It’s getting pretty late when one of the friends you’re hanging out with looks over at you and tells you that they’re hungry.
Your stomach takes that time to remind you that you all haven’t had dinner yet so you whip out your phone and type in “Mexican restaurant near me” because that’s what you’re in the mood for. You end up staring at your phone in confusion when Tex-Mex places start popping up.
Tex-Mex vs Mexican, can you spot the difference? While they’re both delicious they have key ingredients and dishes that set them apart. Keep reading so you can learn to notice the differences and find out which one will settle your hunger craving.
1. Their Origins
Tex-Mex is a combination of American and Mexican foods. It first came into existence when Americans settled into Texas and first came into contact with Mexican cuisine. As it became more and more popular, they started to put their own touches and spins on it.
Traditional Mexican food has been around for years. Thousands in fact, when indigenous groups such as the Mayans and Mesoamericans started bringing their cooking ideas together. You’ll also notice Spanish, and even Asian influences because of colonization.
Despite these clear differences between the two they weren’t brought to light until Diana Kennedy published a cookbook in 1972 which laid them out.
2. How Ingredients Set Them Apart
When you Google “Mexican restaurant near me” if you look at the menus from the ones that pop up in the search you’ll notice that the dishes look quite different. This is because there are a lot of ingredients that set the two apart.
The most obvious distinction between Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes is the cheese. If you see a dish on a menu that is covered in huge globs of yellow cheese, it is most definitely Tex-Mex. Mexican dishes use far less cheese and when they do use it, it’s white cheese.
So, if you sit down at a restaurant and see nachos on the menu, chances are you’ve ventured into a Tex-Mex place, not a Mexican one.
A lot of Americans associate cumin with Mexican food, but they actually never use the stuff. Tex-Mex restaurants use it to enhance the taste of dishes like chimichangas and burritos.
Mexicans prefer to use spices such as Oregano, parsley, epazote for their food. Not Cumin. In fact, most can’t even distinguish its smell.
Traditional Mexican cuisine not only uses soft tortillas for their tacos but the key ingredient that they’re made out of is always corn. Tortillas weren’t widely made out of flour until they traveled north of the Rio Grande.
As far as Tex-Mex food goes, they still use corn tortillas for their tacos but it’s in the form of a hard shell, not a wrap.
Any dish involving beef is usually Tex-Mex. Most Mexican dishes favor other meats like pork, chicken, and fish if you’re in a coastal region. This isn’t to say that Mexican dishes stay away from it altogether, there are some that use it but when they do, it’s beef tips.
Rather than using beef tips, most Tex-Mex dishes use ground beef unless it’s fajitas. The only time Mexican dishes use ground beef is when they make picadillo.
While both foods use corn in their dishes, Tex-Mex is the one that uses sweet corn. Mexican dishes call for savory cooked corn, complete cobs, or more often than not, none it at all.
Beans in a Can
Like corn, both dishes do indeed use pinto beans. They are used to make refried beans. The difference is that Tex-Mex uses beans from a can whereas most Mexican restaurants stay away from the canned stuff.
Canned beans are more of an American invention. Like most things, it’s just better when the refried beans are made from scratch.
If you’re searching for a “Mexican restaurant near me,” you may have a hankering for a fresh taco salad. Well, another way to distinguish the two is if you order a salad in a restaurant and it comes back covered in tortilla chips. Most Tex-Mex places top it with these and shredded cheese.
Mexican restaurants don’t really have salads and when they do have them, it’s used more as a side dish, not an actual full meal.
Burritos of any origin are pretty awesome. They differ from place to place though. For example, most traditional Mexican burritos are stuffed with meat and exclude veggies and rice.
If you go to a Tex-Mex place, most of their burritos include everything but the kitchen sink.
3. Tex-Mex Dishes
You’ll be surprised about the number of dishes you thought were Mexican but are actually Tex-Mex, here are just a few.
Fajitas are a US created dish that while inspired by Mexican ingredients, are from authentic. They are typically served with strips of beef, veggies, and soft flour tortillas if that’s says anything about their origin.
Nachos were created in Mexico but only when a few Texan women came into a restaurant after hours to ask for a snack. Nachos are typically covered in yellow cheese, making them more of an American dish.
4. Mexican Dishes
Now that you know a few Tex-Mex dishes, here are some traditional Mexican ones that you’ll find when you Google menus for “Mexican restaurant near me.”
Aguas frescas are delicious and refreshing natural fruit drinks. You can also get cochinita pibli which is a dish created out of slow roasted pork. Tacos al pastor are corn pork tacos that are full of cilantro, onion, and pineapple.
Searching for a Mexican Restaurant Near Me?
While Tex-Mex and Mexican foods get lumped in together sometimes they are two very different styles of cooking. There are many key ingredients that one uses that the other either doesn’t use or uses differently.
Use this Tex Mex Vs Mexican guide to know the difference the next time you look up “Mexican restaurant near me”.
Are you ready for authentic Mexican food? Check out our menu to see if El Chubby’s has what you’re looking for.