                As you say, it depends on the place. There should be more fish in Dallas than there is.

                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                  It's been my experience that every single Mexican restaurant in Texas has them. At least every one I've been to, and that's quite a few. But if you have a white face, you have to ask for them. They don't arrive automatically. Ask for pickled jalapenos - or escabeche.

                                                2. re: RGC1982

                                                  Though not a native of the area, when we lived in New Orleans, a small chain from either Dallas, or Fort Worth (yes, I know, they are NOT the same), named El Chico did it this way and that was my first introduction.

                                                  When I married in '71, we spent a month driving throughout the country of Mexico, sampling the fare of many states. Once back in the US, we began to travel along the US (Texas)/Mexico border and got to experience many treatments on what we had encountered on our honeymoon.

                                                  While I love most of the "border fare," and have traveled most of its length, the Tex-Mex, and several Mexican states' versions are my favorites. The farther west that one goes, the more it changes.

                                                  Now, living in AZ, I am a bit less a fan of what we often have here, though there are some Jaliscan-centric restaurants that I do favor.

                                                  Many differences, just like the Southern food differs from North Carolina to Mississippi. All good, just different.


                                                3. re: Caroline1

                                                  I feel like it is unfair to say that ALL tamales in Texas are skimpy. First of all, you should never buy tamales from just anywhere, and never pre-made from a grocery store, because that is just ridiculous. The best bet, if you live anywhere near a high school with a good Hispanic student population, is to see when the various high school clubs are doing fundraisers. Inevitably, someone will be selling homemade tamales. The reason tamales in restaurants are so skimpy is because they are very labor intensive, and the owners want to make money for the effort put into them. So I would suggest you go find a local high school, get some delicious homemade tamales, and stop disparaging my home state for being stingy on something that is impractical for restaurants to serve anyways.

                                                  Also, FYI Chico's Tacos is a purely El Paso thing. It's ONLY in El Paso, and it will likely only ever be in El Paso. You can't make a judgement of Tex Mex based on a highly localized thing.

                                                  1. re: wanderingtexan17

                                                    First off, yes, I am fully aware that Chico's Tacos is (at this juncture in time) a strictly El Paso thing. Thank God!

                                                    As for skinny tamales, I have had home made tamales from TEXAS friends, tamales in Mexican restaurants, tamales from Juarez street vendors, tamales from hole-in-the-wall restaurants, tamales from tamales-only-specialty shops, and just about any place else you can think of and for the most part they were ALL thin wimpy things. The exception so far is here in the DFW metroplex at Gloria's Restaurants, where they serve hand made El Salvadoran tamales wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed with a spiced chicken and potato filling that isn't bad. The tamales of my childhood, and the tamales I love most, are a Oaxacan tamale that is large and round and fat and stuffed with a cornucopia of delights and one tamal is enough to engorge a grown man. I can't get them here. I could rareley get them in California, unless they were home made by friends, when last I lived there.

                                                    I have lived in Texas for a long time now and the Tex-Mex food I most disparage is here in the DFW metroplex. I have been served chiles rellenos in no less that FIVE "very good" (not my assessment) TexMex restaurants in Plano, and surrounding towns where the chiles were NOT roasted, NOT peeled, and were more like stuffed celery than a chile relleno. Until the food in this part of Texas improves, I will feel free to disparage as I see fit. '-)

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Not roasted, not peeled and stuffed like celery?!?!?? Oh girl, I feel your pain. Definitely not a proper chile relleno on either side of the border

                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                        Yup. Chiles rellenos are now placed firmly on my if-you-want-good-ones-stay-home-and-cook list. <sigh> Life doesn't have to be this way! Well, unless you live in Dallas. '-)

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          We have 5 little New Mexican restos in town and they all make great rellanos.
                                                          A heart-stoppingly good chicharone burrito w/ green chile sauce too.

                                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                                        The tamal. It can be so very different, depending on the country, or the state in that country. If one just limited themselves to the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico, there would be dozens of totally different tamales. The size, shape, filling, masa and even the wrapper would differ. We were very fortunate to have a restaurant in New Orleans (of all places) with basically Guatemalan roots, but which did over a dozen different tamales, and each as authentically, as was possible. We'd go in an order the "mixed dozen" and were delighted in Cuban, Vera Cruz, Nuevo Laredo, Guatemalan, Costa Rican, Nicaraguan and a few more variations. Each was great, and each was different.

                                                        Now, with my Tex-Mex experiences, I would associate a thinner masa with more filling and often smothered (or at least heavily influenced by a beefy sauce), with that cuisine. In AZ and CA, the masa is usually much thicker, and the filling usually less, at least compared to the masa. Are there thicker, larger tamales in Texas? I'm sure that there are. Are there thinner tamales with less masa in CA? Probably so. Will one find tamales with strong influences of a gravy/sauce beyond Texas? Probably so again. Still, those are some of the aspects that I often associate with regions.

                                                        We have two restaurants close by, that have heavy Jaliscan influences (Guadalajara in these cases), and they are more like Tex-Mex (though from Central Mexico), than the normal Sonoran and Cal-Mex fare here. When last in Guadalajara, I found their cuisine to be more like Tex-Mex, than other, similar cities, like Mexico City, DF, and certainly unlike Vera Cruz, which I found more like Cal-Mex, though farther from the Pacific.

                                                        Give me what I normally think of as Tex-Mex tamales, and I am a happy camper. With some other versions, I will often order some mole to smother the dudes, even if that is not even close to "authentic." Again, it's about one's palate, and what they want, or grew up with.


                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          Really old, but the tamal you're describing is common around El Salvadoran shops around DFW. Gloria's is a bit Americanized IMO. "Salvadorian Cuisine" in the shopping center up at Arapaho & Custer has just what you're looking for. As well as papusas that put Gloria's to shame.

                                                          A Tamal, a Papusa, some Maranon to drink. Heaven for like $6.

                                                        2. re: wanderingtexan17

                                                          Discussing the tamal, (singular for tamales) is huge. As they say, so many tamales, so little time! If you've crossed the border in TJ you've seen the elote tamales signs. Maybe you've stopped, maybe you said, WTF? An elote tamal is slim and subtle, with a bit of green chile if you're lucky. If you've been to Tucson you might have encountered their wonderful version of a tamal--it's shredded corn, cheese and a bit of chile. A fluffy thing that requires a plate beneath it due to it's tendancy to explode. They're very large and filling but very addictive.
                                                          I certainly agree with wanderingtexan about the best place to buy them. I rarely take the time and trouble to make them any more since I've found my source of homemade ones for Christmas. I always order every kind available, especially the elote and the sweet ones. My sources do the most amazing job of seasoning the masa, unlike most restaurant versions. Plus they're always so beautifully wrapped with their husk ties.

                                                          I'm encouraged that tamales are on the rise--many bbq sites are now selling tamale steamers.

                                                        3. re: Caroline1

                                                          Hi Caroline,
                                                          Just finished reading your post. I too, am from Cali, born and raised there. Now living out here in Oklahoma. Yes, here the tamales are thin as a pencil. (terrible) As a child I recall my aunt making very fat/thick tamales. Since moving out here to Okie-homa, I am not able to find anyone who is able to produce a fat tamale. Would you happen to have a recipe for making thick California tamales? Any help would be greatly appreciated. I'm going to make them myself for Christmas.

                                                          1. re: Tedd5y

                                                            Do a google search for "El Salvadoran Tamale". Pretty sure that's what you want.

                                                            Armed with that, look for El Salvadoran restaurants. I see a whopping 1 location in OK City on Yelp. But where there are Papusas there may be Tamales. Good luck!

                                                        4. Have I been wrong for a generation? Aren't the chiles grown in Hatch, NM the Anaheim variety? We just used to call 'em green chiles.

                                                          10 Replies
                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                            Anaheim, Ortega, and Hatch chiles -- at least SOME Hatch chiles -- are the same thing. A guy whose last name was Ortega took seeds from New Mexico to Ventura, California, where he successfully grew them and became famous. That was ... early 1900s, if my memory hasn't died? Then a decade or so later, someone took the Ortega/Anaheim chile seeds back to New Mexico, and they caught on.

                                                            New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces, has an extremely loooong history of developing chiles, and was at least a background to the New Mexico, California, New Mexico chile migration. In their original state, they were very susceptible to disease, not very reliable on heat levels, and wild critters loved to eat 'em all up before they could be harvested, so whatever NMSU was called way back then jumped in and saved the day. They still do a lot of hybridization with all sorts of chiles, but the Anaheim/Ortga/Hatch chile is the primary chile crop of New Mexico, and the driving force of the Hatch/Las Cruces agricultural economy.

                                                            They've developed both a mild jalapeno and even a mild habanero! I forget his name, but one of the guys in the agriculture/chile extension took some of the mild habaneros to a chile eating contest and walked around munching on them like they were apples. No one knew they pretty much were! I think he did it to demoralize the competition. I don't remember all of the details, but I think he was a contestant in the chile eating contest too. Famous around the Las Cruces/El Paso area.

                                                            Trying to develop a chile that everyone will uniformaly find hot or mild is a real challenge. When we lived in El Paso, and the kids were still in school, we would go out for Mexican food regularly. It didn't take long to realize that when the standard bowls of tortilla chips and salsa were brought to the table, if my daughter and husband said the salsa was mild, it would burn my son's and my mouth out! And the converse was true too. If it was mild for me and John, then my husband and daughter couldn't eat it. It happens that way with some friends too, so I have to assume there is a fairly wide variance in people's taste buds.

                                                            In California, New Mexico, and west Texas, the Anaheim (Ortega, Hatch) chile is standard for rellenos. In the Dallas area, Poblanos seem to be the standard, and as I said in a previous post, unroasted and unpeeled so they are crunchy. And HOT! As in not deveined and no seeds removed. Not for gringas! At least not this gringa!

                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                              I must be getting senile. I thought (and remember from eating in Dallas and Ft. Worth) that ALL peppers for chile rellenos had the skin removed. The seeds seemed to be another matter; mostly with seeds removed. I thought it was incorrect to leave the seeds in or the skin on. I thought the crunchiness came from doing the proper batter and frying it perfectly.

                                                              I can remember some rellenos made with long, skinny peppers but most with dark green squatty ones.
                                                              Does anyone remember eating at Pancho's Buffet? Really gruesome stuff. The chile rellenos were like a cross between a snowball cupcake and a rubber ball. Thick, spongy, synthetic rubber-like coating.

                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                We went to Pancho's excactly once My husband is from TX and while we were living in IL he told me about the flags on the table. I was intrigued. Even my toddler spit out the food. Why oh why does this place exist when there is so much GOOD Mexican/Tex Mex in Texas???

                                                                1. re: pickychicky1979

                                                                  I used to go to a Don Panchos in Albuquerque while I was getting my masters at UNM. Ninety-nine cents for all you could eat! The rellanos weren't too bad and I cleaned them out of guacamole.

                                                                2. re: Scargod

                                                                  Exactly my point! I've always had them with the skin removed and the batter a bit crunchy, not the peppers! But I suspect the thing all of us may be overlooking is that food is ALWAYS regional. Sometimes from block to block! Watch Mario Batalli preach about if you're making a Tuscan dish, use Tuscan olive oil and Tuscan wine and Tuscan cheese or it won't be authentic. It seems TexMex is like that.

                                                                  Food also changes quickly in some areas. I moved to the DFW metroplex 2 1/2 years ago. After about 4 months, I developed a desperate longing for a cheese chile relleno like I've "always" had before. I don't know if it's just a streak of absolutely abominable luck (wouldn't be the first time) or if it's the way things have always been in these parts, but it took a whooooole lot of hunting and asking to finally track down places that serve chiles relleno with the pepper roasted and peeled prior to cooking. It would be natural for me to assume that's "standard" DFW fare, but that could well be a wrong assumption and just a streak of stepping in doggie doo too many times in a row!

                                                                  As for Pancho's Buffet, it too is regional! They're state wide. There were three in El Paso, and one in Las Cruces. Some were better than others, but none as bad as here. The one in Las Cruces (30 miles north) was my favorite because it served tacos al carbon at their buffet. Made it worth the 30 mile drive. So I was excited when I found a Pancho's here in Plano. How many ways can I spell "yuck!"? No chilles relleno, the tacos were terrible, and they made the enchiladas with flour tortillas.

                                                                  Same thing with Taco Cabana. In El Paso, all of the Taco Cabanas have cheese chiles relleno on the menu, but they only have tortilla soup in the wintertime. Who needs soup when it's 105F, right? Again I was thrilled to find a Taco Cabana in Plano. Again, how many ways to spell... Well, you know. NO chiles relleno on the menu at all. And for tortilla soup they gave me a cup of chicken soup and some warm flour tortillas to dunk in it! And THEY made my enchiladas with flour tortillas too! What is it with that? Who needs enchilada dumplings? Not me!

                                                                  Everything is regional. Maybe all I need to do is drive to Fort Worth? <sigh>

                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                    long, skinny = Anaheim
                                                                    green, squatty = Poblano

                                                                    1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                                      Ya I know, after years in New Mexico, I never ate or saw either a poblano or a black bean. Out of necessity, I started I started eating them here in Maine. What a funny world it is.

                                                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                                                    And damn, they send all the mild jalapenos (jala- peeenos) up to Maine, I eat them like celery and the locals think I nuts.

                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                      " In California, New Mexico, and west Texas, the Anaheim (Ortega, Hatch) chile is standard for rellenos."

