HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Why do some Mexican restaurants have whole beans and others refried?

I did a small search for this and didn't find but feel free to guide me to the answer.

I have a strong preference for whole beans with Mexican food. Black beans are my fave but pintos are great also. Refried are just not for me. Is there a reason that the majority of Mexican restaurants, in my experience anyway, serve one or the other? Is one from a certain region? And I'm not talking chains. We have a little joint near us with just a few stools, mostly takeout, totally authentic (they make and sell their own chorizo in the back) and they're refried only. Any guidance on this?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I'm no expert, but I'll make a hypothesis:
    Mexico, like many, many, other countries, is comprised of different regions, and different cultural nuances. A suggestion, however: If you frequent the little take out joint, ASK them to make some for you. Next time you go, ask if they'll make a little batch next friday, or whatever day you can plan to go, and tell them you'll be there. If they see you often, I bet they'll take it into consideration. I'd also bet that they'd be very enthusiastic about you taking an interest in their place, and might offer you some tastes of other things as well.

    1. Both beans cooked whole and refried beans are served throughout Mexico. US restaurants serving "Mexican" picked up pretty much on refried alone and have not looked back. Now US diners expect refried. You'll have to try my refried.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        I think that is much less true than it once was. I've seen whole beans on pretty much every Mexican restaurant I've visited over the past 10ish years, in Manhatttan, upstate NY, LA and elsewhere.

        1. re: small h

          co, hear that? Have you been to any other Mexican restaurant in the US in the last 10 years?

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Golly, I think I might have been to a few others in the last ten years :) I don't eat Mexican in NYC cause I've read repeatedly here that it's their weakest culinary link. Dominican, yes. Mexican, no. Since I live on the Left Coast I've eaten all over the West and although I haven't kept track (!) I'll still stand with the majority having served refried.

            Perhaps my preference for whole beans is the fact that it's easy for a restaurant to *hold* refried beans for too long, rendering it something like wallpaper paste with a little cheese melted on top. Sam, I'm looking forward to your cooking many things for me, not the least of which will be refried beans. (Now isn't that a CH for ya? Waxing eloquently over *&#*&-ing beans!)

            1. re: c oliver

              I've eaten in a couple of Mexican restaurants near my airport hotel in LA a few times over the past 10 years. Refried! I've eaten in 6,237* places in Mexico over the decade - both.

              * yeah, yeah, an exaggeration.

              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Well, you know that we in NoCal don't really consider LA to be part of the state....:) I suspect older gringas might prefer refried cause that's what they've seen in the chains. (Don't flame; I'm an old coot - but an enlightened one!)

                1. re: small h

                  Deal: One lb of black beans, a diced onion, four diced cloves garlic, cumin, chicken stock, and chicken feet (stock and feet instead of lard), water, and seasoning to taste. My secret ingredient is a dice of smoked beef lung or dried African game meat, but you might not have that. Slow cook or crockpot until beans are ready. Puree. Then “refry” in a good, large heavy stainless, using corn oil and adding finely diced onion and tomato (with seed and juicy pulp removed) to the mix and scraping to and fro. The onions and tomato will eventually disappear into the mix leaving more flavor and added moisture so that things do not turn to paste and stick. Move the refried beans back and forth to maximize quick scorching but no sticking. The thick gelatinesque stock and feet provide the “mouthfeel” of lard and a slightly meaty depth without the lard.

                2. re: c oliver

                  Mexican is not NYC's strong point. However, my impression is that there's been a pretty impressive growth in the Mexican population there in the past decade. Maybe it's getting more interesting? I know we got some pretty darn good tamales sold by a woman on the street right outside the Mexican consulate just a few years back. It probably still won't stand up to L.A. though!

                  As for your opinion of restaurant refried, I agree with you! Too often in the U.S. they come out like dried paste. And with melted cheese...ugh.

          2. Possibly a regional thing. In my area of Texas most Mexican restaurants serve both. Sometime they do not have it on the menu and it only lists refried but they have borracho beans if requested.

            1. If they have whole beans in them and no lard, they ARE NOT frijoles refritos!

              1 Reply
              1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                Never said they were. I know the difference but thanks for your help anyway :)

              2. This may be over-simplifying the question, but the standard through the Caribbean is whole black beans with rice and platanos. The standard in the Yucatan is pureed black beans with a sprinkle of cojito cheese, (frijoles charros being the only whole bean dish). Moving further west, the custom returns to whole black beans around Veracruz, and then a mix-and match of refried black and pinto beans from Puebla to to the left coast. American-Mex will probably reflect the practice from their region in Mexico.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Veggo

                  The cheese I get is NEVER that fun.

                  1. re: Cachetes

                    That's funny. But you are right. To upgrade from bi-colored rat-trap jack cheese nuked on your beans, to cojito, requires an adventure to east LA, Glendale AZ, Matamoros, or a plane ticket to Merida.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Or go to your local grocery store. Cachetes lives in Boston. Bet it can be found there. But then I WAS talking restaurants, wasn't I???

                  2. re: Veggo

                    You probably mean queso cotija, right? (Your other post also mentions cojito)

                    1. re: PorkButt

                      I see it spelled both ways. Cojita is probably more correct, and cojito probably evolved as a masculine match for queso, which is not a grammatical requirement for two nouns, but would be for noun plus adjective.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Now you've spelled it a third way! Cojita, cojito, cotija

                        This site in Mexico spells it as cotija after the city in Michoacan

                        1. re: PorkButt

                          Regional mexican dialect and text strays far from Castillian spanish. And I am probably exhibiting the early signs of old timers' disease, masked by a malleable language.

