The crispy taco Vasquez sold for $.85 cost $1.17 to make
March 13, 2018 1:13 AM   Subscribe

Overshadowed by barbecue in its home state, Tex-Mex is the most important, least understood regional cuisine in America
The standard narrative about Tex-Mex is that it’s an inauthentic, unartful, cheese-covered fusion, the kind of eating meant to be paired with unhealthy amounts of alcohol or to cure the effects thereof. There’s a lot of easy-melt cheese, the margaritas are made with a mix, and the salsas come from a bottle. In our snackwave food moment, Tex-Mex receives the same amount of affection and respect as a Doritos Locos taco or a microwaved burrito — a processed, comforting, lovable American monster.
Those assumptions are entirely wrong.
posted by frimble (93 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
barbeque sucks THERE I SAID IT
posted by thelonius at 1:16 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Snackwave?
posted by sio42 at 1:24 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


While I settled in to chortle and scoff at the Texan imperial narrative - chili has Greek roots in Seattle and Cincy, fer the luvva, er, Mike's Chili Parlor, and California's coastal Mexicali cuisine is similarly ubiquitous and antique - I stopped dead in my tracks to laugh and laugh at this lovely paragraph opening, in which the writer had sketched the straw man under assault prior to naming names and kicking ass.

Those assumptions are entirely wrong. Not only are they incorrect — they were promulgated by elite white food writers in * Pace Picante voice * New York City!

aah, that is some funny, conversational-voice shit. Fetch me a Lone Star, son, I'm takin' a shine to this here writin' type buckaroo.
posted by mwhybark at 1:39 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


oh god now I am hungry



so hungry
posted by mwhybark at 1:57 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


oh god now I am hungry

so hungry


So am I, but I have a bigger problem. That said, I live around the corner from what is AFAIK Vienna's only grocery specialising in tex-mex and mexican ingredients, so if I really want it, I can cope.
posted by frimble at 2:07 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


What a great article! I have long believed that since Mexico is a country with many different regional cuisines, so there's no single thing as "authentic Mexican food," then Tejas is just one more region. (I say the same thing about Italian-American too.)

He's right about the damaging attitude that "Mexican food" is supposed to be cheap. All across America it's hard for me to find good Mexican restaurants by relying on Yelp. The best ratings go to taco stands serving their "amazing street food." Sit-down restaurants making higher-quality dishes inevitably get dinged as overpriced.

But I think this article rambles way too much into generalizations about race and brisket. He treats Tex-Mex as property of Mexican-Americans only, and that's just wrong. Old Anglo Texas families cook it too, and they have been doing so for years as they lived cheek-by-jowl with Mexicans; Texas really is a mixing bowl of culture. Plenty of white-owned restaurants in Austin have been serving up migas and breakfast tacos forever (and they're good too!), and non-Mexican families eat chili con carne at the dinner table regularly. This is a shared local cuisine.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:18 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]


Dammit frimble, now I have to make the trek to the imported foods store so I can make my Bastardized Tex-mex.
posted by romakimmy at 3:18 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Just scarfed down two breakfast tacos, an hour ago, and I feel (as any born and raised Texan does) qualified to discuss this incredibly important topic. If it comes down to tacos vs chili vs brisket, I'd have to go with chili as the most Texany of the three if only because of the most Texany dish ever concocted, the Frito Pie.

Take one single serving bag of Frito chips and slice the bag sideways.

Pour into the bag scalding hot homemade chili.

Sprinkle on top shredded cheese and chopped onions.

Cover with a generous portion of cool sour cream.

Eat with plastic spoon and serve with an ice cold bottle of beer or soda.

State Fair favorite!
posted by Beholder at 3:31 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


My entry into the Hitchhiker's Guide

I fucking love tex Mex.

Every.Damn.Time. I move away from this gorram place I get a drunk hankering' for a decent taco at 3AM and I know exactly where the hell to go in Austin feckin' Texas to get just what I want! Exactly! What! I! Want! And I sit there, be it in Paris, Glasgow, Seattle, San Francisco, New York or London and pine longingly in my drunkeness for tacos and tex Mex and cheese and mole and beans and rice.

And I crawl back to this Texas like a broken dog, sniffing for my familiar bowl, feeling ashamed, relieved and disgusted with myself that once again I've sold out my politics for beans and cheese

Truth y'all. truth. it hurts.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:52 AM on March 13 [26 favorites]


The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos by Robb Walsh mentioned in the article is the Holy Grail of Tex-Mex. My worn and stained copy is a prized possession. Half recipes, half histories and all delicious...
posted by jim in austin at 4:19 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I'm only a third through the article, but three observations so far...