                                                                      Happy to report that in most reputable Mexican restaurants in Califonia, not only are fresh poblanos or anchos being used for rellenos, they are first charred and peeled and cooked with the stem on so you know they are fresh not canned. The flavor difference over canned Anaheims is a world. Many such places also use cotija to stuff, not Jack.

                                                                      1. re: toodie jane

                                                                        Then this is a change over the last decade or so. Or do you live in northern California? Cotija seems a curious cheese for rellenos since true cotija is a hard cheese similar to Parmesan, commonly used for grating. Queso de Chihuahua, as fas as I know, is the traditional cheese for chile rellenos. Since Monterey jack is similar, it was adapted in places where Chihuahua cheese was difficult to come by. Charring and peeling any chile before stuffing is standard. Well, except in some strange places here in the DFW metroplex.

                                                                  3. Growing up in Dallas in the 60's, there was El Fenix. This was very greasy, cheesey food. Comments that Tex-Mex is "richer" means much more lard or cheese content! Cheese sauce on enchiladas, thin, brown, meat sauce on tamales, yellow cheddar cheese in your hard tacos, etc. A chalupa was a hard tortilla with mashed beans, lettuce, tomato on it. We had flautas, which I knew as rolled up corn tortillas with a little meat inside and burnt to a crisp in the deep fat fryer. I never cared for them. The meat was always ruined. Jack-in-the-Box sold a horrible flautas-like taco, often soft from the grease.
                                                                    In the 70's we would go frequently to El Fenix to eat and devour the salsa. This was a cooked varity. When our waiter would return we would jokingly, but sometimes with straight faces, ask for more "Mexican soup". Then we'd see how fast we could polish that bowl off (before they returned) and ask for more. It was not terribly spicey. I didn't know of a "soft taco", menudo or tortas for many years.

                                                                    Today there is a healthier version of Tex-Mex and there is more fish and truer Mexican dishes offerred. It has evolved. I can't compare it to Cal-Mex, only New Mex-Mex, which I love and think of as fresher and lighter. I think that most of the salsa in MN is fresh.

                                                                    19 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                                      El Fenix is still around... http://www.elfenix.com/

                                                                      I was afraid to ask the difference between a "meat taco" and a "beef taco."

                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                        That made me smile and perked me up. There's always been a joke (at least in Dallas) about what's in the tacos, tamales, etc.
                                                                        Yes, beef, I think...
                                                                        The Jack in the Box was always suspect because the filling seemed to be half masa (or similar filler grain) and the other half greasy??
                                                                        Have you tried Zuzu, Mia's or Cantina Laredo in Dallas ?

                                                                        1. re: Scargod

                                                                          I think I'm gonna swear off TexMex for a while... In a fit of total self indulgence, I just ordered a full dozen cook books -- primarily Japanese and Chinese -- and a flat bottomed wok and steamer baskets to replace the old much much larger round bottom wok and baskets. It's such a joy to have lots of Asian markets in the area!

                                                                          When I get tired of that, I'll go looking for some Anaheim chiles to make my own REAL chiles relleno! '-)

                                                                          Meanwhile, since you enjoyed the last website, heres a little more nostalgia for you:


                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                            I ate at both last year. My Mom really liked Cantina Laredo which was created as a high-end gourmet El Chico's by the Cuellar family. As kids we would get the "taco kit" from the grocery store (where you get shells, seasonings for the meat and [I think] a tin of salsa). We would make refried pinto beans and rice to go with them. It was an inexpensive and novel and inexpensive way for a widow to feed five kids.
                                                                            I was really enjoying the "afraid to ask the difference" comment.

                                                                            Yes, you are in Asian food heaven, aren't you?

                                                                            1. re: Scargod

                                                                              Huh, that's what we do w/ our five kids. Bean tostadas is a family favorite. I buy 40 lb bags of pintos and corn tostados in bulk, cheese yoo. In New Mexico they are tostados, I never heard chlaupas until Texas. Unfortunately chalupa sounds like chalupe, the South American word for cock roach.

                                                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                Not cucaracha? Perhaps those South American ones are eight inches in diameter?

                                                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                                                  No, cucaracha refers to another roach that is smoked. "La Cucaracha" is a drug prevention song. The lyrics "No que puede que fumar (+-)" Means that you shouldn't smoke the cucharacha and they don't mean BBQ.
                                                                                  Nope in 8" in length, they scare the hell outtaya when you step on them barefoot at night. Not bad stir fried though.

                                                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                    The version I heard expressed the need for mary jane:

                                                                                    La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha, ya no puede caminar.

                                                                                    Por que no tiene, por que le falta,

                                                                                    Marijuana para fumar!

                                                                                    Translated, La Cucaracha (named for some popular object about which I am unfamiliar) can't go or move because it doesn't have any weed.

                                                                                    Regarding the tostado/chalupa business, hear in la I've always thought a "tostada" (note feminine form of the noun) was either a flat, fried tortilla topped with a smear or dollop of refried beans, lettuce, cheese, and generally beef or chicken plus optionally onions, tomatoes, guacamole etc. It also means a flat fried tortilla topped with seafood (and nothing else save salsa). The former may well be Gringo-mex, the latter seems more popular with native Mexicans.

                                                                                    1. re: broncosaurus

                                                                                      You are absolutely correct on all counts and I stand corrected. But you must understand that I teach high school English in a small, conservative, New England town and spies are everywhere. And if I professed real knowledge of Mexican food, I'd be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail (Real local history!) as liberal!!!!
                                                                                      PS I also learned Spanish by the beer method; never had a formal lesson.

                                                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                        Mrs. Uribe for me, in 1-3rd grades.(58-61) She was from Paraguay though, not Mexico. She was also our rhythm band teacher. Has served me well.

                                                                              2. re: Scargod

                                                                                I've had lunch at both El Fenix and Cantina Loredo. I do remember thinking the food at El fenix was bad. Really bad. The food at Cantina Loredo...? I guess I need to own up to the fact that I'm a purist, and Cantina Loredo is what I think of as fusion food. When you serve pork shanks and call them "carnitas," what's wrong with this picture?

                                                                                Oh! That's another difference I find between Dallas TexMex and El Paso TexMex, as well as California and Baja California "CalMex." Carnitas! In those other places I've lived, "carnitas" are small cubes or chunks of pork that are cooked in their own juices, then drained and cooked a bit more to crisp them up a bit. Often served "family style" in restaurants, with a generous platter of carnitas, a basket of warm corn tortillas, and an assortment of things like cilantro (gotta have fresh cilantro with carnitas!), diced tomatoes, diced avocado or guacamole, sliced green onions, lettuce and/or cole slaw, sour cream and such. In this area I have ordered "carnitas" but been served what I call shredded pork. Well, it happened in one restuarant and after that, I didn't try again. So my question is, which version do you guys call "carnitas?" Chunks of unshredded pork or shredded pork?

                                                                                The other thing that's bugging me a lot lately is that it is getting more and more difficult to find Mexican restaurants that fry their own taco shells, except for "puffy tacos." I hate Taco Bell taco shells! <sigh> Do ya think I'm a fish out of water?

                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                  I think you need to sprout some legs and enjoy it.
                                                                                  Shredded; I'm sorry!
                                                                                  Keep looking, too. I'll try and help. I've been here in southern CT for almost six years now and I am just beginning to feel comfortable at finding my way around and knowing where the chow spots are. The Dallas-Ft. Worth "Metroplex" is roughly as big as Connecticut!
                                                                                  If you haven't tried them I suggest Blue Mesa in Addison, Rosita's or Rafa's, in Inwood Village and La Cale Dos for Mexican seafood. It's been a while for these but Cuquita's on Henderson Avenue is worth a try (used to go there),
                                                                                  How is Cristina's, El Norte or Luna de Noche in Plano?

                                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                                    Caroline1, my heart aches when I hear El Paso's food called TexMex. Any student of history knows that El Paso was taken forcibly from the gentle and peaceful state of New Mexico during a siesta, (But that's ok, we don't want it back.). Just look at the food in El Paso. It is still New Mexican (tastes better), not TexMex, please!
                                                                                    Shredded pork too.

                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                      LOL! Passadumkeg, you have a lovely sense of humor! Even today, there is a fairly large faction of El Pasoans who would like to secede from Texas and rejoin New Mexico.

                                                                                      You now live in New Mexico, right? How often do you go to El Paso? Or rather, how far from it do you live? Today, El Paso, Juarez, and Las Cruces are fast turning into a metroplex of its own. Except crossing the bridges to shop in Juarez has become too much of an effort. It's gonna kill me when I have to pay stateside prices for a pint of Posa vanilla!

                                                                                      I'm placing an order with my kids when they come for Thanksgiving... Untreated ristras so I can make my own enchilada sauce and have a nice kitchen decoration all at the same time. In the fall, I really miss the smell of chiles roasting out front of a market when I go shopping. <sigh> And I also miss my water rights from the Rio Grande to water my lawn! <grumble><grumble><grumble>

                                                                                    2. re: Scargod

                                                                                      I started to say I've been to Blue Mesa, but I haven't. I've been to Blue Goose. Not bad if you order the camarones, but their nachos are the absolute worst imaginable!

                                                                                      Anyway, I'm through with Mexican food for for a while. Stocking up on rice noodles to deep fry and watch them explode, and I'll be making steamed buns stuffed with pork, and REAL Chinese sweet and sour spare ribs with a sauce that is brown (not fluorescent red!) and so pungent with venegar you'd better not inhale when eating it or you'll choke! Good stuff! And a whole bunch of Chinese cook books on their way to bask in. And a cupboard full of gohan and nori and a bunch more Japanese cook books on their way too... Who cares if these Dallasites don't know shredded pork from carnitas? I'm gonna feast! '-)

                                                                                    3. re: Caroline1

                                                                                      Neither. In Michoacan, home of the very best carnitas, big 3-4 kilo chunks are cooked in huge caldrens (sp). This skin, fat, meat and bones. The fire is either a wood fire or a ring fired by propane. Either method, the pork is cooked in its own juice and fat over a long period of time. Basically the meat is boiled in its own oil. The pork here is too lean to prepare that way and consequently just isn't what I would thing of as real carnitas.

                                                                                      For tacos, the meat is hacked off the big chunks and rough chopped. In each taco there is meat, fat and a little of the very chewy skin. Tortillas are hecho a mano and cooked while the meat is being chopped. A taco is two soft fresh tortillas with a big serving of meat. No "salad", cheese or sour cream. Maybe there will be some nopalitos or sliced manzano peppers, but maybe not.
                                                                                      The very best carnitas, IMHO, are at Carnitas de Carmelo in Quiroga, Michoacan.

                                                                                      1. re: Pampatz

                                                                                        Sorry to disagree.... the best Carnitas are in Uruapan! Similar preparation... but much greater diversity in their use of the entire pig... for example you can find entire racks of ribs, a thick slice of tenderloing, ears, snout etc., whatever you want. Oh yeah... and the marinade made with orange peel & juice, garlic etc., used in Uruapan really is key to the best carnitas.

                                                                              3. re: Caroline1

                                                                                I think El Finix is horrible, and I don't understand why it is so popular.
                                                                                I also don't understand how in Texas, with all the great family owned Tex-Mex restaurants, how places like On The Border and Chewy's becoming dining options...ever.

                                                                            2. Funny, this thread just got me back on a Mex kick, not that I left it for long.
                                                                              Holy guacamole Lone Ranger!

                                                                              1. Hey, don't forget that quintessential Tex-Mex condiment: Pace Picante Sauce! Though it's changed for the processing worse over the years -- and though I've lived in NYC for 23 -- I still get a jones for it quite often (thank god they carry it at the bodega on the corner).

                                                                                29 Replies
                                                                                1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                                                                  Pace isn't the quintessential Tex-Mex condiment. Are you kidding me? At least in the Hill Country and Southwest Texas the usual Tex-Mex table condiment is a salsa "casera"/red salsa, perhaps pureed, and/or pico de gallo. That sugary pace crapola is for Midwestern suburbanites only. Pace is ubiquitous across the US merely because of it's heavy branding and catsup-like appeal. Growing up in Houston, no Tex-Mex place I ever ate at from the most commercial to the tiniest mom n pop served Pace(or sweet salsa, period)

                                                                                  1. re: aelph

                                                                                    Pace's sweetness is a relatively recent development. It was not like that a couple decades ago. Furthermore, this is just further proof of why it's fairly idiotic to speak of "Tex-Mex" as this monolithic thing: chunky tomato-based salsas -- basically the equivalent of what would happen if you mixed pico de gallo and a thin red salsa together instead of serving them separately -- are the norm in the panhandle, even if they're not seen much to the south and east.

                                                                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                                      Which is why I take pains to delineate the Tex-Mex I'm familiar with: that of the Hill Country and parts South and West. Another poster on this thread tends to take their apprehensions of specific locations(Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and El Paso) and assume that those are the width and breadth of Tex-Mex(or, even Chinese-American food as evidenced in another thread).

                                                                                      I vaguely remember Pace being not as sweet, but it's bland homogeneity and cooked-to-death vegetables are what I really dislike.

