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Sep 19, 2011 03:27 PM

What's the difference in all the "Tex" foods? [moved from Texas]

There's Tex-Mex, Texan, West Texas Tex-Mex and a couple others I can't remember. We are making our first venture into San Antonio and Austin area in Nov. and I want to know what I'm ordering. I'm sure it will all be delicious!!

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  1. Essentially, Tex-Mex differs from interior Mexican or Cali-Mex in its use of pinto beans vs. black, a (sometimes) heavy hand with cheddar and/or (sometimes) jack cheeses, and ground beef as a staple of many dishes. Where Cali-Mex would be considered "brighter" flavored by many, Tex-Mex can be considered a bit heavier overall.

    In a nutshell expect to see a chili gravy predominant on many dishes - it's basically beef broth, chile powder, oil/lard or the fat left from browning ground beef, Mex. oregano, cumin, garlic, salt & pepper & some flour to bind it together.

    What's kind of funny is to see the restaurants I've been going to since I was a kid some 30 years ago now slightly updating their menus with more traditional interior ingredients such as asadero or queso fresco cheeses, and it seems like I've seen more poblanos showing up. TexMex is an adaptive original American cuisine based on what was available here when settlers set up shop... and I guess it's adapting still.

    As far as far Western Texas goes, it's my understanding that they draw heavily on the chiles from NM and similar flavor profiles.

    6 Replies
    1. re: shanagain

      Thanks, shanagain, what is asadero? I am big on fresh Greek oregano. Is is similar to Mexican? I just made my first chili rellenos using fresh MICHIGAN poblanos and they were fantastic. I had always used canned. Can't wait for our trip to TX!

      1. re: mgebs

        Asadero is a cheese that's good for melting. I use it in Queso Flameado.

        1. re: mgebs

          Greek oregano is green,more expensive, aromatic and flavorful. Mexican oregano is cheap, brown, musty and flat tasting. The best gourmet cooks and restaurants ONLY use Greek oregano!

          1. re: robotmeister

            Boy, is that ever an over-reaching, sweeping, generalization. And it's about as correct as most sweeping generalizations usually are. Which is, of course, not so much.

            I suggest you try one of the Mexican oreganos from Rancho Gordo. They're absolutely nothing like you describe, unfortunately including "cheap."

            And the "best gourmet cooks and restaurants ONLY use Greek oregano"?

            You need better information. You can start by taking a gander at a list of the country's very, VERY finest "gourmet cooks and restaurants" that swear by Rancho Gordo's long product list.

            Most certainly including their two fabulous Mexican oreganos:


            1. re: Jaymes

              Another big fan of RG's Mexican oregano!

        2. re: shanagain

          Shanagain, I live in Mexico near Guadalajara. Black beans are used more in Mexico City than in this area. Here they use flor de mayo beans or peruana beans more than black beans. Both are good, although I prefer flor de mayo.

        3. I suggest you ask for recommendations on the Austin board, you'll likely inspire quite a debate about where you should go. My personal favorite is Polvos, but you'll likely get a lot better informed opinions from the regulars.

          1. There are also little variations in Tex-Mex traditions between cities. In San Antonio, flour tortillas tend to be softer and thicker, and are frequently presented with butter (like getting bread on your table before a meal). Here in Houston, restaurants look at you like you're crazy if you ask for butter with your tortilla, and they tend to be thinner and not great for buttering anyway. There's a lot of room for discovering your favorite.

            7 Replies
            1. re: arashall

              Wahoo! We LOVED Texas! Ate at Bess Bistro in Austin and other fantastic places, including a "puffy taco" place in Austin. Taco Taco in San Antonio breakfast tortillas were like the tortillas you describe. We had never seen such thick, flavorful ones. And those food trucks in Austin......

              1. re: arashall

                Just wanted to note that the Tex-Mex restaurant in Fort Worth (a chainlet) that I've been going to all my life keeps margarine pats on the table for the corn tortillas they make. The only time margarine crosses my threshold is when I bring home their tortillas to go. And the only time I eat it is at this restaurant ... hey, it's traditional. Puffy tacos are also available here.

                1. re: foiegras

                  Try the complimentary home made warm corn tortilla with real mantequilla at Cuquitas..

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Cuquita's are some of my favorite housemade corn tortillas ... but I have a soft spot for the Mexican Inn's. Plano Tortilla Factory used to have some great tortillas too.

                    We do indeed have chips and hot sauce, James ;) That's one of the things I like about Tex-Mex, all the variations on chips and salsa.

                    I used to sample the chile relleno everywhere I went. Once in my travels (I've repressed exactly where) I went to a really old Tex-Mex restaurant whose 'chile' was a green bell pepper. Absolutely revolting (and no warning on the menu), but I imagine it reflected the reality of years past and what was available.

                    1. re: foiegras

                      I'm right, as always, (ask my wife.) I knew they had chips and sauce up yonder in DFW. You may have had those "chile rellenos" down here in Houston. It is not uncommon at some of the older Tex Mex places down here using bell peppers for chile rellenos. Some places offer both bell and poblano, in fact, at a little place around the corner I order the bell peppers because they are very good. They remind me of the ones my mom made. It helps to know you're not getting blind sided and expecting a poblano.

                      1. re: foiegras

                        One more thing, it is my belief if a Tex Mex place does not have really good chips and sauce, then it cannot be called a good Tex Mex restaurant.

                    2. re: foiegras

                      Hey foiegras, put some of that thar margarine on the chips as well, maybe with a touch of hot sauce. Old school it is. I assume you have chips and sauce way up there in North Texas. I trust that you do, after all, Fort Worth is not Dallas kidding, good Dallas folks.

                  2. I would also add that cilantro is not part of traditional Tex-Mex, but is common in interior Mexican food. But, as shanagain points out, Tex-Mex is adapting (for better or worse), and cilantro is appearing more frequently in Tex-Mex these days.

                    Other differences include using limes (Mexican, not so much Tex-Mex), and the use of seafood (another Mexican staple not commonly deployed in Tex-Mex). The fish taco, for instance, uses lime, and obviously seafood. They are indigenous to Baja, but were unheard of in Texas until about ten years ago. Now they are somewhat common.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      I would suggest that if you have not yet read Robb Walsh's marvelous "Tex-Mex Cookbook", now's the time. He gives chapter and verse of Tex-Mex food history, wonderful recipes, and lovely photos of the old days in Texas. I learned a lot from him about this honest-to-goodness regional food that used to make me roll my eyes.

                      And then you can read Mexico Cooks! for more about the cuisines of interior Mexico.

                      Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com