The Difference Between Tex-Mex and Mexican Food

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

Fajitas, nachos, chilli, burritos are all delicious meals that people equate with Mexican food. In reality, this is actually a fusion of Mexican and American cuisine, in what is considered ‘Tex-Mex’. Both are incredibly flavourful cuisines — but it’s important to note that Mexican cuisine is the culmination of generational recipes, as well as the inspiration for Tex-Mex.

Origins of Tex-Mex

It’s no wonder that there would be an American twist on classic Mexican food. Southern Texas sits incredibly close to the Mexican border. However, ‘Tex-Mex’ was not used to describe the cuisine at first, but rather the Texas Mexican Railway, which was abbreviated as ‘TexMex’ in 1875. It was only around the 1920s when the term ‘Tex-Mex’ was used to describe the Mexican population living in Texas, as well as the then new type of food they were cooking.


Mexicans began cooking what is considered Tex-Mex out of necessity. They were coming into America from Mexico and wanted to eat the food that reminded them of home. The only problem was that not all of the ingredients that were available in Mexico were readily available in America. They had to make do with what was in Texas and adapt their recipes from home, in order to make something deliciously familiar.

To get specific, Tex-Mex was actually created in the Rio Grande Valley because of its close proximity to Mexico. There was a large Mexican population living there but it was when they started leaving the Rio Grande Valley and sought employment in other parts of the state that Tex-Mex took off and started spreading nationwide.

Mexican and Tex-Mex: The Difference

The differences between the two cuisines are not major but there are a few obvious distinctions that make Tex-Mex stand out. For starters, Tex-Mex dishes are normally doused in heavy cheese, like jack or cheddar cheeses. While no one is arguing how delicious cheese is, Mexican cuisine usually doesn’t have a lot of cheese in their cuisine. The dishes that do have cheese tend to be on the lighter side like chihuahua, cotija, and queso fresco.

Another difference between the two is the use of flour tortillas. While they are not commonly made in Mexico, they do exist, but are mainly made in Northern Mexico while the rest of the country makes corn tortillas. It only makes sense that Mexicans would take advantage of the abundance of corn available in Mexico. In fact, there are 59 varieties of indigenous corn in the country, whereas there are about under 10 varieties in the US.


Mexican cuisine focuses on flavour, spices, fresh herbs, and lots and lots of corn to elevate their dishes. They rely heavily on dried chillies, coriander and quality ingredients to give their food an extra kick. The meat used to make tacos in Mexico is cooked and seasoned to perfection. The techniques that Mexicans use to cook their meat are not for the lazy. To get the right amount of smokiness, especially for pork — they traditionally cook it underground, in deep oven pits, and cover it with banana leaves or by carefully grilling it on the fire in order for it to be perfectly tender.

When it comes to authentic Mexican food, a lot of the techniques that are used date back to the Maya and have been passed on from generation to generation.

Authentic Mexican tacos are also quite different from what is normally served in Tex-Mex dishes. The tacos are smaller and served soft. In the US, this type of taco will often be called a ‘street taco’. Deep-fried taco shells or soft flour tortillas are both Tex-Mex creations. Another big difference is the use of cumin in Tex-Mex. While cumin is used in Mexico, it is not that common and is not prominent in tacos, like it is in Tex-Mex.


The use of cumin in Tex-Mex actually comes from the influence of Spanish immigrants in Texas. Another key difference is that toppings on tacos in Mexico are kept simple — they tend to use radish, lettuce, coriander or sliced onions, but not at all at once. Mexicans want the carefully cooked meat to shine and be the star of the taco. If you see two or more toppings on your taco, it’s most likely influenced by Tex-Mex.

Tex-Mex is what can be considered ‘comfort food’, it’s regional food that has become recognised, not only across the US, but across the world. Even though Tex-Mex isn’t authentic Mexican food, it has popularised Mexican food, globally. Just know that the next time you dig into to some cheesy nachos or bite into your favourite enchilada that you’re definitely eating Tex-Mex food.

Mexican Recipes

Pulled Beef Tacos with Chimichurri Sauce

Sure, there are places in Mexico that use flour instead of corn to make tortillas. If you want to make it even more authentic make sure to use some delicious corn tacos.

Recipe for Beef Tacos

Elotes – Mexican-style Grilled Corn

In Mexico, street vendors sell delicious chargrilled corn on almost every street corner. The combination of the corn with the mayo, the lime juice, salt and the cheese really bring the simple corn into a whole different playing field.

Recipe for Elotes

Tex-Mex Recipes

Tex-Mex Chilli with Nachos

The ultimate comfort food! This chilli is filled with delicious warm flavours and can be eaten as is or enjoyed with some toasted tortilla chips.

Recipe for Tex-Mex Chilli

Skirt Steak Crunchy Tacos

Crunchy Tacos are the definition of Tex-Mex. Different to soft tortilla tacos, these tacos give an extra delicious crunch that will keep you coming back for more.

Recipe for Crunchy Tacos

Now that you know what to cook, check out what ingredients you should stock for the ultimate Mexican pantry.

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