                                                                                      1. re: aelph

                                                                                        If you take the 3 Southern Plains states(Tx, Ok, and Ks) as a whole and then subdivide the regions, I think you are correct.
                                                                                        If tex-mex originally meant the border area mingling of foods from both areas, it has since expanded far beond that. Maybe there is a Southern, Central and Northern Tex-Mex philosophy at work here.
                                                                                        I think the same thing holds true for Cal-Mex , which seems to really be SoCal, and NoCal and beyond up the Pacific rim states.
                                                                                        We grew up with a thin red sauce as our representative Hot Sauce condiment in Ks.,
                                                                                        no "salsa" in sight.
                                                                                        But most of the rest of the dishes I grew up with (with a Texas born and bred Father and relatives spread across all 3 states mentioned)bear a strong kinship to the rest of the stuff being discussed here, owing to the close relationship between all.
                                                                                        Culture travels North and South too, not just East and West. :)

                                                                                        1. re: aelph

                                                                                          aelph, I suspect it's more that you misread what I write than that I think TexMex is any sort of monolith. Read my posts. I have never said that. But I am trying to figure out what some of the variances are across the "TexMex" territory. It ain't the same all over! And I think youre mixing up "apprehensions" and "impressions." I'm not at all apprehensive about TexMex. '-)

                                                                                          As for a bottled salsa, Pace USED to be pretty good, but that's a thing of the past, in my opinion. If you spot a bottle in your supermarket, try a jar of Jerez Salsa Casera. I think it's pretty good. Made in Mexico, and only available in jars in the last few years. I've used it for a lot of years, starting when it only came in a can. It comes in several degrees of heat.

                                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                            Off the top of my head, use of "red" peppers, not green,
                                                                                            tacos dorado/puffy tacos/deep fried tacos, mainly Beef(ground and otherwise) as the meat, cheese enchiladas in a smothered red sauce, yellow rather than white cheeses, lack of fruits and vegetables, and so on. I'm no expert, just calling on my 55 years of avidly eating any and all Mexican foods.,

                                                                                            1. re: Caroline1


                                                                                              I didn't use the word monolith in my comment, "Barmy" did. :)

                                                                                              apprehension: def. 1--the act of perceiving or comprehending

                                                                                              Not a fan of Jerez products, but Herdez -bottled- salsa casera is a pantry staple in my house...it closely resembles the table salsas I mention in other comments...

                                                                                        2. re: aelph

                                                                                          As someone who grew up in San Antonio (at the time when the first Taco Cabana opened), I'll beg to differ with your "midwestern suburbanite" comment.

                                                                                          As others have noted, Pace used to be pretty damn good, and though it's certainly changed over the years (and even though I've made my own, which is just not the same), it's one of those tastes that instantly brings back memories of Texas.

                                                                                          1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                                                                            I'm not talking old Pace recipes or previous possible prevalence. For your single anecdote I can provide a passel of similar all derived from Midwestern suburbanite tastes in mediocre sugary salsa. For what it's worth, though I no longer live there, I grew up in Houston as the umpteenth generation of a Texan family. We may have had Pace in the cabinet for those days when Velveeta/Rotel queso was requested, but I never saw it(or similar salsas) when dining out. That's what I'm talking about and what most of this thread concerns; dining out. It's not as if, back in the mid-70's, you could buy much other than Pace anywhere whether at the Piggly Wiggly or Randall's////whether in Houston or Detroit, etc. Pace does not spell Tex-Mex, for me. If anything it conjures up decades of generic, placeless party dips.

                                                                                            1. re: aelph

                                                                                              That's right, keep this on the straight and narrow! I never saw anything like Pace in a restaurant in Dallas, or anywhere else, for that matter. I've had thin, orangeish hot sauce and fresh made salsa and some that had a canned tomato whang, but not thick and sweet, like Pace. The one that Mercado Juarez (Dallas) serves warm is a winner with me. I think it has meat juices in it.
                                                                                              The fresh salsa from Casa Valdez in Rancho de Taos, NM, is the salsa I just love and have never seen duplicated.

                                                                                              1. re: aelph

                                                                                                My goodness, you're grouchy, aren't you? '-)

                                                                                                Pace Picante Sauce. Most people -- I would hazard the vast majority -- associate Pace with their TV commercials with the cowboys around a campfire howling about a picante sauce from... "New York City!" Then the commercial goes on to extoll the greatness of Pace. Advertising is a very strong tool. Pace occupies more shelf space than any other salsa in every supermarket where I've ever shopped.

                                                                                                But like so many things, from Pace's very own salsa to things like Formula 409, and a whoooole bunch of other products, manufacturers seem unable to leave well enough alone. Pace USED to put out a pretty decent salsa. Chunky, flavorful, not too hot. It was my favorite salsa for lazy huevos rancheros. Sofen some corn tortillas in a little hot oil, fry the eggs in the oil, dump in a bunch of Pace in the frying pan and heat it up, then pour it over the eggs atop the tortillas. A dollop of sour cream and some refried beans on the side and everyone would think I'd worked my fingers to the bone. Who am I to argue?
                                                                                                Then Pace decided to expand their line and now I can't find any of their huge variety that, in my opinion, is close to being as good as the original.

                                                                                                Now, as for your remarks to bebevonbernstein, you assail him/her with your personal opinions while ragging on me for expressing mine. If you will be so kind as to read my posts in this thread, there is no place where I say that my experience or opinions are universal re TexMex. Wouldn't it be stupid of me to write about TexMex (or Chinese) food in cities I've never been to or restaurants I've never eaten in? And that's pretty much my attitude about any and all foods I discuss on this forum. I cannot speak to what I have not had.

                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                  Are you forgetting that one massive thread on Chinese-American food? I'm not attacking bebevon... I'm responding, strongly, to the implication that Pace is ubiquitous in Tex-Mex. Maybe in San Antonio...then again, San Antonio Tex-Mex has always been a little bit...off.

                                                                                                  1. re: aelph

                                                                                                    Caroline1, you must excuse God; what can one expect for a Texan stranded in Connecticut? You'd be grouchy too!

                                                                                                    Just for the record: Pace is junque.

                                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                      You don't have to deify me. Yes, I'm grouchy. It's not from being in CT.
                                                                                                      Are you saying that Pace is chicke?
                                                                                                      BTW, It seems that Newman's Own salsa is big up here. I find it too sweet, not hot enough and chunks (particularly tomato)are way too big.

                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                        I shudder at the mere thought of Newman's Own Peach Salsa!
                                                                                                        Pace is guano.
                                                                                                        Funny though, I resisted my son in trying Green Mountain Gringo Hot Salsa, because of the name, but damn, for a jarred salsa, it's good!! You don't get Sister's Salsa down there do you?

                                                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                          Just bought fresh Santa Barbara Salsa, Habanero and Lime. Not bad. A little sweet, probably a lot of Guar gum and there's yellow bell pepper in it. Not too bad a bite; actually fairly mild.
                                                                                                          AFAIK there is no Sister's salsa in Dallas. Remember I'm not really "down there" anymore. Just visit regularly, like U.

                                                                                                          1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                            Sister's is a local Maine "fresh" salsa. Quite good. Must be refrigerated.

                                                                                                            1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                              I got out my microscope and found the ingredients list's #2 ingredient is "peppers" and #4 is carrots! This from a "Habanero" salsa that isn't very hot (which explains all the bell pepper). It's Xanthum gum, not Guar that I was sensing on my palate. Salt is #6 at 8%DV or (190 gm/serving) which I guess is not unusually high. All in all, if you don't mind the slight sliminess from the thickener and the sweetness, it does have a pretty good taste for commercial.
                                                                                                              I still prefer to make my own "watery" salsa.
                                                                                                              Footnote: Perhaps everyone here knows this; the FDA says regarding ingredients-"Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last"

                                                                                                        2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                          You are right about Pace being "junque." I spent the first 30 years of my life not likingd salsa because everything I had was like Pace or some other store bought garbage. It wasn't until I moved to Texas that I found out what real salsa is about. Now I'm addicted and frequently make my own. Salsa is a wonderful thing.

                                                                                                        3. re: aelph

                                                                                                          LOL! Are you referring to the thread in which so many maintained that if a Cantonese cook creates a Cantonese dish while living in American, then it cannot possibly be Chinese cooking? That thread? No. Haven't forgotten it. '-)

                                                                                                          My point is that you are doing exactly what you have (wrongly, in my opinion) accused me (and others) of doing. You are taking the position that your personal experiences must be universal and the rest of us better buy into it.

                                                                                                          There ARE people for whom Pace Picante Sauce is strongly associated with "TexMex" food. Your personal opinions and/or experiences won't change that. Advertising is a very strong tool!

                                                                                                  2. re: aelph

                                                                                                    That's right, aelph. No self-respecting Tex-Mex restaurant in south Texas would ever serve Pace. Salsa casera is the salsa of choice. And it's usually made on the premises with tomatoes, onions, serranos, and cilantro. From the boiling pot to the blender to the serving plate. Warm, fresh, smoky. .

                                                                                                    1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                      " tomatoes, onions, serranos, and cilantro. From the boiling pot to the blender to the serving plate. Warm, fresh, smoky"

                                                                                                      Just out of curiosity, what provides the smoky component? That list of ingredients and preparation method doesn't usually produce smoky results. Is there something else?

                                                                                                      BTW, I do agree this is the base for a great pico de gallo/salsa

                                                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                        Serranos (or jalapenos) are usually charred on a grill or on a stovetop burner. After they're charred, they're normally placed in a bag to cool them down. When cool, the skin is removed. You may, or may not, remove the seeds depending on how much heat you want in your sauce. The tomatoes too can be charred, but in my family it was more common just to boil them with the onions. It's a simple recipe that makes a very good salsa.

                                                                                                  3. re: bebevonbernstein

                                                                                                    This is from memory, so forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think Pace products are Californ. based. None has crossed my thresh hold in decades!

                                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                      Not California. San Antonio. At least that's where they were developed and originally marketed from. They're now owned by Campbell's Soup (what isn't?), so who knows where the stuff is manufactured now. Maybe even "outsourced" to Taiwan?

                                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                        My Father used to bring the litle bottles of Pace Picante Sauce back to us in Glendale, CA in the 60's when he traveled to San Antonio. The glass was thinner and the bottles often broke. He intruduced the sauce to a gourmet grocery store in Pasadena and the rest is history. You're the first person I've heard who remembers that the sauce used to be different. It was thinner for one thing and the sauce tasted fresher. I still use it though and add a little to my guacamole. It still tastes good on a slice of shrp cheddar too. Here in the Seattle area there are only a few good Mexican food restaurants. Every year or so I travel to Solana Beach, CA where I get my fix at Tony's Jacal, a family run restaurant that has been there since 1946.

                                                                                                        1. re: cshean

                                                                                                          I remember a Mexican restaurant in Seattle, perhaps on 12th or Broadway, that had a frog motif (I think). I ate there two or three times and thought it decent. Can't find it, or remember name...

                                                                                                          1. re: cshean

                                                                                                            Oh my god...Tony's Jacal. Other than locals, not so very many people know about that place :-)

                                                                                                            And if you can find it in Seattle, try Herdez salsas. They're really quite good for a jarred (or canned in some areas) salsa

                                                                                                            1. re: cshean

                                                                                                              Wow, I'd forgotten about those jars - the lid rusted in about a week and the jars definitely broke easily! While exiled to CT and NY, Pace was the only salsa I could buy off the shelf.

                                                                                                      2. One thing that I've heard from many sources is that flour tortillas come down from the north while corn tortillas come up from the south in Mexico (Mayan culture). Dishes derived from these, are also originally native to the respective areas, ie, burritos (at least, what we think of as burritos today) are northern food and tacos are southern food. Today's ubiquitous "healthy" product is the stuffed burrito, which was at one time known as a SF or mission burrito - from SF's mission district.

                                                                                                        From what I've read and traveled (and eaten), there are lots of regional enclaves throughout the southwest - many styles and ingredient differences, so just using two large classifications (cal-mex vs.tex-mex) makes the distinctions difficult and perhaps less meaningful. New Mexico, especially northern NM, has their own style of so many foods, especially chile (not chili). No doubt that the fish taco got famous in San Diego, but the originals were always on corn tortillas - now, so many use flour tortillas. In OKC, the Mexican places never served fried tortilla chips, but put out steamed whole corn tortillas in a warmer with butter and some hot gardiniera. My wife (from OKC) was totally confused when we walked into a place that asked her whether she wanted chicken or beef in her chille relleno - as far as she was concerned chille rellenos were stuffed with cheese - period.

                                                                                                        When you take a base cuisine that's as old and diverse as Mexican (or Chinese or Italian...) it's going to be really hard to nail every regional difference down to their origins. It is entirely possible that you will continue to have a hard time defining it, just like the rest of us!

                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                                                                          My understanding is that there aren't very many parts of Mexico that are dry enough to grow wheat, which is why flour tortillas are more a product of the northern (Sonoran desert ) part of Mexico. I haven't traveled extensively in Mexico, but I never saw flour tortilla one in La Paz, Cabo, or Acapulco.

                                                                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                            Yes - but I'd champ a little bit about categorizing the Sonoran dessert as the northern limit. Given that pretty much all of Texas, Southern California and the attached states were part of the history of Spanish colonization and the Mexican people, the northern history of wheat is most likely even further north. Lets forget, for the moment, the ironies of history, as we continue to discuss the level and amount of influence of the native foods and culture that remain in tact, 200 years after the imperial land-grab and takeover by the latest group of white Europeans. In the long view, who's illegally immigrating, where? We might as well try to build a wall to keep the corn tortillas out. ;-)

                                                                                                            1. re: applehome

                                                                                                              History is just that. Now, what do we do? I spent time in the Harlingen/Brownsville area of Texas and my relatives, from that area, were used to the Mexicans working for them. It is a bitter pill for them to see immigrants, illegal or not, gaining the upper hand down there. As you say, let's forget this for the moment; this is Chowhound...
                                                                                                              I agree: we might as well make a wall out of tortillas.

