Mexican vs. Tex-Mex: What's the Difference? | Inquirer

Mexican vs. Tex-Mex: What’s the Difference?

/ 10:21 AM January 04, 2023

Tex-Mex is a famous American cuisine that embodies Texas’s rich culture and melting pot. But recently, the boundaries between Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican food make it easy to confuse the two of them. The contrast between them has evolved and has even begun to blur.

If you’ve been North of the Border, chances are you’ve eaten Mexican food, but as it turns out, most Mexican food there is Tex-Mex. But in the Tex-Mex versus Mexican debate, there is no loser. Both offer unique flavors that will give your taste buds a treat.

Where Does Tex-Mex Food Come From?

Where Does Tex-Mex Food Come From?

Tex-Mex cuisine is derived from the Tejano culture, Texans of Spanish or Mexican descent who resided in Texas before it turned into a republic, and Mexican immigrants who hailed from Northern Mexico. As more people settled in Texas, the popularity of Mexican food grew.

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People began to try to prepare the cuisines themselves in their own homes using typical Texan ingredients like wheat flour and beef, ingredients that are rare in Mexico. Mexican restaurants in Texas soon began to include “gringo” ingredients to appeal to the crowds.

Tex-Mex dishes like enchiladas began to include ingredients like ground beef, and the outcome was an entirely new type of cuisine that put a twist on Mexican food; hence Tex-Mex was born.

But the term “Tex-Mex” was unknown until around the 1940s. It became quite popular in the 1970s when Diana Kennedy, a food writer, affected it to a nationwide audience in a cookbook: The Cuisines of Mexico. It did well to outline clearly the difference between foods North of the border and the real thing.


Differences Between Mexican vs. Tex-Mex Food

Mexican food is rich and diverse, but how can you differentiate it from Tex-Mex? In summary, it is a fusion between Texan and Mexican cuisine. The most noteworthy difference between the two cuisines is the ingredients.

Commonly Used Ingredients

There are certain ingredients Mexicans typically use to season their dishes, such as chili pepper, whereas most Tex-Mex foods have cumin as the main ingredient. Also, Mexican taco recipes usually involve soft corn tortillas, while Tex-Mex taco shells are typically hard tortilla shells.

Typical Mexican food uses lots of beans and corn with spices like chili peppers to create deep savory flavors. Meat, cheese, and wheat became more rampant with the arrival of Spanish and American ranchers.


Another notable difference is the generous use of Cumin in Tex-Mex cuisine. It is used a lot in the North but is rare in the southern part of Mexico. It is a major ingredient in chili con carne and chili powder, a unique Texan ingredient.

Popular Dishes

Popular Dishes

Mexican cuisine is distinct across different regions, with cooking methods and dishes for which the region is known. The North is known for meat-filled dishes, while places like Veracruz and Oaxaca are known for seafood. It is indeed diverse cuisine, so we will list a few to give you an insight into Mexican food.


Mole is a Mexican sauce normally served over meat. It contains numerous ingredients, including chili peppers, tomatillos, black peppers, and garlic.


Pozole is a soup or stew made from pork, hominy, and red chile. Toppings are usually added to give even more flavor to the dish, including radishes, cilantro, lime, avocado, and shredded cabbage.


This is a popular breakfast dish with corn tortillas cut into pieces and fried lightly. The tortillas are then topped with green or red salsa and can be eaten with fried eggs or chicken along with yellow cheese.



Nachos, short form for the name Ignacio, was believed to have created the cheese-soaked snack when he served some hungry Americans a bowl of freshly fried tortilla chips smeared with cheddar cheese and sliced jalapeños baked in an oven.


Chimichangas are the Texan version of a Quesadilla. It is like a burrito; instead, it is deep-fried or baked and filled with cheese, rice, veggies, meat, and refried beans.

Tacos Al Pastor

These are tacos with marinated pork slices at the shoulder. It usually comes with sliced onion, pineapple, and cilantro as toppings.

Chiles en Nogada

This traditional Mexican dish contains Poblano Chiles, a mild chili pepper flavor from Puebla in Mexico, with ground turkey picadillo stuffing and then covered in Nogada, a creamy walnut-based sauce.

Tex-Mex has few variations in its cuisine, but it has quite a variety of cultures blended into it. Many foods have gone on to become staples in our everyday lives. Some of these foods have misleading names that could make you believe they are based on traditional recipes.

There isn’t enough Mexican authenticity left, having been slowly Americanized over the years. A well-known example is Nachos; though Mexicans invented them, they are now a typical Tex-Mex cuisine and one of America’s most popular snacks. Here are a few other popular Tex-Mex foods:

Chili Con Carne

Chili Con Carne

This is a Tex-Mex classic with chili, chicken broth, Carne (beef, chicken, or pork), and other ingredients. Regarded as an outstanding Tex-Mex cuisine, this is a tomato-flavored stew with cubed beef and beans. Texas settlers created it from readily available ingredients.

Steak Fajitas

Fajitas come from the Spanish word “faja,” which means strip. Mexican ingredients inspire these United States creations but are only sometimes available there in Mexico. Steak Fajitas are grilled meat served on top of a taco and covered with savory toppings and spices. Make sure to try this in your next Tex-Mex celebration.


Food enthusiasts often describe this classic Tex-Mex cuisine as the “national party dip of Texas.” It is a melted cheese with green chiles, and this food is available anywhere Tex-Mex food is available.

Cheese Enchiladas

Cheese enchiladas are a dish perfect for cheese lovers. It is a huge baked tortilla with beans, veggies, and meat, doused in cheese. You want to make sure you catch this mouth-watering classic.

Puffy Tacos

Puffy Tacos

Tacos are an already popular Mexican food famous all over the world. They are small tortillas full of cheese, sauce, and various fillings like beans, meat, and vegetables. But a Puffy Taco, particularly from San Antonio, has a lot of meat, including lettuce, salsa, and cheese.


Tex-Mex burritos are often huge, stuffed with ingredients like veggies, cheese, refried beans, rice, and topped with sour cream. People often believe that the tortilla wrap may have originated in California.


There is no denying that both Mexican and Tex-Mex foods are scrumptiously yummy and play crucial roles in the Texan and Tejano cultures. Tex-Mex, once a very simple cuisine, has now evolved into a cuisine with various dishes on the menu.

As time goes on, the line between traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex continues to evolve, and it becomes even harder to separate the two. Whether it is Tex-Mex or Mexican, as long as it is savory, why not?

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