- It's nice to know it's legal for me to cook Chili.

- Our family's favorite brisket house in the 1970's was run by a black family somewhere between College Station and Washington on the Brazos. It was hidden and dark with smoke, but damn if they weren't the best sandwiches ever. And the potato salad and cole slaw were to die for. We were a single family motorcycle gang, seven of us. Had our own bikes each, mainly Honda and Yamaha. We'd do weekend rides and picnics. Anyone remember the restrooms at the WonB museum?

- Frito pies are best at a little league baseball game.

In the last year, I've started cooking from childhood memories. Which means lots of Tex Mex. I'm lucky that there's a great Mexican/Spanish deli less than 1km from my home.

As a side note, there was an article today about the legitimacy of the food served in my home for the last 15 years. Australia's little Italy, Carlton's Lygon Street.
posted by michswiss at 4:24 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


barbeque sucks THERE I SAID IT

[mock total sincerity] I can only assume you're referring to Texas-style smoked brisket and not to real barbecue. [/mts]
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:34 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]


Indeed. What a lot of people think of as "barbecue" (note the correct spelling) is smoking or grilling, which are fine but not the same thing. That's one of the better things that I took away from my time in Memphis.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:39 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


GENERALIZING THE TRAITS OF ONE REGIONAL STYLE OF BARBEQUE FOR USE AS A GLOBAL DEFINITION OF WHAT BARBEQUE IS IS NOT BARBEQUE.

There. I said it.
posted by ardgedee at 4:42 AM on March 13 [19 favorites]


SORRY I KNOW THIS IS OFF TOPIC BECAUSE THERE'S NO WEIRD ORANGE CHEESE INVOLVED BUT PLEASE SEND ME THREE NO FOUR DOZEN TACOS AL CARBON STREET TACOS AND LIKE A GALLON OF SALSA VERDE AND ROJO I'M DYING I NEED THEM TO LIVE.

WHAT KIND!? DON'T BE SILLY. ALL OF THEM. YES, EVEN LENGUA, BUCHE AND CABESA. JUST START AT CARNE ASADA AND WORK YOUR WAY DOWN THROUGH WHATEVER THEY'VE GOT UNTIL THEY RUN OUT OF COW.

PLEASE HURRY. I THINK I'VE FORGOTTEN HOW TO TRILL AN R.
posted by loquacious at 4:45 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ABOUT BARBECUE.

Far from it.

There. I said it.
posted by michswiss at 4:46 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


God damn. It's almost lunch time, and now i have to troop down to the canteen and eat British stodge.

I want Tex Mex now. You may all go to hell, and I'll go to Texas
posted by trif at 5:14 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


I had a job that required national travel for about eight years, and the biggest thing I miss other than free trips to visit friends is Tex-Mex. My job took me to Austin, Waco, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and El Paso, as well as Phoenix and various parts of California. There are a couple of little family-run places I love in Phoenix, but for the most part, Texas is the best place I've been for Mexican food since I've never been to Mexico. I'm in Minnesota now and thinking longingly of the breakfast tacos I picked up on a recent trip to San Antonio, papas con chorizo; my favorite spots in Austin (Papalote Taco House!) and how great every random taco stand is in Texas as well as the variety of vegan taco spots I found, mostly in Austin and San Antonio. California does okay too but often they want to put a ton of chorizo in things rather than using it as a flavoring agent or overload with summer squash, so that's a little difficult. I'd also note that Tex-Mex makes excellent use of sweet potatoes, which are too often overlooked as a taco ingredient but improve nearly everything.

Huge thanks to everyone on AskMe who helped me find these places. You are all truly wonderful.

I just finished breakfast and I am hungry again.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:14 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


now i have to troop down to the canteen and eat British stodge

I once found 'fajitas' on a menu in Dublin. I ordered them. The kindly-and-concerned server warned me no fewer than three (3) times about their spiciness.

I think you can imagine what they were like when they arrived.
posted by halation at 5:20 AM on March 13 [26 favorites]


Metafilter: IS NOT BARBEQUE.
posted by Foosnark at 5:22 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Here in central North Carolina, we have a couple Chuy's (and have even held a meetup at one). I don't know how they stand on the Tex-Mex quality continuum (a Texas-expat friend has told me they're legit; I've never been to Texas so I won't make any claims), but I think they're pretty good and probably the best place to go when the only food options are stripmall chain stores. But holy crap the servings are comedically immense.
posted by ardgedee at 5:28 AM on March 13


Most of the Texans I know (including my late father) never use the term Tex-Mex, it's just "Mexican food." And no thread on the subject is complete without a link to the Tres Hombres centerfold. Which was lovingly recreated and consumed by an Austin chef a couple of years ago. I think I have another project for my bucket list.
posted by TedW at 6:06 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


yeah but guys queso is just the spanish word for cheese
posted by 7segment at 6:52 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Most of the Texans I know (including my late father) never use the term Tex-Mex, it's just "Mexican food."