                                                                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                "We might as well try to build a wall to keep the corn tortillas out. ;-)" LOL!

                                                                                                                All I meant was that I really don't think you're going to find flour tortillas very far south of the Mexican border since the climate is too humid to grow wheat very far south.

                                                                                                                They grow wheat as far north as Canada, don't they?

                                                                                                          2. I think that 'Tex-Mex' and 'Cal-Mex' have always had a lot more in common than partisans will admit.
                                                                                                            As a lifelong California boy who first visited the DFW area in the late '70s, I was surprised to find that the local 'Mex' cooking was Identical to what I grew up with in the SFBA: yellow cheese filled enchiladas with brown sauce, ground beef crispy tacos, etc. SFBA residents can still find this 'cuisine' at El Charro in Lafayette. Never encountered a poblano chile in restaurants of either state back then (except in the supermarket).
                                                                                                            IIRC tostadas were the the same critter. Taquito (not taco) has been the most common name for rolled, deep fried, meat filled corn tortillas all over the southwest U.S. Flauta usually refers to the flour tortilla equivalent of the taquito, usually but not always fried.
                                                                                                            I blame the b*****s at Taco Hell for arbitrarily misusing Mexican food names - gordita and chapula come to mind. Heck, even the big Armenian bakery in Orange County sells Greek bread under the name 'gordita' - grrrr.
                                                                                                            Both states have moved on in more interesting and tasty directions with IMO more Cal influence moving into Texas. Unfortunately there has been a down side in Cali. More low end Mexican restaurants have stopped using roasted Anaheim chiles in green sauces and use the newer, cheaper, bland jalapenos instead.
                                                                                                            PLEASE - someone take these crappy jalapenos away!

                                                                                                            1. Why is it that everyone usually talks only of Tex- or Cal-Mex when halfway between is a nice alternative, Sonoran-Mex. Lots of mole and chimichangas, although authentic spots with dirt floors and christmas-tree lights are harder to come by, nowadays.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: DonShirer

                                                                                                                Esse, que dice, dude? You want good Sonoran, just head to Sonora. But vato, make sure you got your passaporte or you may get the big chimmichingas! A lot of mole w/ a frijole, chapo. Gimme a sonoran stacked, red chile enchilada with a huevo frito laid on me, proffe? Seguro.

                                                                                                                1. re: DonShirer

                                                                                                                  Yep, that's what I grew up on!

                                                                                                                  I appreciate many different kinds of Mexican food, and love most of them. If you look at the geographic differences in Mexico, it's kinda silly to expect the same food from all over, whether it be mountains, seashore, desert, jungle, Caribbean coast, prairie- and most of those varying because of altitude too.

                                                                                                                  Pace picante sauce sucks, though. I didn't have it long ago when it was different,but in its current iteration is about as Mexican as Taco Bell. Feh.

                                                                                                                2. Here's an interesting post I found on another board that sums up some of the differences between Cal Mex and Tex Mex:

                                                                                                                  "With CalMex you get a lot of brown rice - fish tacos - veggie or fish burritos - mostly made with black beans. Cabbage slaw is common.Chili powder is used more prevalently than comino. Pico De Gallo and salsa will likely have fruits in it. They use common pepper sauces (i.e. tabasco type sauces) as a source of spice. A lot of use of red and yellow (sweet) bell peppers.

                                                                                                                  With TexMex you get refried beans mashed with bacon and bacon grease, yellow cheese enchiladas with varied sauces.Comino is a common flavor with all dishes. Salsas won't have fruit but will have habanero or at a minimum serrano peppers with lots of cilantro. Tomatillos are prevalent as a salsa or sauce with sour cream. Pablanos, serranos, and habaneros are used more frequently."

                                                                                                                  15 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: ammichaels

                                                                                                                    I hate it when this happens, but...I really have to strongly disagree with the description of Cal-Mex above. As a native Californian who has been eating and enjoying Mexican food on both sides of the border for an entire life time, I find the Cal-Mex characterization inaccurate.

                                                                                                                    While you will find fish and veggie burritos, you won't find lots of brown rice, nor are black beans used very extensively. Cabbage slaw is not common and chile powder is not used to the exclusion of cumin. Pico de gallo usually does NOT have fruit in it and pepper sauces are NOT a common source of spice. Any color sweet peppers are not, nor have they ever been widely used in Cal-Mex cooking.

                                                                                                                    What you do find is abundant use of (a wide variety of) fresh vegetables, chicken (rather than the more traditional pork), most chiles, fresh salsas, fish/seafood and flour tortillas (rather than the more traditional corn).

                                                                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                      Agreed completely. Cal Mex is completely mis-characterized.

                                                                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                        Cabbage slaw is common here (SoCal) only in fish tacos, for which it is indispensable. As for any uniformity between North and South, I believe that's true only in a very limited sense - the SFB "Mission-style" burrito cannot be found in LA County, to the dismay of its aficionados and the blank indifference of everybody else. As for what is or isn't available up north I couldn't tell you; I've spent so little time there lately (I moved away in '73) that all I know is by hearsay, and my friend in Palo Alto tells me that Mexican groceries are much harder to find there than they were back then, probably because there's so much less industrial agriculture in the Bay Area nowadays. I know that when he used to visit us regularly he'd always want to go shopping in both the Asian and Latino markets for bottled/canned goods he couldn't find up there anymore.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                          Technically there is no Cabbage Slaw used in fish tacos. Raw shredded cabbage is set against the hot fish... its all dressed at the last minute with a White Sauce (Mayo & Lime Juice) as well as Salsa. The cabbage texture is crunchier & the proportion of Cabbage to Sauce is higher than in Southern style Slaws.

                                                                                                                          I don't think this is a feature of Cal-Mex vs. Tex-Mex... its more a feature of Actual Mexican vs. Not Actual Mexican (meaning shredded cabbage in various guises is ubiquitous in much of Mexico).

                                                                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                                                            After having spent time at Salvadoran and other Central-American restaurants, I'm finding a lot more shredded cabbage than I would have suspected when I wrote the comments above.

                                                                                                                          2. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                            Will, your friend need only to cruise Middlefield Road to find the groceries; also some big chains of markets like Mi Pueblo etc are easy to find, and carry lots more Mexican brands now than just a year ago. Almost all have instore bakeries for pan dulces and cakes and fresh tortillas, and have a Deli-Mex as Melanie Wong calls them. Good cheap eats.

                                                                                                                          3. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                            As a former Texan (if there is such a thing) the first thing I noticed about California Mexican food is that rice (brown or white) is put into the burritos! At first I thought it was to save money, kind of like an extra filler, but then I realized it was just the "California Way" of making Mexican burritos. In TX they stuff the burritos with as much refried beans and cheese that will fit inside the tortilla without it bursting; rice is a side dish topped with more beans and cheese... not that either is better, but definitely different.

                                                                                                                            And as other posters have noted, Tex Mex is much heavier on cheese in general, I especially like the Queso which is usually made with a processed cheese so it is creamy, vs. the stretchy "real" cheese used in other Mexican cuisines. Ok, so maybe not so healthy, but I miss it anyway! :-)

                                                                                                                            1. re: ideabaker

                                                                                                                              Actually, rice in burritos is a regional think in CA. You'd be hard pressed to find rice in a burrito in San Diego and a lot of Los Angeles. In fact, other than fish tacos, San Diego's claim to Cal-Mex fame is the CAB - Carne Asada Burrito. It's a jumbo flour tortilla, stuffed with about a 1/2 pound of carne asada, some pico and some guac (SD-speak for guacamole). That's it. No beans, no cheese, and absolutely NO rice.

                                                                                                                              I do like Tex-Mex queso made with Velveeta and Ro-Tel. You're right probably not very healthy, but with a couple of beers it really hits the spot :-)

                                                                                                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                DiningDiva, I've never been to San Diego, but everywhere else I've been in California (L.A., Sacramento, San Francisco and some places in between) has had those rice stuffed burritos, usually with black beans and then whatever else they had to offer. Nice to know I might find another kind of Burrito (my stomach's growling after hearing your CAB description!) I can search for my next trip out.

                                                                                                                                Yeah, the Velveeta and Ro-Tel/ Jalepeno Queso is hard to beat... I guess if you keep it down to a couple of times a year it couldn't be that bad. Plus if you drink beers or margaritas with it I believe the alcohol dissolves the fat and cholesterol ;-).

                                                                                                                                1. re: ideabaker

                                                                                                                                  DiningDiva is right... in most Local San Diego and Los Angeles Mexican restaurants a carne asada burrito is: a lot of Meat with Cilantro, onions, and sauce (not necessarily in that order). Sometimes the sauce is guac, sometimes it is a red chili sauce. The whole thing is usually wrapped in foil for serving. It's as much a signature dish as a "wiz with" in Phila but tastes better IMO. Intense crisp flavors, nothing to coat your mouth and dull the flavors... great. Those same restaurants usually sell tacos that are two soft corn tortillas stacked and topped with a mound of meat, cillantro, onions, and sauce.

                                                                                                                                  I've had Mexican food in pretty much every corner of the US (and a sampling of the middle) and a lot of it is not great...but the worst by far is in Dallas. It sounds paranoid but I've wondered if it is some sort of systematic racism actually -- a deliberate perversion of a culture's food to insult the Mexican people. I don't believe that but I haven't come up with any better explanation. If I want my mouth coated with greasy yellow slime and mealy "meat" I...well, I guess I know where to go. :(

                                                                                                                                  I've lived in Dallas for going on two years and every so often I forget just how badly they abuse the term "Mexican" in relation to food. But I'm not bitter. :)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: gimmeflavor

                                                                                                                                    Ha ha, gimmeflavor... I lived in Houston, and don't think I need to say more about the Houston/Dallas differences, in all cuisines as well as other things :-). Those Carne Asada Burritos sound heavenly! Though, growing up in Houston, a refried beans, cheese, meat and greens topped burrito can't be beat (though I was in college then, so one burrito meant three meals!). You've got me wondering about your "Dallas Theory" of Tex-Mex? Could it be true? I was once pelted by rocks (with my brother) when we told some Dallasites that we were from Houston (but that was during the Oilers/ Cowboys days...).

                                                                                                                                    1. re: gimmeflavor

                                                                                                                                      Is it hard to find good canned sauces and ingredients in Dallas? my brother moved there for 4 months, maybe he could use a care package?

                                                                                                                                      He is lucky enough to be downtown, directly across the street from the big farmer's market.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: ideabaker

                                                                                                                                      Very few taquerias in SF use black beans by default, it's all pinto; if you don't want rice, just say so--I normally get mine without it.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: xanadude

                                                                                                                                        Good point, xanadude (p.s. love your screen name, ex-roller skater here); guess I never think to customize my order when I try out places... part of the fun is seeing what they give me!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: xanadude

                                                                                                                                          I really miss cancun taqueria. I don't have anything like it the San Fernando Valley.

                                                                                                                              2. Take a look at the border between the US and Mexico. It is quite long. Take a look at the different states, that form that border. Each is unique. Look at the cuisine of each state (Mexico & US) and think of the differences - look at, for instance Gulf seafood vs Pacific (of Gulf Of California), and imagine how different these are. Do you get a picture in your mind yet?

                                                                                                                                There are a dozen threads on Tex-Mex, and as many on California-Mexican. Many folk have made some great comments on these. The cuisines are different, though the border is a common thread.

                                                                                                                                In very general terms, Tex-Mex is a beef-based "colorado red/brown" sauce, while CA-Mex is usually tomato-based and much lighter. Each is great, though they are different.


                                                                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                  I'm with you on this one, Bill. But I'm in New Zealand now and frankly I'd be happy with ANY kind of Mexican or Mexican Fusion food at the moment!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: ideabaker

                                                                                                                                    I understand. I am in AZ, and there is plenty of various Mexican fare, but full-boat Tex-Mex is not usually one of the choices. Closest that I've found is a small restaurant that features fare for Jalisco. Yes, I know my Mexican geography, and it is not close to the Texas/Mexican border, but the sauces and spices are not THAT far apart.

                                                                                                                                    I enjoy the Baja and Sonoran fare, but do miss the heavier meals from Laredo y Nuevo Laredo, et al.


                                                                                                                                    PS at least you have some world-class Sauvignon Blancs and some up-n-coming Pinot Noirs at your disposal! If you ever get the chance, Cloudy Bad does a Late Harvest Riesling that is to die for. Small production, but better than 90% of the GR Eiseweins, and at 1/10th the price. Wish we could get it in the US, but the Kiwis drink it all...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                      Thanks for the tip on the Riesling, Bill... have been on a Sauvignon Blanc journey for the past eight weeks here, heading back next week, so I can take a look for the Riesling before I leave this weekend! It is astounding the specials the grocery stores put on in their extensive wine sections... often ten bucks (Kiwi, that's about eight bucks American) a bottle for very fine, highly rated wines! [But I still miss my Tex Mex :-)] .

                                                                                                                                      Had some Maseca and a tortilla press shipped over to me here so my friends can experience fresh corn tortillas- will make "real" enchiladas (with corn, not flour tortillas) for my g'bye for now bash in a couple of days! Now only to be here long enough to grow poblanos for Chiles Rellenos!

