How to Tell If You’re Eating Tex-Mex: 15 Signs that You Actually Do

Mexican cuisine that features pinto and black beans, fresh ingredients, corn, all types of peppers, cheese, lean beef, and fall-off-the-bone tender pork is not hard to fall in love with.

What is Tex Mex?

Tex-Mex is the Americanized version of Mexican cuisine. It’s how Mexican food has embraced American ingredients and incorporated them into Mexican cooking.

The term was used to describe American Mexican food first introduced in Texas because residents enjoyed the Mexican dishes and began preparing them at home.

To adapt to the taste of most Americans, Mexican restaurants in Texas added more ingredients preferred by Texans.

Tex Mex food typically crosses the borderline into the high-calorie, high-fat territory. But it depends on how you prepare it and your choice of ingredients.

Tex-Mex Food Examples

Key characteristics of Tex-Mex food include the heavy use of cheese, cumin, chili powder, and beef.

tex-mex quesadillas

This ever-evolving cuisine continues to change and adapt to what is favored by the present taste of Tex-Mex lovers.

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

Tex-Mex and Mexican food are two very different styles of cuisine. One thing that makes them distinctly different is the difference in ingredients used.

In Tex-Mex, yellow cheese dominates whereas white cheese is commonly found in Mexico. Another distinction between these types of foods has to do with spices too: cumin plays a big role as a spice for flavor but it’s not usually present at all when cooking traditional dishes from Mexico.

Here are some Tex-Mex dishes that you would see in a menu at a Tex-Mex restaurant:

  • Real Texas Chili Con Carne
  • Steak Fajitas
  • Queso
  • Nachos
  • Refried beans
  • Cheese Enchiladas
  • Puffy tacos
  • Breakfast tacos

Here are signs you’re eating Tex-Mex

1. You are confused about what a real taco is

What is the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex food? One of the signs you’re eating Tex-Mex is when you have no idea what a real taco is.

Tex-Mex prepares tacos in a hard shell with lots of cheddar cheese, sour cream, and lettuce.

Authentic Mexican tacos are prepared in a soft corn shell and will not have all these ingredients together.

2. Massive burritos

Tex-Mex burritos are overstuffed with lots of meat and overloaded with cheese because it’s how the public expects it to be.

The traditional burrito is served simply with only a small amount of meat.

3. Huge Cheesy Enchiladas

Enchiladas at a Tex-Mex resto are gigantic and loaded with cheese.

tex-mex cheese enchiladas

The traditional enchilada is less enormous, light, and simple, with just a few toppings.


4. Sour Cream

One of the signs you’re not eating real Mexican food is the presence of sour cream, especially in dips.

sour cream

Sour cream is not a traditional Mexican ingredient. Traditional Mexican dishes are made with crema, a milder and thinner option than sour cream.

5. Labeled “Taco” Cheese

Store-bought labeled “taco” cheese is not authentic Mexican cheese.

There are real Mexican cheeses used in authentic Mexican cuisine such as Añejo, Asadero. Chihuahua, Cotija, Queso Fresco. Queso de Oaxaca, and Queso Panela.

6. All-meat-based dishes

Mexican cooking is well-known for the fresh ingredients it uses in its dishes.

Traditional Mexican food is not all meat. Many Mexican dishes are deliciously prepared with seafood, beans, and lots of fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

7. Everything is spicy

A common misinterpretation of Mexican food is that it’s always spicy.

Many other Mexican dishes are prepared with light ingredients that showcase mild flavors.

8. Fajitas with shrimp, chicken, and vegetables

You’re right! Fajitas are not Mexican. This dish was introduced in Texas in the 1930s and it became popular in fast-food restaurants.

What’s more, real fajitas are simply made with skirt steak instead of other types of cut meat as many Tex-Mex restaurants do.

9. Overflowing melted cheese

Mexican dishes are not traditionally served with overloaded and overflowing melted cheese on top.

The real deal is white cheese or queso Blanco. Look out for traditional Mexican cheese that is used in authentic Mexican cooking.

10. Churros

Traditionally speaking, churros do not originate from Mexico. It’s a Chinese recipe made with strips of fried pastry.

It was the Spanish who introduced this dessert in Mexico, then popularly served in many Mexican restaurants.

11. English names to Mexican dishes

Another distinguishable sign that you’re not eating real Mexican food is how Spanish names are ignored on the menu.

Traditional Mexican dishes are named pozole, elote, chiles en nogada, chicharrón en chile verde, tacos al pastor, alambre, gringa, atole, and so many others!

12. Barbacoa

If you expect this Mexican dish to be served as a cow’s head wrapped in maguey leaves, it’s a sign you’re not eating real Mexican food.

A cow’s head is left to roast in an earthen pit for hours until the meat becomes stringy and fatty. It is also called Cabeza in other places in America.

13. Chilaquiles

One of the signs you grew up eating Tex Mex is when you eat what they call Chilaquiles, which is supposed to be Migas.

The former emphasizes the tortilla and sauce and the latter is traditionally prepared with scrambled eggs, chorizos, veggies, and tortilla strips, with beans and rice on the side.

14. Ground Beef

Texan ranchers loved the beef. That’s how the meat ended up in Tex-Mex cuisine.

But one sure sign that you’re eating the best Mexican food is that you won’t find beef in the dish because it is only common in the extreme north of Mexico.

15. Chili con Queso

Authentic Mexican food will use stringy, melted cheese.

American Tex-Mex restaurants use a queso dip that ends up being smooth and silky over the years and stays liquid even at room temperature.

Related: How to Find the Best Authentic Mexican Food

Signs You’re Eating the Best Mexican Food

Now that you know the signs that you’re eating Tex-Mex, it will be easier for you to identify if what you’re eating is authentic Mexican food.

You will appreciate how the use of traditional ingredients and fresh herbs are used in perfect balance in traditional Mexican dishes.

The multiple flavors in authentic Mexican cuisine make them easily distinguishable from Tex-Mex food.

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El Rincon Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar or known as El Rincon among the locals around the restaurant serves Mexican food and drink made from the freshest ingredients.

Besides serving food for our customers in Carrollton and Addison we’re also active in communities across Texas.

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