LUBBOCK, Texas — When a person thinks of Tex-Mex food, fajitas, enchiladas and nachos might come to mind. Tex-Mex cuisine is the ultimate comfort food, and that’s how History.com described the category.
Historically, the term Tex-Mex was used as a way to describe people who were of Mexican descent living in Texas. The name was later used as a way to describe Mexican-style food in the region. Tex-Mex cuisine was first introduced in the late 1800s in San Antonio, Texas. According to the Smithsonian Institute, the rapid growth of the El Chico restaurant chain helped the cuisine spread through the 1900s.
Now, Tex-Mex is enjoyed far beyond the borders of Texas, even making its way into popular culture. The YouTube collective Try Guys traveled to Austin and learned the history of the breakfast taco. Popular television show 9-1-1 Lone Star also recently shouted out the popular Mexican dish, Barbacoa.
Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex cuisine are often used interchangeably, however, one of the most notable differences between the two is the difference of cheeses. Spoon University reported Tex-Mex commonly uses yellow cheeses such as cheddar cheese while traditional Mexican food uses primarily white cheeses.
Leal’s Tamale Factory owner, Alma Leal, told EverythingLubbock.com she considered the restaurant to fall in the category of Tex-Mex. Alma said Leal’s uses a mild cheddar as well as an aged Wisconsin cheddar.
Tex-Mex dishes and traditional Mexican dishes have another subtle but important difference. For example, fajitas differ from tacos. With fajitas, the meat and vegetables are grilled and cut into strips and then served on a tortilla. As for tacos, the vegetables are chopped and sliced and served raw.
Some traditional Mexican dishes, such as Mole, were created in the region of Oaxaca. Oaxaca has more than 200 Mole variations and Mole typically takes at least three days to prepare. Mole is typically served with rice and some type of meat.
Jonthan Flores, bar manager for the Lubbock location of Chuy’s, said he believed another big difference was Tex-Mex being “a lot brighter.”
Flores helped open Chuy’s locations in Texas and Colorado. He said he has noticed the flavor profile becomes more creative and spicier as you travel closer to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Flores also claimed Tex-Mex cuisine provides a more palatable flavor profile for those who are not used to the spiciness of traditional Mexican food. He also stated Tex-Mex-style cocktails are more adventurous than traditional cocktails.
According to Flores, the cocktails are very bright and colorful such as “Tito’s Cherry Limeade” made with Tito’s tequila. He also mentioned “Smashin’ Peachy” which is made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila and Ginger Beer.
A bartender with Lubbock bar Miguel’s claimed its drinks were more traditionally Mexican due to the use of tequila and spices such as jalapenos and Tajin.
A host of common ingredients may make traditional Mexican food and Tex-Mex indistinguishable for the average diner, but if you find yourself eating grilled vegetables smothered in cheddar cheese, you’re probably eating Tex-Mex.