                                                                                                                                      1. re: ideabaker

                                                                                                                                        I know it's not exactly the same as fresh, but my wife (from Oklahoma) used to make chiles rellenos from canned chiles when we were stationed in Germany and could get absolutely nothing close to mexican. She used the canned whole green anaheims, but poblanos are available as well. Here's a site I use a lot - I linked to a can of poblanos, but you can look around for others:


                                                                                                                                        And Bill... I bow to your superior wine knowledge, but kiwi Rieslings better than German Eisweins... hard to believe. Much of the Eisweins we had there were way too sweet for anything but a dessert wine, but for sipping, the Trockenberenausleses I had from the Badener region (we lived in the Black Forest) never got exported - the locals drank it all - but I've never had its equal here in the US. I had someone who worked for me who's uncle was a Lufthansa pilot - he'd bring in a bottle or two every now and then. Unfortunately, I had to fire the guy... Do you guys know any pilots or attendants that work for New Zealand Air?

                                                                                                                                        1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                                          I know. It is blasphemy, but when I tasted the CB Late Harvest Riesling, I was blown completely away. We managed to do a side-by-side with some TBA's and two Eisweins, and it was a consensus - the CB won, across the board. Unfortunately, I have never been able to find it beyond the winery. I have tried to pull in favors from three distributors/importers, and it’s been no go. If you ever get the opportunity, give it a go. I think you'll be surprised at the many layers of flavor and the nuances. Dyn-O-mite stuff. No pilots, or flight crews, any longer. I guess we just have to go and bring back all we can carry, or hide. Our bottles came back in the lap of a good friend, along with a bottle of really poor port-styled wine. We threw out the port and used the decanter bottle. Everyone agreed that this was not something that the Kiwis had quite learned yet. With all of the OZ port-styled wines, that are quite good in their own right, I was surprised, as were my friends. Really poor stuff.

                                                                                                                                          Now, to the Tex-Mex, I think I'd look at Spätlese, or a lighter Auslese. Obviously, I'm looking at GR and not domestic. For Cal-Mex, with a lot of raw tomatoes, the wine that I'm drinking right now, has potential: Picchetti Santa Cruz Sangiovese. It has good acid, low alcohol and should work, especially if the tomatoes' acid is forward and there is not that much heat. Still, a Margarita isn't bad there either.


                                                                                                                                        2. re: ideabaker

                                                                                                                                          I usually think of something with some real fruit forward, when pairing with Mexican. With the rich beef/veal sauces of Tex-Mex, I think of a lower alcohol, but full-bodied Zinfandel.

                                                                                                                                          For Baja fare, the SB's, especially some of the domestic fruit-forward wines, like the Groth Napa, do come to mind. Though I am an avowed wino, I more often order up a Margarita. Still, with any heat, a bit more sweetness (fruit, not RS), is my normal direction.

                                                                                                                                          And yes, I miss my Tex-Mex too. I've been trying to talk my wife into driving on our next trip from AZ to NOLA, just to get my "fix." So far, it looks like airlines, but there is always "next time... "


                                                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                            Several years ago I did a master class with Rick Bayless and Jill Gubesch the sommelier for his restaurants. The primary focus of the class was pairing wines with Mexican food. Here are a few of the suggestions I can remember

                                                                                                                                            * Pair the wine with the sauce, not the protein or center of the plate item

                                                                                                                                            * Focus on the primary chile in the sauce since botanically, chiles are a fruit.

                                                                                                                                            * Sauces that are green chile based seem to pair better with white and the sauces based on dried red chiles seem to pair better with red wines.

                                                                                                                                            * Since Mexican food uses a good deal of citrus and vinegar, pair the acidity of the wine to the acidity of the food

                                                                                                                                            * Match the intensity of the fruit in the wine to the spiciness of the sauce

                                                                                                                                            And that's about all I can remember, except I think they said that the sparklers go particularly well with masa based items like antojitos

                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                              Those sound like wise tenants. I can not find fault with any of those. Thanks for sharing those tidbits.

                                                                                                                                              With big masa, I'm likely to go towards Chardonnay, and that includes many sparklers.

                                                                                                                                              Something that no one, myself included, has mentioned is that Rosé sparkers go with a lot of spicy dishes, and have the "guts" to stand up to richer fare. These are not used, or mentioned, often enough.

                                                                                                                                              Next Tex-Mex meal, I'll try for a Rosé sparkler, if I can find one on the wine list.


                                                                                                                                  2. Tex Mex vs Cal Mex.? No problem. take the high road and eat New Mex! Just made a batch of Hatch red chile from pods w/ pork for enchiladas(no tomato!). Mana from heaven!

                                                                                                                                    1. The Mexican food I grew up eating in Dallas was at El Chico. A few years later my mother and I used to meet for lunch at El Fenix. And, yes, I remember Pancho's Mexican buffet (they used to have one in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico too). My parents and I thought chili was a Mexican dish. I got some in San Antonio when I was around 6-7 years old that was so hot I couldn't eat it and now I can inhale Tabasco sauce and Sambal Oelek. To me black olives in Mexican food is an abomination. I lived in the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala area of Mexico for 10 years and most of the food there is different from either Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex. Of those two, I still much prefer Tex-Mex and can cook Tex-Mex and Mexican from Mexico.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: RevImmigrant

                                                                                                                                        Though I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout much of Mexico, I still have fond memories of the El Chico's on Vet's Blvd, in Metairie, LA. Their Jalisco Dinner (better than any meal throughtout the state of Jalisco) was a delight. Yes, it was an Americanized take on Tex-Mex, but always well done.

                                                                                                                                        Still after a month of dining all over Mexico, my highlight was dining at a corrugated metal shed, in Laredo!

                                                                                                                                        Though I live in an area that has some great Sonoran Mexican, I gravitate first to Tex-Mex, and then to New Mexican with the American Indian influence to the Mexican fare.

                                                                                                                                        Maybe it's about what one grows up with.


                                                                                                                                      2. Some things I noticed that are different about TexMex is it tends to use much more cumin. It also uses a lot of ground beef and runny nacho cheese sauce.

                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                        1. re: SD Native

                                                                                                                                          Cumin seed and beef broth for more of the sauces. Some tomato, but basically a reduced beef broth. Onions are also usually sauteed, rather than raw - though not always.


                                                                                                                                        2. I have spent a substantial amount of time in Southern California where I have a lot of family. I haven't been to Texas but I've had Tex Mex at chain restaurants. That said I am probably biased because of my SoCal history and actual lack of mom and pop Tex Mex in the actual area. I will say that I am not sure how tacos can get much better than the tacos in Highland Park from the taco trucks. The 4" corn tortillas, lightly oiled and pan fried, the carne asada or carnitas, the salsa roja, the diced onion, the cilantro, and the radishes and cucumbers on the side to cool things down. Wash three of those down with a mexican coke or a lime jarritos and you're in heaven. Click on the tiny pic at the bottom of this reply and you'll what these heavenly delights look like.

                                                                                                                                          16 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: claycr125

                                                                                                                                            That looks mighty tasty. Good taco trucks are one of the things I miss.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: claycr125

                                                                                                                                              Having grown up near the Highland Park, inside Dallas, I can assure you that they would never let a taco truck get near there.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                Who are they? That is sad that "they" wouldn't enjoy these delightful treats. Check out this site. www.saveourtrucks.org. They are trying to protect these hard working latin people from the evil L.A. city government. Also check this site out. http://tacohunt.blogspot.com/. This guy knows a thing or two about SoCal tacos. I would hate to live in Dallas and not be able to enjoy the tacos that I grew up loving because this "they" mafia won't let taco trucks in.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: claycr125

                                                                                                                                                  "They" are the Highland Park police. Highland Park is the city within a city, near SMU, in Dallas. This enclave of the very wealthy has a long history of profiling and harassing minorities who may just be passing through. They even harassed me, a WASP, who lived nearby. I'm sure they don't even allow ice cream trucks in HP.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                    Then keep me out of Highland park, yo. Claycr125 had me drooling with the description.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                      "They" isn't only the police, it's the residents of HIghland Park...a wealthy, hyprocritical, neighborhood in Dallas.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                        I see what you're saying (Texas), I was referring to Highland Park in Los Angeles.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: claycr125

                                                                                                                                                    In threads like this one, I do agree. It is what one grows up with.

                                                                                                                                                    For me, it was some version of Tex-Mex, so AZ and CA are not so much my thing. Does not mean that some dishes are not great, only the general theme is different, as are many of the ingredients.


                                                                                                                                                    1. re: claycr125

                                                                                                                                                      "I haven't been to Texas but I've had Tex Mex at chain restaurants. "
                                                                                                                                                      That's kinda like saying, "I haven't been to France, but Ive had some French wines". Even within Dallas or Ft. Worth, never mind the huge state, Tex-Mex varies widely. A fair amount of the chain stuff there is slop and not a good representation.
                                                                                                                                                      Those tacos are making me hungry... PS: I don't think most chains serve soft tacos; just hard shell ones.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                        ...."but I've had Tex Mex at chain restaurants." A better analogy, I feel, is that I've had pizza at chain restaurants. Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Uno, do not represent good pizza nor do chains for Tex Mex.
                                                                                                                                                        Holy Guacomole Batman!

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                          Ah, I see you're still alive an' kickin'! Didn't drown in the bay... Not to stove up to type.
                                                                                                                                                          (Pass just did another kayak tour). Any good chow stories from the outing?

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                            Naw, just a full day, no cookin', but I kept the wind on my stern. Made an excellent lobster, crab and anise sauce over angel hair pasta.

                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                            I think that it would depend on the "chain." Having had Tex-Mex on both sides of the border, almost all of the way around, I have to say that a Dallas (IIRC) mini-chain, El Chico, had some very good and highly representative fare.

                                                                                                                                                            Without a name, and location, one cannot say for sure.


                                                                                                                                                          3. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                            Depending on the chain, and the location, one can sample some very good fare. Yes, many of variables, but then the chef can often bring infulence from the "home country," and the food can be surprisingly good.


                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                              "and the food can be surprisingly good"

                                                                                                                                                              ....even better if you work there and get to sample what the cooks make for themselves! I worked at a pancake house-type place and the chili sauce the line cooks made for themselves from guajillos, new mex, etc dried chiles was heaven!

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: toodie jane

                                                                                                                                                                Yes, it is all about the cooks and the ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                I have often asked "where is the best Mexican food around here?" and gotten the response, "at home in MY kitchen!" That is something that I understand completely. When one asks a similar question, "where's the best Gumbo in Phoenix?" I will always answer "in my wife's kitchen, bar none!"


                                                                                                                                                        2. "Tex-Mex rellenos use Hatch peppers while California uses Anaheim."

                                                                                                                                                          They're the SAME THING.

                                                                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: CharlieKilo

                                                                                                                                                            In my experience, a lot of Tex-Mex uses poblanos for rellanos. Some will split hairs over Anaheim and Hatch being the same, pardner.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                              I am here to split some hairs! Anaheim (aka California green chile) and Hatch (aka New Mexico green chile) started out the same. However Anaheim were cultivated for their mildness (in California) and Hatch were cultivated for more of a kick (in New Mexico) and that is before you begin talking growing conditions and soil acidity and eventual Scoville units. To say they are the same is to say a rose is a rose or a can of Ortega's and a can of Hatch are the same, your taste buds will tell you otherwise! Please see http://www.foodsubs.com/Chilefre.html Stepping down off soap box :-}

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: just_M

                                                                                                                                                                I agree. Got 90 lbs of roasted Hatch in the freezer. Green chile stacked enchiladas for supper this week!

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                  I am so Freakin jealous!

                                                                                                                                                                  I have to say I am a born and bred Cali girl (chile relleno addict) that married a (A)Zoni and was then indoctrinated into the ways of the green chile. The New Mexico/Hatch green chile is to California/Ortega green chile as the cheese crisp is to the quasadilla, *just more* flavor/texture/addictiveness! It's just another world, with really different foods that you wont understand until you taste them. I really had no idea until I married in.

                                                                                                                                                                  Just so, so jealous!

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: just_M

                                                                                                                                                                    Actually, when you get into the history of the hybridization of chiles, it's not quite so simple. I think I give a link to the Chile Institute of the New Mexico State University (Las Cruces) in one of my posts above somewhere. "Hatch," "Ortega," and "Anaheim" chiles are all closely related. In fact, "Ortega" and "Anaheim" were identical when named that. The history of these three chiles is that NMSU began a chile hybridization program back in the first or second decade of the Twentieth Century. Mr. Ortega was somehow associated with that project, then moved to Anaheim, California, for family reasons and took some of the hybridized "Hatch" chile seeds with him, though they weren't yet identified as "Hatch" chiles. Anyway, when he arrived in Anaheim, he began growing the hybridized chiles and continued working toward producing a chile PLANT that produced uniformly picante chiles. Chile plants have the peculiar property of producing very hot chiles on the same plant that produces very mild chiles, which makes most chile plants a guessing game at harvest time and the NMSU project was aimed at standardizing the warmth from a single plant.. Mr. Ortega's hybridized chiles were the hit of Anaheim, and in California became known as both "Ortega chiles" and "Anaheim chiles." After a few years -- I forget how many, maybe five? -- Mr. (Senor) Ortega moved back to southern New Mexico, and rejoined the research program bringing his hybridized California seeds with him. So technically, Hatch, Ortega, and Anaheim chiles are all from the same stock. However, as the Chile Institute's program to produce hybridized plants that produce uniform heat in chiles from a given plant plant has continued, there are now lots of hybrids within the family that produce everything from mild to very hot chiles, but no longer all from the same plant. They have even bred a habanero you can eat out of hand like an apple!