Just like people from Scotland call Scotch whiskey "whiskey" and not "Scotch."
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:54 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Papalote is awesome, Chuy's is legit (I'm an authority on this, I grew up in Texas, don't challenge me), people love torchy's, but they are a late comer to the taco game and I think they get a little silly with their names, I just want a taco not a "democrat" or a "republican". Cenote on the east side of Austin has what I consider to be the best taco game in Austin, but hands down the best gottdamm tacos in Texas so far as I've had 'em are in Seguin, Texas at El Taco Tejano and that's no lie I would not shit you, my taco game is on I know these things
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:57 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


whisky
posted by whuppy at 6:58 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Curras is a chronically underrated Austin staple for high quality interior Mexican food that has the best of all worlds. They've got excellent Al Pastor, (arguably) the best mole in town, papas con chorizo and some damn fine frozen margaritas.

I think the article doesn't quite touch on it enough, but the best "authentic" food is a food where the chef doesn't claim to be doing anything other than using ingredients at hand to make the best product possible. We don't care about authenticity as long as the taste is good.
posted by Dillionaire at 6:58 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm not even certain that they still exist and I moved away fromTexas in 2000, so this is a radically bold statement for me to make but from back in the day, the late 90s:
Taco Bueno > Taco Bell
And I stand by that, even if it's not true today, it felt so very true back then.
posted by Fizz at 6:59 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Curras is amazing and criminally underrated for dinner. They have the best tamales going in Austin. That said their breakfast tacos absolutely suck, it's a trap don't don't do it! For breakfast and lunch you are better off instead going to the food truck right next door called "con madre kitchen" that is out of this world good.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:07 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Chili is a hot dish, and Texas is hot most of the time (even at night) so it's almost never served. If there is any such thing as stand-alone Texas Chili restaurant I've never seen it. I've never seen anyone serve chili at a potluck either.

TX barbecue is fine, but it still feels like an incomplete meal. The sides are straight up terrible. You have a grill there and aren't grilling vegetables but instead throwing out a can of slimy green beans and Mrs Bairds (lousy) bread? And you are going to say you are some kind of meat supertaster when you are happy to eat those? Yeah right. Texas bbq will be better when it ditches its yeehaw roots and moves into the future.

In my opinion, Tex-Mex's specialization focusing on cheap limited ingredients and its walled itself off from healthy choices have caused problems. I have a hard time believing it has anything to do with Taco Bell, but if 'authentic' dishes are indistinguishable from Taco Bell, your food genre has backed itself into that corner. Hamburger prices are not defined by McDonalds for example. It's almost gotten to the point at most Tex-Mex places that each dish only comes down to how you want your tortilla cooked. You don't go to a 'Tex-Mex' place to get lingua or tripas for example.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:11 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Another article on the ZZ Top album cover/meal, including thoughts from Billy Gibbons on both the recreation and Tex-Mex in general.
posted by TedW at 7:15 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


The best breakfast tacos in Austin are at Casa Linda, inside the Texaco station at South 1st and Dittmar.

There, I've said it. Go forth and be happy and full. And get all the salsa.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:28 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


If there is any such thing as stand-alone Texas Chili restaurant I've never seen it.
Um, the Texas Chili Parlor has been a damn institution since 1976.

Curras in Austin is great, but I would also like to put in a hearty vote for Polvos! And Taquerias Arandinas. And, like, practically every single place in San Antonio. The ubiquity of excellent Tex-Mex always turns me into a Texas booster and makes me homesick. It's all so good!
posted by aka burlap at 7:46 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


I was never much of a fan of brisket. I much prefer NC style pork barbecue with the mustard-vinegar style barbecue sauce.

Last time I visited home, the best tacos in San Antonio were at Taco Taco on Hildebrand just off McCullough (only a block from my great aunt’s house). But. I haven’t been there in a couple of years so they may have slipped.

