As someone who has lived in Texas all of her life, I know that there are two types of food that Texans can't get enough of: barbecue and Mexican food. If there's anything I love as much as digging into a plate of brisket, it's filling myself on chips and queso while waiting for my cheese enchiladas to come. 

However, as a Latina and total foodie, I have made some personal observations about the popular Tex-Mex cuisine I get around town and the more traditional Mexican food that I enjoy at home. If you live in or have ever been to Texas, chances are you've had your fair share of both. If not, then you may not understand what differentiates Tex-Mex vs Mexican food. 

Their Origins

burrito, rice, beans, tacos
Kendall Green

Tex-Mex is a fusion of Mexican and American cuisine, largely as a result of Tejano culture (Texans of Mexican heritage). It first came into existence when settlers began moving into what is now Texas and encountered Mexican culture. As more Americans settled in the area, Mexican food became more and more popular, and they began adding their own twists (like using ground beef).

Although the term 'Tex-Mex' was thrown around for a while, it wasn't clearly distinguished from authentic Mexican food until Diana Kennedy, a cookbook author, explained the differences in her 1972 book The Cuisine of Mexico.

Mexican cuisine, on the other hand, has been around for thousands of years, beginning with indigenous communities (such as the Mayans and other Mesoamerican groups) bringing their cooking methods together. There are also Spanish, African, and even Asian influences in Mexican cuisine due to colonization.

Commonly Used Ingredients

salsa, legume, green pepper, cayenne, jalapeno, pepper, vegetable, chili
Sarah Strohl

The most notable difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican food is the difference in ingredients used. One of the definite marks of Tex-Mex is the use of yellow cheese. In Mexico, only white cheese is used, so if you see some cheddar on your plate you know it's Tex-Mex! 

Another distinction between Tex-Mex vs Mexican food is in the spices used to flavor the food. Cumin is used all the time in Tex-Mex. However, in Mexican food it isn't as common; chile peppers, cacao, oregano, epazote, and cilantro are more commonly used instead.

Popular Dishes

Sofia Gonzalez

Mexican cuisine is different across regions, with different dishes, moles, and cooking methods that region is known for. Yet all of these cuisines are a part of Mexican culture and tradition. The Northern Region is well-known for its meat dishes, while Oaxaca and Veracruz are more known for their seafood. Each region has unique flavors and dishes that they use. Some popular dishes are: mole, which is a traditional sauce made from chiles and cacao; cochinita pibil, or slow roasted pork; and tamales, which is masa/dough steamed in a corn husk with meat inside.

Tex-Mex doesn't have many variations in its cuisine, but it's a delicious blend of cultures. Many of its foods are staples in restaurants, like queso. Other well known dishes include: chili con carne, which is spicy stew made with ground beef, beans, and tomatoes; fajitas, which is grilled meat and veggies; and chimichangas, which are deep-fried burritos.

Lastly, while there are some similar dishes in both Tex-Mex and Mexican food, there is usually some distinct variation in the ingredients. For example, Tex-Mex enchiladas are usually filled with ground beef, covered in chili con carne, and topped with yellow cheese. Traditional Mexican enchiladas are made with either red or green chile and topped with crema and queso fresco.

Additionally, Tex-Mex tacos are usually made with a flour tortilla or hard corn shell and filled with ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and shredded cheese (think Taco Bell). Mexican tacos are always on a corn tortilla and filled with meat like cochinita pibil or carne asada and topped with cilantro, lime, and onion.

When it comes to Tex-Mex vs Mexican food, both may have their differences, but there's no denying that both are super delicious and are important parts of Texan and Tejano culture. If you want to fill yourself with Chipotle burritos, that's completely fine, but don't be scared to try out authentic Mexican cuisine sometime. You definitely won't regret it!