                                                                                                                                                          2. They are grown in different locales, with differing conditions, such as soil, climate and so forth, giving rise to slight variations in flavor. However, the Genus and Species are the same for both.

                                                                                                                                                            1. I'll take the nontraditional middle ground, Navajo Mex!

                                                                                                                                                              1. ahhhhh cali-snobs! "oh my, the lack of vegetables in texas is astounding! oh goodness!"

                                                                                                                                                                TEXAS! TEXAS!

                                                                                                                                                                1. I grew up in Laredo in South Texas. Across the Rio Grande, half of my town lay, a city divided between two countries. The Mexican cuisine was fantastic and it was nothing like what I had in San Antonio, Austin, or much later, California nor DC, which is where I now live. Herbs which we commonly used were cumin, garlic, anise, serranos, cloves, cinnamon to pepper our sauces. We didn't have the gloppy melted cheese on enchiladas that's now found in most Tex-Mex restaurants. Common there were potato/cilantro tacos, pickled carrots and onions, enchiladas in a "sencillo" red mole with Chihuahua cheese, venison/pork/crushed-candy tamales, grilled cabbage/carrots/chilis, steamed beef/pork tacos (tacos al vapor ... to die for!), semitas with anise/pecans/piloncillo, cabrito (grilled baby goat) which is common throughout northern Nuevo Leon/Tamaulipas, frijoles borrachos (beans with beer), calabacitas (zucchini with onions, chilis, queso fresco), green fried rice... Lots of diversity there and it had to do with he fact that many Mexicans had settled in Laredo after they fled the Revolution. Whenever I visited friends' houses I was surprised by the diversity of each families' food. It was a reflection of whichever region in Mexican they came from. Mexican food is ultimately regional. It's a disservice that it's been (somewhat) standardized in this country and that it's not really a reflection of any known community. I've also liked some Cal-Mex and some Tex-Mex but it's varied depending on where and who was cooking it. I think it's difficult to lump either (or other kinds of Mexican food) in one broad category.

                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                    Now, and NOT being a "native," I found much more similarity between much of the Mexican cuisine between Laredo and San Antonio. Yes, there were differences, but I attributed much of that to the particular recipes and chefs, sort of like "family differences," than to real geographical differences. I greatly appreciate your perspective on things.

                                                                                                                                                                    As stated above, and by others, there are many "flavors" of Mexican cuisine, and those might even be evident, with side-by-side comparisons, between areas, that seem so very close, when just looking at a map.

                                                                                                                                                                    Muchas gracias from Phoneinx,


                                                                                                                                                                  2. I know this is an old thread, but it does pop up every now and again, so just think of this bump as an encore appearance ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                    This op-ed piece appeared in the L.A.Time - http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/c...

                                                                                                                                                                    I think it's pretty spot on in terms of the decline and transition of Cal-Mex food. Having grown up in SoCal eating Cal-Mex food I agree that Cal-Mex served as a bridge between American and Mexican palates and that it's outgrown itself. My eating habits and Mexican food preferences have certainly changed over the years and I crave something more complex (mole, for instance), or something cleaner and less fussy (say a street taco or pescado en escabeche). Then again, there are time when a cheese enchilada and hard shell beef taco combo plate hits the spot too ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                      DD, thanks for bringing this event to our attention. I agree with your sentiment that there's nothing wrong with a little Americanized Mexican food **done well** - call it a 'gateway' cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                      For those who don't know, RM Restaurant Holding Corporation, owner of the Mexican restaurant chains Chevys, El Torito and Acapulco, filed for bankruptcy protection. See this article:

                                                                                                                                                                      These overpriced, sterile, cliche-Mex chains included the sad remnants of small, better chains with good locations who sold out. I hope that other (hopefully tastier) business opportunities will fill this void and employ some of the workers who will be laid off.
                                                                                                                                                                      May these brand names go to the nether regions permanently!

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: DiveFan

                                                                                                                                                                        In it's day Acapulco really wasn't too bad...but then we didn't really know better either ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: DiveFan

                                                                                                                                                                            Many different cuisines have been "Americanized," and that is not really a bad thing. Yes, some recipes might have been altered to accommodate a broader base, but in so doing, many restaurants have been allowed to continue in business, while still offering their versions of "authentic" to those, in the know.

                                                                                                                                                                            For me, a perfect example has been some Chinese cuisine. My tennis doubles partner was a member of a Chinese restaurant family in the US. His family had many successful Chinese restaurants, but when we were guests at his families' weddings and events, the menu changed. Much of what was common to me, might have been included, but then there was so very much more, that I had never experienced, and did not appear on ANY of the restaurants' menus. They were very interesting, and some were quite good (to my Westernized, US palate), but I can see why they might have shown up on a daily basis. Much "Mexican" fare is similar - based on history of the area, but modified to sell to the masses.


                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                            You are correct (at least in my book), that the thread is old, but covers some very useful aspects of Mexican cuisine, and especially in the US. IIRC, I have participated in about a half-dozen somewhat similar threads, and in most, the word "authentic" often comes up. My question is usually along the lines of "authentic to what?"



                                                                                                                                                                          3. Ok. since this has been brought up again, and I am among the original posters, this Thursday will be a lunch to celebrate four years of marriage, on the menu TexMex at a Houston East End Barrio restaurant, El Jardin, queso flameado, carnitas, and alambre. Good TexMex is a thing of beauty, something I grew up with and will always cherish.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. I've read this thread a couple of times, trying to learn as much as I could. Thanks everyone for the contributions to this discussion.

                                                                                                                                                                              I have lived in S. California for 40 years. I learned to love Mexican food here.
                                                                                                                                                                              I have a family member who was stationed in San Antonio for 3 years, about 8 years ago. I do not love the Mexican food there.

                                                                                                                                                                              That is my contribution.

                                                                                                                                                                              Other than to say, flour tortillas should never ever ever ever be used in enchiladas.

                                                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: laliz

                                                                                                                                                                                I don't disagree with you about flour tortillas used for enchiladas. I'm sincerely sorry that's the impression San Antonio Tex-Mex left on you. My husband is a San Antonio native and would agree that enchiladas belong in corn tortillas. The best Mexican food to be had in San Antonio is hard to find in restaurants because it's not much of a restaurant city. You'll likely simultaneously find the best and worst food at a relative's house for a special occasion, of which there are many.

                                                                                                                                                                                H's mother grew up in the desert of Coahuila in northern Mexico where food was anything but plentiful and always put food on the table and has given us so much. We've got dried Mexican oregano that came from her cousin with which we can garnish our posole and menudo. H's cousin is keeping the art of tamal making alive. Just because it's not what you're familiar with doesn't mean you had a good experience or that it's all bad.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: agoodbite

                                                                                                                                                                                  You are absolutely correct about it being hard to find in a restaurant, I kept searching. This was not supposed to be a slam at San Antonio, or even Texas ~~ we DO like what we are used to. My comment was only that I didn't care for the "Tex-Mex" I had there, or what I have read in cookbooks and recipes. I just am used to what they serve here in California. I am no authority by any stretch of the imagination; I enjoyed learning from this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                  When I first moved to California from Pennsylvania, the only experience I had w/Mexican food was literally Taco Bell. And I loved it. Everyone kept telling me that wasn't real and I should taste home made Mexican. I finally scored an invite to my friend, Aida Mendoza's home (they were from Mexico City) and I was so excited.

                                                                                                                                                                                  I didn't know ANY thing about food or areas or the country, I was only thinking about home made tortillas and cheese enchiladas.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Her mother served Roast Beef and roasted potatoes and veggies in my honor ~~ what? However there was a big pot of beans and home made tortillas included. When the mother found out I wanted their food, she invited me back again. My first experience with the real deal. i.e. heaven.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: agoodbite

                                                                                                                                                                                    Now, San Antonio was our "main" bastion for Tex-Mex cuisine, and many of our hosts were recently over from Del Rio (actually, just outside of Del Rio), so we might have gotten the "golden tour?" We have loved many meals in that city, though usually outside of the "tourist" restaurants, so there WILL be differences. Way back when, we loved the fare at La Fogota, but that was too long ago, unfortunately. On a fairly recent trip, and with only the River Walk area to supply us, things were not what we once remembered. Maybe those "good old days" are too long gone? Still, I have some great memories of the foods, and those older restaurants.


                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                      My future son in law is Mexican American, he born and raised in San Antonio, his father Mexican his mother Native American.
                                                                                                                                                                                      I had been to SA YEARS and years ago, when I was in training in the Army at Ft. Sam Houston,...

                                                                                                                                                                                      here's what I know to be my own personal truth: the best food there today, by far comes from the local little hole in the wall, walk ups.
                                                                                                                                                                                      it's not healthy, it's not fancy, but it's delicous!
                                                                                                                                                                                      barbacoa, tamales, and yes, the SA version of Mexican food anyway seems to be very meat-centric.
                                                                                                                                                                                      he's made and brought some awesome food, like chorizo and eggs in home made tortillas, his aunts tamales, the aforementioned barbacoa.
                                                                                                                                                                                      But then to speak to the o/p question and to reiterate what someone else here said.

                                                                                                                                                                                      To think that there are only two different kinds of Mexican is a little silly
                                                                                                                                                                                      Mexico is BIG and depending on where you are, that's what kind of food will be served. Near the coast? Seafood, Far inland? Meat, Dessert? grain based foods
                                                                                                                                                                                      So the Cal-Mex may be exactly that... the Californian influence of fresh veggies and "cleaner" flavors on the traditonal Mexican food, while the Texan Mexican conversely has the Texan influence of the meat, the heat, the smoke...
                                                                                                                                                                                      (I'm rambling, aren't I?)

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cgarner

                                                                                                                                                                                        Sorry if I was not clear. "Mexican" food is NOT "two different kinds." It is MANY different kinds, thought the title of this thread might lead one to believe otherwise. I think that the OP was trying to contrast but two different styles/types of "Mexican cuisine," and nothing more, but could be wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Sorry for any confusion that I might have caused.


                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: laliz

                                                                                                                                                                                    I can understand completely, though in the inverse. Growing up with variations on Tex-Mex, when we moved to AZ (and often dine in CA), I was less impressed, but that was just my palate. I would NEVER cast aspersions on any variation of Cal-Mex, as there are so many, who love it, but just long for what I was exposed to, and at an early age.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Living in AZ, and then traveling to CA often, I have come to accept variations, and some major differences. I fault none, but do pine for Tex-Mex. That, however, is just me.


                                                                                                                                                                                  3. It's just like the difference between food from the North East and the south. Different regions, different cuisines.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. I am really enjoying reading this post. I've even passed it on to my husband and daughter to read.

                                                                                                                                                                                      For me, a native Californian living in Houston these past 10 yrs. the difference is in many little things. Like the enchilada sauces, or the difficulty in finding carnitas in TX but fajitas being plentiful. The tamales are smaller in TX. I don't recall ever seeing a puffy taco in CA. It may just have been that I never noticed them. In TX there are more varieties of salsas while in CA it was more common to see a salsa fresca. In CA most plates came with refried pinto beans. In TX its charro beans and most restaurants at least give you the option of black beans. I know there are black beans being offered in CA now but when I left, not so much. Then there are the item names, chalupa or tostada. Flautas are what my family refers to as taquitos; we called them flautas only if they were made with flour tortillas. And queso, I'm think there was queso in CA or queso flameado which to me is not the same but it never occurred to us to order it. Here we crave the stuff. I know the one thing my husband misses are the burritos. And there were usually several kinds of burritos on a menu, none of which had to have any specific ingredients like rice, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                      In our CA kitchen I used jalapenos, poblanos, serrano’s, and anaheim chilies. I also used chipotle in adobo, guajillo, ancho, and chile de arbol. In addition to those I used New Mexico and CA ground chile. I used cominos and plenty of garlic. And because there were allot of friends and family with avocado trees I used allot of those too. I really miss the avocado trees. Tacos were either the American kind or the Mexican street cart kind. The American kind were ground beef, shredded beef, or chicken. The Mexican kind could be just about anything. I have those same options in Houston. In Houston I learned about Hatch chiles not because they don’t have or use them in CA but 10 yrs. ago you really didn’t see them unless they were in a can and I prefer fresh.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I know there is some discussion on tamales. I don’t eat them out because I make them at home. Mine are not of uniform size. I make them according to the size of the corn husk, so there are some large ones and there are some small ones but they all have the same meat to masa ratio. I can imagine that wouldn't work in a restaurant. One thing I do see more often in TX regarding tamales is that there seems to be more opportunities to try tamales made with banana leaves.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I like both Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex. To me they are different, neither being better.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. I cooked at a Mexican joint in El Cajon, CA in the late 70s and wound up spending 20+ years in the business. Living in Georgia now for the past 15 years I can say the Mexican places here are predominantly Texas inspired. Tamales ordered a la carte come with a thin layer of refried beans on top followed by some ground beef taco filling and then a thin red sauce that is tomato-based and flavorless. My guess is that because the tamal is so small and somewhat expensive ($3.50 a pop) the proprietors do not want you to feel ripped-off. BEFORE THE TEJANOS TEAR ME A NEW ONE, I would like to say that overall I like Tex-Mex. I have eaten a lot of Mexican food in TX, NM, AZ and especially CA. Growing up in CA, I had never heard of a chalupa until I moved east. It looked like a tostada to me. Enchiladas in CA were enrobed in a sauce made of chile. In Tex-Mex, the sauce is chili (con carne). As far as the taco/taquito/flauta debate goes, tacos are filled with anything and can be fried (tacos dorados) or not. Taquitos are always corn tortillas stuffed with some kind of meat and then rolled and deep-fried. Taquitos=Roll(ed) tacos. Flautas, on the other hand, are corn or flour tortillas and much longer but again with some kind of meat as the filling and deep fried. I make them with 2-6 inch corn tortillas with about 1/3 of each tortilla overlapping. They are tough to keep together though. This is my opinion based on observation and a lot of fine chowing throughout the Southwest and now the East.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chmann44

                                                                                                                                                                                          Being from Texas, these tamales sound like Georgia/Mex to me, a bizarre presentation, not a Texas tamale at all. I virtually never eat them in a restaurant, nor do my friends, although they are on most menus. Most tamles here are consumed at tamale factories, hole in the wall tamale joints, or homemade by someone you know, like my wife, until family problems, made them every Christmas. Also many workplaces will have someone bringing in tamales for sale, or you just luck out and find someone selling them fresh out of the back of a van, like I did yesterday at a seafood wholesaler. With all this rambling, what I am saying is that you can't judge a so-called TexMex restaurant in Georgia selling tamale swill as an authentic represenation of real TexMex.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                            I don't think you can judge what chmann44 described as "authentic" anything :-D

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. My information is from a perspective growing up in Austin, Texas and eating a lot of Mexican and Tex Mex food, and whenever possible I try to sample *-Mex wherever I travel.