                  3. My experience is that there are more versions of beans than you can shake a stick at. Boracho Bean Soup or Frijoles a la Charra beans contain whole beans. Some beans are just plain beans, often in a small bowl; sometimes free. Soupy beans which are partly mashed are not refried, but reduced down, will run on your plate.
                    Then there is refried. There are many versions of refried. Some have nuggets of beans and some are butt smooth. I saw most of these just in Dallas alone and I'm just talking pintos!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Scargod


                    2. I live in the land of Tex-Mex restaurants, though there are more and more south-of-the-border region specific eateries appearing daily. But that said, although made with pintos, Charro/Borracho soups are often seen as an alternative to the refrieds, even in the chains - although that hasn't always been the case. Black beans are still an extreme exception.

                      I personally attribute the change to diners becoming more aware of what they're eating and demanding a certain level of authenticity. I also attribute it to diners of current time becoming more adventuresome and straying from mainstream eateries, venturing into areas that would not have been considered necessarily "healthy" in years past. This is a good thing.

                      So agreeing with gordeaux, I’d make a special request.

                      1. Isn't this like asking why do some restaurants serve mashed potatoes and others serve French fries? Two different ways of preparing beans.

                        16 Replies
                        1. re: PAO

                          True, and some restaurants ask you whether you want black beans, borrachos (pintos), or refried (pintos).

                          1. re: Scargod

                            My favorite mexican legume side is pureed black beans with minced sauteed onion and jalapeno, with cojito and cilantro. I like refried pintos if you can get them fresh from the pot, but they turn into cow paddies in 15 minutes.

                          2. re: PAO

                            Except for burger joints, if a restaurant served fries, wouldn't you also expect them to serve mashed or baked or something? I don't see many Mexican places that serve more than one style.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              "I don't see many Mexican places that serve more than one style."

                              Are you limiting that to your regional area? I've already stated what has evolved in TX, but to further that point of evolution, it would be my thought that the closer you are to the Mexico border, the more likely you are to see variations - whether you're speakin of beans or other foods, ie, of late, fish is beginning to become commonplace on menus which was unheard of not to long ago. Perhaps those advanced variations just haven't progressed nationally?

                              I'd still ask them to make what you wish. All they can do is say "NO". Perhaps they think no one would order anything other than refried.

                              1. re: CocoaNut

                                So are YOU saying that in the Mexcan places you frequent that they offer various types of beans all in the same place? And, rest assured, we ALWAYS ask and when they don't have it they don't have it. I hardly expect them to run out and, god forbid, buy a can to serve me :(

                                Most of my Mexican food eating is done in WA, OR, CA and NV. When I get farther away than that, I'm usually heading to NYC or out of the country (not Mexico). I haven't been to TX in almost 15 years.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Certainly not all places, but definitely, more and more restaurants are making the offer standard on the menu - either as an alternative to refried, or as an additionally order item.

                                  I know that one person may not have the impact on a menu change. It's too bad that some restaurants just won't "put it out there" for people to try. So many people don't know what they don't know..... but if it were offered and they tried it, they'd like it.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    In CA (SF Bay Area), I very frequently see both whole and refried offered by the same restaurant, often refried pintos or whole black, but also choice of whole or refried pintos.

                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      We used to live in SF and still visit regularly (from Tahoe). Didn't seem to have a problem finding whole beans there. But then, let's face it, San Francisco is awfully darn perfect, isn't it ?!?! :)

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  Looks like you are being treated like a mushroom...
                                  As I have said too, many places give you options.
                                  I have found that some Mexican places (and this may apply to many ethnic restaurants), have a secret handshake. If you know what you want, it may be in the back: hotter, better salsas, different tortillas and Momma's special dish. Ask!
                                  Recently I asked for Jalapenos. What I got was roasted Serranos on a bed of lettuce with lemon and salt, AT NO CHARGE! I think, just because two of us habla Espanol...

                                  1. re: Scargod

                                    I habla enough Espanol to get the better salsas, the chiles fritas, etc. for no charge. The example I give for the little joint in Kings Beach? The *kitchen* is right there where you order and pay and eat or take out. Even though we don't see whole beans, we always still ask. I'm guessing this is a regional thing. I also get great treatment, especially in Mexican restaurants, cause I'm so dang sweet to them :) Some would call it sucking up but I prefer "sweet."

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      They gotta start with whole beans. Suck up harder!

                                      1. re: Scargod

                                        Yeah, but I don't have enough time for them to soak them overnight and cook them the next day. I'd have fainted from hunger by then :) And their housemade chorizo is worth it. I buy a 2# length of it; slice in 1/4# pieces and freeze. Makes damn fine breakfast. Mmm.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          You are allowed to sleep while they are soaking. They are not going to burst into flames in the middle of the night.
                                          nah, nah....

                                          1. re: Veggo

                                            Well, you're remaining frisky today, aren't you?!? When I want Mexican (or any other type food) it's usually a spontaneous decision and I don't WANT to sleep on it. And how the hell do you know if they burst into flame during the night? The cleaning fairies (who fail miserably at their jobs) perhaps put out the fire. Back at ya, V.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              You're talking about two separate dishes. The whole beans are frijoles de olla (pot beans) The mashed beans are frijoles refritos. The re- prefix, BTW does not mean that the beans have been fried twice - it is an intensifier ("well fried beans"). Both are, IMHO, delicious.

                                              1. re: ekammin

                                                Yessssss, I know they're two separate dishes. I never suggested that they aren't.