But I can testify, and it will be confirmed by my 2 San Antonio-born sons, the best tacos in Stuart FL are at the green taco truck on Dixie Hwy, S of Indian St. next to the carniceria - surprisingly, as good as anything in San Antonio. Just drive by at lunch or dinner and check the people sitting at the picnic tables. The area of Golden Gate in S Stuart has become popular with Mexican and Guatemalan families and the cuisine in that area is a godsend to a homesick Texan.
posted by sudogeek at 7:54 AM on March 13


I'm not even certain that they still exist and I moved away fromTexas in 2000, so this is a radically bold statement for me to make but from back in the day, the late 90s:

Taco Bueno > Taco Bell


Not many left, and none in Houston, sadly, because they are much better than Taco Bell.
posted by Beholder at 7:56 AM on March 13


I think all the Taco Buenos (Tacos Buenos?) are in Oklahoma now, with 1 or 2 in western Arkansas.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:09 AM on March 13


OMG I have "taco meat" on the stove right now. Smells heavenly. Taco salad is on the menu for lunch.
posted by Stewriffic at 8:18 AM on March 13


I once found 'fajitas' on a menu in Dublin. I ordered them. The kindly-and-concerned server warned me no fewer than three (3) times about their spiciness.

I think you can imagine what they were like when they arrived.


I recently saw a bowl of pita chips in a cafeteria in London labeled "tacos"
posted by IjonTichy at 8:27 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Most of the Texans I know (including my late father) never use the term Tex-Mex, it's just "Mexican food

not a Texan, but nobody here calls it tex-mex either and Mexican covers everything from the taco place that serves cheek meat and tongue to the burrito place that puts hot dog wieners in their charro beans and burritos and ham on their hamburgers (if you think that isn't Mexican, you are wrong) to the true tex mex places with their glorious fajitas and queso. To everything there is a season and for every season there is a variation of mexican food but NONE OF THEM SERVE FRITO PIE.

Frito pie is ballpark food, not tex mex. what the heck.
posted by domino at 8:33 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


It was a very confusing moment when I first learned about Texan queso a few years ago, because it was from the matriarch of a Puerto Rican family, who would normally only mix Spanish into her English for things like pasteles or arroz con gandules. You're asking me if I want...cheese? Cheese in general? And why are you pronouncing the 'o' in queso all weird and diphthongy....?
posted by mubba at 8:35 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Taco Bueno > Taco Bell

Well, hell, Mighty Taco is better than Taco Bell.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:37 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


...

There, I said it.
posted by goatdog at 8:39 AM on March 13


I can't believe all the Curras love here. If you are in Austin, I highly recommend Los Altos. It's a hidden gem.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:43 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Really enjoying the Tex-Mex aficionados criticising the Tex-Mex in London and Dublin. It’s like a Londoner being disappointed in curry in Texas. “This isn’t a genuine Vindaloo, of the type famously served in Brick Lane!”
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:59 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


criticising the Tex-Mex in London and Dublin

i mean it was literally a chicken cutlet that had paprika on it? it's less a matter of authenticity than an evident confusion of terms. were i to order a vindaloo in texas, only to have it arrive in meatloaf-form, i imagine i would be equally puzzled.
posted by halation at 9:10 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


It’s like a Londoner being disappointed in curry in Texas. “This isn’t a genuine Vindaloo, of the type famously served in Brick Lane!”

Uhhh, have you ever met a Londoner abroad? They will absolutely complain about the vindaloo.
posted by lunasol at 9:13 AM on March 13 [13 favorites]


I love all types of barbecue, from SC- to KC- to Texas-style. As long as it's made low-and-slow, I'm there. And I said it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:19 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Just checked, England has Taco Bells. Never thought about it one way or the other, but it makes sense. We will conquer you with our tortillas, canned beans, vague cheese product, and exported American grease!
posted by Beholder at 9:19 AM on March 13


Really enjoying the Tex-Mex aficionados criticising the Tex-Mex in London and Dublin

1) Not a Tex-Mex aficionado, and
2) PITA CHIPS. If they were on a table I would have flipped it
posted by IjonTichy at 9:21 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


vague cheese product, and exported American grease!

There are at least TWO good MetaFilter user names available right here, so if you're lurking, feel free to register and participate in this discussion.
posted by Fizz at 9:23 AM on March 13 [18 favorites]


I got back from Mexico recently. The food was amazing.
Won't say anything else so as to not come off as (too) smug.
posted by signal at 9:26 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


See also True Tex-Mex Cuisine’s Long Adios from 2015 about the death of classic Tex-Mex restaurants.

As always in Texas food posts I want to sing the praises of Lisa Fain the Homesick Texan. If you want to cook Tex-Mex at home (and other Texas cuisines, albeit not barbeque) she's got blog posts and cookbooks for you.