                                                                                                                                                                                          I am a bit puzzled where you are getting your information from, since it is not accurate. In fact, it's puzzling where some of the other people in this thread get their information from.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Tex Mex is basically Mexican food plus a lot of creativity, e.g. there is a hamburger joint in town that serves a catfish breaded in tortilla and fried, covered in queso and served with pico de gallo. Tex Mex is a pervasive thing here in Austin and Tex Mex food tends to be fun. Anything goes in Tex Mex, so it's very hard to pin down. There is an emphasis on flavor in Tex Mex, and it does not have to include meat, meat sauces, or tomatoes. Tex Mex tends to have some heat. If I travel outside of Texas, I tend to notice that the levels of heat, spice, and overall savoriness tends to decline, including California. There are pockets of *-Mex around that are close to Tex Mex, but I tend to find out that the people making this food are from Texas.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Friends of mine that have lived in California tend to agree that California Mex is quite a bit more tame and tends to emphasize fish and such more. Some people like the California Mexican more, probably because they are from California or they are not from Texas and so are not used to the amount of spice and heat used in Tex Mex.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Cheese enchiladas are not necessarily Tex Mex, in fact, there are authentic Mexican recipes for cheese enchiladas, e.g., enchiladas suizas de queso which originated in D.F. Cheese enchiladas and that classical sort of fair is a small subset of Tex Mex these days.

                                                                                                                                                                                          In general, it is quite hard to even define exactly what authentic Mexican cuisine is, since Mexico is a very large country, and one time encompassed Texas, California, and New Mexico. It should be no surprise that the variations of *-Mex in these states are different.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Tex Mex rellenos do not use Hatch peppers, they tend to use poblanos. I have eaten a ton of these things.

                                                                                                                                                                                          We have had freshly prepared guacamole since I was a kid here in Austin. We call a tostada a tostada, not a tortilla chip, except when you get served chips and salsa, where the chips are the same as in your usual bag of chips. With some salsa on the side.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Chips and salsa - I'm not sure where this was invented, but it is very common here in Austin. If you go to a Tex Mex establishment, you will generally be able to get chips and salsa while you have a drink and wait for your food. There are usually different kinds of salsas to sample from, most of these salsas are heavily influenced by the Mexican cuisine Tex Mex is derived from. You can also get chips and queso if you desire, or just a plate of nachos. It is not uncommon for the chips and salsa to be complimentary.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Margaritas. We love our margaritas. These aren't Mexican margaritas, they are Tex Mex margaritas. I think the Mexicans would refer to these as Kool-Aid. Anyways, you can get them anywhere, and they are tasty and come in many different flavors and some can get you very drunk, very quickly.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Mexican Martini - it's basically a modified margarita, but usually served up in a shaker and limited to two per patron. There's no gin in this, instead this drink uses Tequila. There's no real established recipe for it, but the recipes tend to be very similar. Very popular around Austin right now. Some snooty bartenders won't serve them, but the demand is too great.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Tacos, tacos, tacos. We are huge on the taco. There has been a taco explosion in Austin lately. I hear that the burrito is the big thing in California. Here you can get breakfast tacos anywhere. I hear it's the breakfast burrito in California. Personally, I favor the taco. Tacos here are usually only rolled when you are getting them to go, otherwise they are usually folded or simply served flat so you can add condiments and then fold them. Tacos here are usually not crispy, but I have been told the crispy tacos are popular in San Antonio.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Breakfast - Just like any other American state, we like our breakfast. So, there are lots of places that serve Huevos Rancheros and Migas here. Most places have an array of Tex-Mex breakfast foods. Migas has gotten to be a staple dish around here (again, Austin). These are actually more Mexican than Tex-Mex but most Tex-Mex places will serve a variation of this (e.g., extra cheese), although it might be just the plain old Mexican version.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Salsa - I don't know what salsa in Cali is like, but I love Tex Mex salsa. There are so many kinds, green, red, smoky, sweet, herby (there is a cilantro salsa in town I love), chunky, not chunky, and so on.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: amfetakrom

                                                                                                                                                                                            Kind of a funny reminder of what a huge state this is. I'm in the Abilene area, and breakfast burritos are an absolute staple, but breakfast tacos are all but unheard of. The two-corn tortilla taco is still a novelty in our area, if you can believe that.

                                                                                                                                                                                            If you order a house special plate in our region, you're expecting something along the lines of a cheese (cheddar, despite what outsiders say, I've never seen velveeta in a restaurant) enchilada, chili relleno made out of an Anaheim (aka Hatch if it's a NM pepper) pepper, but VERY rarely poblanos. Most are crisply fried in bread or cracker crumbs or a mix of crumbs, corn meal or masa, or a batter made of any combo thereof or just a flour batter, but you'll occasionally run into the light-fluffy-eggy version. Like you, I've eaten hundreds over the years, and can only remember one poblano.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Tamales such as described by chmann44 above, with beans and chili of some sort and whatever else on top is just an abomination to this Texan anyway (oh, hyperbole, you rear your head and invite trouble at every turn!). Tamales to me are best eaten out of hand, preferably with cold beer as the only "side." Sauces and such are a restaurant thing, but tamales are NOT a restaurant thing to start with. They're a labor of love, and as such are best enjoyed sitting around a pile of them with friends and family and more cold beer. If your tamales "need something" you've made them wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Oh, tostadas. Tostadas here are a whole fried tortilla that you use to make the finished dish of chalupas, which could have any combination of things atop the fried tortilla.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Having lived in both states, I have to say California over Texas as far as the Mexican food. I don't know what the fascination is with gloppy food dripping in cheese or buried in sauce in Texas.

                                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                                                                                                              right back at ya, bland, cheeseless Cali people, with rice in their burritos!

                                                                                                                                                                                              or, you know, we can respect the preferences of everyone. what I wouldn't give for some real queso and a deep fried chile relleno with fajitas and proper right now, here in the gray NW.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: cocktailhour

                                                                                                                                                                                                I've only seen rice in burritos at a couple places in CA it is not the norm, unless it's something new, but rice is offered for the burritos at Taco Cabana, I almost can't drive around without seeing one in TX. I'm not a fan of rice in burritos myself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Rice is a staple of Mission Burritos.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. Okay folks, it is NOT "Cali". As a native Californian I can assure everyone we do not, and have not, ever referred to the State of California as "Cali". CA, yes. Calif, yes. Cali, no.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Nor is rice ubiquitous to burritos in CA. In fact, if you put rice (and the rest of the kitchen sink) in a burrito in San Diego you'll be run into the Pacific Ocean and forced to eat bad fish tacos until your skin shrivels up ;-).

                                                                                                                                                                                              A true California Burrito (NOT Cali burrito) is carne asada, french fries, pico and guac, nothing more, nothing less. But burritos are not a California "thing". They've got a long history in Northern MX. We're more of a taco culture here.

                                                                                                                                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                California and Texas are both countries unto themselves.Many regions and styles, north to south and east to west.
                                                                                                                                                                                                Never heard about french fries, but that sounds so good I'm going to whip up a steak and fries burro. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I have had Mexican food all along the US border, from start to finish, and then throughout maybe eight states in Mexico, and have never seen "French Fries." Guess I just missed it. Maybe that comes from deep in the Yucatan, though I have dined in the Yucatan, as well?


                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Fench fries (see photos) in Oaxaca :-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I think bbqboy's comment was in response to my post about a California Burrito being carne asada + French fries. Clearly not a Mexican invention. Most often credited to begin invented in San Diego, CA

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                      my french fries don't look like that. Are they spiraled and roasted in that machine?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                                                                        This cart is about a block off the zocalo in Oaxaca. They have a special tool that does the spiral cut. The potatoes are then deep fried and streched out. The cart is packed at night. Mexcian's also spiral cut and fry hot dogs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Oops.. The french fry photo from the previous post was taken about a block off the zocalo in Oaxaca. The spiral hot dogs in the photo immediately above was taken on the zocalo in Ajijic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Thank you for that info. Now, while I have traveled the border extensively, and the interior a bit less, that was a side, that I had never encountered. I do have to mention that my travels along that border, and into the interior were in the past, so either I missed things, or maybe they have changed over time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Greatly appreciated, and I learned something new.


                                                                                                                                                                                                      3. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I've had camarones empanizados, fried shrimp, in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, and it seems like it came with french fries, but this was circa 1980 and I remember the shrimp, not totally sure about the fries. On the other hand, deep in Houston's east end barrio, El Jardin definitely serves their camarones empanizados with french fries, and has since the 70's.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      4. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                                                                        You never had milanesa con papas fritas?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      5. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                        @DiningDiva, I agree with the "Cali" thing. No one in CA says Cali. Some of my buddies even get annoyed when people say SoCal or NoCal. I do say SoCal but never Cali. That came from an LL Cool J song and he's from New York.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        That said, I do like some fish tacos in San diego. I remember Roberto's too. I'm more familiar with taco trucks in LA though.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: claycr125

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Yep on the Cali thing, I also never heard anyone calling Orange County "the OC" growing up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: rasputina

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I think the whole OC thing happened when the TV show of the same name was popular. Oh, and that fact we all use so much shorthand in texting and typing these days.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Is that what "The OC" was about?

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I saw the title, but never the series, so did not know.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Thank you,


                                                                                                                                                                                                      6. From my observations (I've lived in Southern California my whole life/ L.A. area and am 1/2 Mexican my mom is from Michoacan, Mexico) down here in Southern California Mexican food has a lot more vegetables & fruit, it's fresher, less heavy, and a lot of it is typical authentic Mexican food that you get in Mexico too ( a lot of the people living down here or that have restaurants are 1st generation born here, or born in Mexico) corn tortillas are more common, a lot of the places use lard, specially the food you buy at the food courts of the Mexican stores.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Common stuff are Taco places/ stands with all kinds of meat fillings served on corn tortilla with fresh salsas, limes, cilantro, chopped onion, radishes, sometimes pickled jalapenos, carrots, and onions are available. Tortas are pretty popular (sandwiches made with a type of french roll called Bolillo usually with pulled pork, avocado, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, etc.), the Tamales are much larger than the Texas ones that look like rolled cigars.... you see a lot of places that sell all sorts of "carnitas" (fried meats) and chicharrones that been simmered in lard til tender, etc. a lot of variety and regional specialties from Mexico can be found down here, and fresh stuff like ceviches, shrimp or other seafood cocktails, guacamole with alot of chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies and cilantro in it, fried tilapia, grilled meats, molcajetes etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        In Texas (I was only there 1 month) I noticed flour tortillas were more popular, fresh masa and stuff wasn't readily available, skinny tamales, heavier on cheese, sour cream, beef, less veggies, habits were just different, more what I considered Americanized, and alot of processed stuff too I noticed, kinda like I feel it's what "Chinese American" is to "Chinese food" Texas is the greasy fried version of traditional Mexican food...

                                                                                                                                                                                                        27 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: qbnboy90

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Your Cal-Mex references ring true to me. They are what I have encountered in CA, and also in much of AZ.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Now, as for any element of "authenticity," one must factor in the Mexican State of origin. Cal-Mex is more "authentic" to the bordering States, then Tex-Mex, compared to those same States, but is "authentic" to the Texas border States. It is not that Texas is changing things, but that their border Mexican States have different foods and recipes. Now, that is not meant to suggest that some in the Texas-border areas do not change things a bit, but still, the influence is from THEIR border, and the States that comprise that border.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Often, one goes with "styles," that reflect what they grew up with. For me, it was much more Tex-Mex (with some of the differences, that you cite), and less so, Cal-Mex, AZ-Mex, or NM-Mex. Those latter two, also have an additional influence - an indigenous American population, who added some of their recipes to the mix. Think blue corn tortillas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Each has an historical aspect, and each has some differences. At the end of the day, I feel that it is often what one grew up with. Heck, I had never had a Fish Taco, until I visited San Blas. Then, I could never find them, until I went to San Diego. We never had any, when I lived in New Orleans, or traveled to the Texas-Mexican border. Now, in AZ, we have some decent examples, but I doubt that one would find many examples in New Mexico.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          No, it is about the exact region. I found that the cuisine of the State of Jalisco was closer to that of the Texas-Mexican border, than to that of the Cal-Mex and AZ-Mex cuisine, though it is far removed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Thank you for chiming-in. It is greatly appreciated in this thread.


                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                            "No, it is about the exact region. I found that the cuisine of the State of Jalisco was closer to that of the Texas-Mexican border, than to that of the Cal-Mex and AZ-Mex cuisine, though it is far removed."

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I agree that the Mexican state or origin has influenced the various regional styles of Mexican food here in the U.S., but I have to quibble just a bit with the use of "exact region". There was as much migration from Jalisco into CA as there was into TX. I think for the early migration wave - say the 30s-60s - they used what they found in their new location, adapting the recipes they brought with them as they went. CA and TX were both agricultural producers at that time, but what each one grew or produced was far different.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'm about 1/2 way through Gustavo Arellano's new book "Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquerored America". It's an interesting read, tho' I'm not sure I agree with everything he's written. Like CH, it's just one man's opinion, tho' substantially better researched than most posts here on CH :-). Just finished the chapter on Cal-Mex/Tex-Mex in which he contends that Cal-Mex is more or less alive and well and that Tex-Mex is a dying genre.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm not sure I can believe Tex-Mex is as much a "dying genre" as it is so rapidly evolving that it is morphing into something that might even be called "Tex-Tex." I grew up in California, and greatly prefer my "native cuisine." But that said, there are a lot of dishes that are native to Texas (and the Texas/Mexico border) that are "historically recent" dishes that were created in Texas restaurants that have now been widely adopted and adapted everywhere in the world that has a restaurant that represents its menu as "Mexican."

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Around 1969 or so, “fajitas,” as we know them, came about as a commercial adaptation of a Rio Grand vaquero dish made from scrap meat (skirt steak) cooked on a camp fire to the grilled-on-a-flat-top/served-on-a-sizzling-platter anomaly that we know today, and that is served everywhere from upscale Mexican restaurants to Jack in the Box (they don’t bother with the sizzling platter). Then there is that even more recent creation that isn't even "Tex-Mex," but is "San Antonio-Mex," the puffy taco. Both of these dishes are recent creations that can be traced to specific Texas restaurants and have no historic Mexican or Texas tradition that predates their invention by a specific cook or cooks in a specific restaurant around a fairly specific date in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              "Nachos," while not actually being created on Texas soil, were spontaneously created for American army wives who missed the lunch hour while on a daytime shopping trip during WWII, who were likely in Piedras Negras to buy things that were seriously rationed where they lived on the other side of the very near US border because of war rationing. They dropped into the "luncheon restaurant" of a local hotel that had stopped serving for the day. What we would probably call the restaurant manager, but who has since been legendized into "the maitre d’" (a guy named Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya) took pity on them and tossed together a snack using what was easy and quick from what was still on hand: corn chips, shredded cheese and pickled jalapeno slices. Probably thinking it was a traditional Mexican dish, the American ladies asked what it was called. With wry humor, Senor Anaya replied, “Nacho’s specialty.” Had he used his correct first name instead of his nickname, today we’d all be eating ignacios!

                                                                                                                                                                                                              These are all recent additions to Mexican RESTAURANT menus that have little to no roots in traditional Mexican or Texas cooking. But what are you going to do? Caesar’s salad” was a spontaneous creation by Tijuana restaurateur Caesar Cardini, purportedly for hungry movie star revelers who demanded food as the restaurant was closing in 1924. Today half the world thinks it is an Italian dish named after ancient Roman emperors! If anything is “Cal-Mex,” surely Caesar’s salad qualifies. ‘-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Don't forget the chimichanga and the margarita. Don't know where these were concocted, but it sure wasn't Mexico.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                BTW, when I was growing up in the south Texas borderlands, Carne Asada Tampiqueña was a Sunday afternoon ritual. I think it still is. And I thought that it was the origin of the fajita thing. But what do I know. I'm not a Mexican food anthropologist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Well, within the same State, and even within the same city, I have encountered diverse recipes for, otherwise, the same dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Now, with migration, folk can pick up aspects, and especially regarding what is available.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Then, if they open a commercial operation, they might modify things a bit, regarding the palates of their "new home."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                There are many variables, that could come into play.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                At the end of the day, it is like trying to nail down "authentic New Orleans Seafood Gumbo." Good luck. One could fill three volumes, just on "authentic New Orleans Gumbo" recipes. All would be correct, but all would be different, and maybe to an extreme.


                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: qbnboy90

                                                                                                                                                                                                              qbnboy90, everything you described like taco trucks, meat markets, carnecerias, seafood places, ostionerias, we have in spades in Houston. In my area, they are on virtually every street corner. Tamales are available in all shapes and sizes. Where and when were you in Texas? I eat a lot of Tex-Mex, it's not greasy or fried, with the exception of carnitas, which are excellent at many places. Sounds like you got a hold of some crappy Tex-Mex, which definitely does exist, just like bad Chinese. If you're ever in Houston, I can steer you to a bunch of good places.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I stayed in San Antonio, Texas around 2009 during December, with family that had recently moved there (the food at their house was what I was use too though that side of the family is from Guadalajara) but when I went out it was different, like the stuff available at the stores and stuff, couldn't get ahold of "Masa para tamales preparada" or fresh masa dough, or fresh made corn tortillas for sale, or good already prepared Tamales it was like they sold these skinny ones in that city, with a different type of filling and stuff, I noticed the flour tortillas were so popular, even used to make tacos that were rolled. However since I'm not from there neither were the family I stayed with (who had barely moved there) maybe that had something to do with what I saw. The area was mostly dominated by these huge stores called "H.E.B's" with a few small ethnic stores.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Don't get me wrong though I love some of the greasy creations (chimichangas, nachos, puffy tacos, etc.) but I wanted lighter stuff too. Are there any cooking blogs that you'd recommend that focus on Tex- Mex cuisine?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: qbnboy90

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Flour tortillas are very common in the Monterrey-Laredo-San Antonio corridor.My mother made them then and she still does. Later, I discovered that they're not at all common in the rest of Mexico. Friends from Mexico City, tell me they're not common there. A friend from from Veracruz, ditto. In Michoacan, non-existent.. Historian Richard Santos credits their beginning to the Spanish Jews who settled in Monterrey. It's a variation of unleavened bread.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  HEBs are ubiquitous in SA and Laredo. They do carry a diverse selection of Mexican foods and spices.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit the H*E*B store in Monterrey, Mex. It was an interesting experience to say the least. I have to say, however, that they had one of the best, and surprisingly diverse, selections of Mexican wines that I've ever seen in Mexico or the U.S. Not exactly where I expected to find them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: qbnboy90

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    First, chimichangas are not Tex-Mex. Having said that, HEB is not the place to go for masa. I've been to San Antonio a few times, but I must admit I don't know the city well. It has a huge Mexican American population, and I know it must be like Houston in that are myriad small grocers and tamale places in the neighborhoods, much as you described back in California. On the flour tortillas, my wife's family is from the Rio Grande Valley, 85 porciento Hispanic, via Guadalajara. We took some fresh flour tortillas from Kroger, of all places, down there and they were a huge hit. I'm not sure about blogs, but local food critic/author Robb Walsh and Tex-Mex restaurant part owner, has a cook book and history of Tex-Mex.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Walsh does have a link to a Tex-Mex blog on the book link. A local place, El Tiempo, does an insanely good nacho with jumbo lump blue crab, but we get the beans on the side, just cheese, crab, and jalapenos. To me, good nachos are like pizza, the fewer toppings, the better. Here's a link to my favorite Tex-Mex place, El Tiempo, run by the sons of locally famous Ninfa Laurenzo, best known for making fajitas popular across the good ol' USA. The prices may look high, they are, but the food will feed small armies.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Yes, chimichangas are definitely not Tex-Mex. On the border, we had something similar which we called chalupas. A cool deep-fried tortilla with the toppings. Chimichangas, on the other hand, have a half-domed tortilla. The toppings may vary.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      As for HEB, of course, it's not a primary source for Mexican staples, but it does provide well considering it's an American grocery chain. Growing up in the 50s and 60s in Laredo, most herbs came from the garden. Protein, from the Nuevo Laredo market. Though I'm fascinated by the aforementioned remark that the Monterrey HEB had a good selection of Mexican wines. Mexican wines are simply not much marketed on the East Coast. I don't know if that's the case in California or the Southwest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Since CA is a major wine producing state there are enough laws and tarifs making the importation of Mexican wines an expensive proposition. It is slowly changing but you can't exactly go down to the Valle de Guadalupe - and I live only about 80 miles from it - spend the weekend wine tasting and expect to bring back a case of the favorites you tasted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Here, I'm curious. I know that Baja has many vineyards though I know that superficially. What grapes are grown there? Curious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Valle de Guadalupe in Baja is very similar to the Napa area of CA, warm to hot summers, cool oceans breezes and some fog. The soil isn't particularly fertile, it tends to be somewhat rocky and clay-like and adequate water can be an issue. Over 40 varieties of wine grapes are grown, along with olive trees and a little citrus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            You can find the following grapes growing in the Valle...Cabernet, Grenache, Cab Franc, Sauvingnon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Nebbiola, Tempranillo, Malbec and a number of lesser known varieties, including the Swiss Chasselas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I like the Nebbiolas that are being produced in the Valle quite a bit, along with the Cab Franc, Tempranillo, Sauvingnon Blanc and sometimes the Zin. The Chasselas is a rather interesting wine...exceptionally dry, flinty with a strong mineral finish. It goes very well with cheese. Not necessarily my favorite but with the right food pairing it's very interesting. It's also very small, boutique production.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            You can Google the "Ruta de Vino" and get more information about what grown and available in the Valle. Some of the material is in English, or has the option for an English page, if you don't read Spanish.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I believe Bayless has been focusing on Mexican wines in his latest 'one plate' episodes on CreateTV (though I haven't taken time to watch them).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                This whole season of One Plate has been on Baja. And, yes, he is smitten with Baja.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          "Chimichangas, on the other hand, have a half-domed tortilla"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Huh?!?!??? Can you 'splain that comment?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Chimis are a deep fried burrito, nothing half-domed about it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Fried burrito? Not in Washington DC.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Yes, in DC, chimichangas have a half-domed flour tortilla. It resembles the Hollywood Bowl. No joke, really.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think we'd probably just call it a taco salad...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Here's a 1940's San Antonio Tex-Mex menu. Just scroll down a bit. OsoAndZoe5, chalupas are on the menu, and check out the menu for a newer version of Tex-Mex, with many old dishes anchoring the menu.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Well, I'm not sure I agree with the statement that we can thank Diana Kennedy for bringing Tex-Mex into its own. Southern Texas, as many other places in the Southwest and California, were originally inhabited by Mexicans who by cause of historical truncation became Americans. These communities had their own foods, and they evolved, influenced or not, by American culture and Time. Kennedy's perspective, like mine, is ultimately subjective. And as it's clear through the myriad postings on this blog, Mexican food is diverse (regional... perhaps even within a microcoosm) though ultimately, rememberered, and preferred, by personal experience. One may ask how one gets to an objective standard? Yet why get there? It simply doesn't exist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Italian and French friends tell me there is no singlular definition for either cuisine. That leaves the field wide open and that's all very good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                There's one or more places in Arizona that claim to have invented the chimichangas - as I believe a accidentlly deep fried burrito.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                A couple of decades I ago I spent a month with a family in Piedras Negras. We normally had local bought corn tortillas for the noon meal (often chicken soup), and hand made flour tortillas for supper. Breakfast was left overs of either. Beans were usually eaten at the end of the meal, mainly by the father, along with seranos dipped in salt. He also went out early on Sunday morning to buy barbacoa.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: OsoAndZoe

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Not sure of the creation of the Chimichanga, though this Wiki-pedia entry purports to know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimichanga

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  One small chain, Macayo, in Phoenix, AZ, has claimed to have invented it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I cannot dispute either Wiki-pedia, or Macayo.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I've never heard of Macayo's or Phoenix taking credit.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Here's a Sunset article discussing El Charro and Club 21 in Tucson-

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Thanks bbqboy for the article. This sounds correct from what I recall. I worked as a professional cook in La Jolla, CA in the late 70s at a joint called El Crab Catcher (now just called Crab Catcher) and we had a Chimichanga on the lunch menu. It was a VERY large flour tortilla filled with refried beans and machaca and then deep-fried. The Mexican cooks in the kitchen were surprised at this preparation
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      method and when hearing the word "chimichanga" said it sounded like Chinese food.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I remember the tortilla being at least 13 inches in diameter and very thin; I recently discovered it as a "tortilla sobaquera" see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z_qLY...
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Whoever invented/discovered the Chimichanga, may they be blessed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: chmann44

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Thanks, chmann-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        what a great video

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3. Hmmmm. California raised here. Where Tex Mex was kind of the original form before it evolved. To me, Cal-mex has an emphasis on fresher or less cooked ingredients. Ingredients closer to their original state with seasoning that reflects that: Fresh garlic, cilantro, foods that are more in their raw states, such as pico de gallo, frescas, ensaladas.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          TexMex seems heavy on cooked ingredients, flour tortillas, heavy sauces, heavy on the cheese. The TexMex seems heavy. Heavy in appearance, in flavor, feel, texture and overall. Heavy, cheesy, saucy. Cal Mex, seems less cheesy, less saucy, less heavily cooked, more corn tortillas,more raw onions, cilantro, lime, tomatoes, more fresca in style.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Wyvern

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Observing both Tex-Mex, and Cal-Mex, in very general terms, I agree with you.