Sadly I'm an ex-pat stuck in California, whose Mexican food is sort of the uncanny valley of American-Mexican fusion cuisine. Cal-Mex is not bad really, it's just so mild-verging-on-bland.
posted by Nelson at 9:29 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


it's less a matter of authenticity than an evident confusion of terms.

Mmm, but if you’re absorbing the food of another culture and adapting it to your own (e.g. “Italian American” as someone mentioned upthread - fair enough, but let’s recognise that it’s distinct from any recognisable regional Italian cooking) then you get to adapt dishes to local ingredients and local tastes. You can even invent dishes entirely! *cough*chiliconcarne*cough*

So maybe your dish was part of an emerging Irish-Mex, or more likely Irish-Tex-Mex style of cooking? Tex-Mex is related to and inspired by Mexican cooking. It’s been globally successful and is now inspiring its own adaptions and imitators. Sorry!

[I mean, I’m not saying that it was good. But... what did you expect?]

Uhhh, have you ever met a Londoner abroad? They will absolutely complain about the vindaloo.

I’m British and live in Mexico, so sure, but my point is that it’s a little unreasonable to complain about further bastardisation of a cuisine that you’ve already bastardised and claimed as your own.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:33 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


For the record, the first non-Gerber food I had were spoonfuls of frijoles refritos fed to me by my mother in a "Mexican" restaurant in Houston in 1949...
posted by jim in austin at 9:34 AM on March 13


I got back from Mexico recently.

Hold still, you!

*grabs signal and begins sniffing them all over*
posted by loquacious at 9:43 AM on March 13


Whatever passes as tex-mex in Northern California is so bad that I won't even try it anymore (Machaca here is usually sad too). I'm willing to give it a go if I'm ever in Texas though. Usually the flavor of our local texmex comes across as sickeningly sweet with nowhere near enough acidity or heat to balance out the beans... did someone put brown sugar in there like some kind of monster? Maybe Texas Tex-mex is awful too, haven't had it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:53 AM on March 13


So this was a fun light-hearted thread with lots of enthusiasm and I was only trying to tease, not come in all po-faced and offended about cultural appropriation and whether Brits and Irish people can cook passable Mexican-ish food (answer: very probably not).

I just wanted to say that over a delicious breakfast of Cecina de res de Yecapixtla, acompañada de frijoles refritos y chilquiles con crema and coffee from Oaxaca, we’ve been discussing what to do for my upcoming birthday.

Inspired by this thread, I’ve asked to go to Sir Winston Churchill’s, Mexico City’s premium English restaurant. Wish me luck!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:05 AM on March 13 [17 favorites]


But I think this article rambles way too much into generalizations about race and brisket. He treats Tex-Mex as property of Mexican-Americans only, and that's just wrong. Old Anglo Texas families cook it too, and they have been doing so for years as they lived cheek-by-jowl with Mexicans

he's not really talking about if individual white families have had cooking domain over Tex-Mex food, he's talking about how foodie culture is systemically racist and biased towards white men in the industry (something Eater has covered before)

the argument is that Tex-Mex signifies 'low class monster food' because local Latinx families have been cooking it for decades. it's only recently kinda trendy now because white dudes are opening up taco places in bougie neighborhoods. see, for ex, the existence of PURE Taqueria and their $6 tacos that are okay and its extremely 'Anglo' owners vs the half dozen locally owned taquerias in my city that sell tacos for 4x cheaper (leading to depressed wages for owner and worker, something the article also comments on, contributing to ongoing race-based wealth inequities) because they don't have the same financial capital to create a 'brand identity' or build one of those fancy, no-ceiling'd places with shitty acoustics and no lighting

this is a thing that you can also say about Americanized-Chinese food, so-called 'authentic' Chinese food, Thai food, Vietnamese food, and so on - stuff that's been marginalized by white people for decades until some foodies decided that it would be super progressive of them to color-blindedly appropriate cuisine. because if you think that you're not racist because you cook non-white food, it must be that you're not racist even as you're financially benefiting from stealing elements of identity from decades-old, Latinx-owned establishments
posted by runt at 10:08 AM on March 13 [15 favorites]


Everyone here talks as if barbecue and tacos are separate things, when Los Angeles just went "Why not both?" and created the Korean BBQ taco.

Speaking of which, I'm coming across situations where when people mention about going to get "barbecue", there's like an equal chance they mean going to KBBQ and not like, brisket and ribs.

(And yes, before anyone says anything, I know KBBQ doesn't meat the traditional definition of American style barbecue.)
posted by FJT at 10:12 AM on March 13


There's a new David Chang series on Netflix called Ugly Delicious that (in spite of him being a bit much sometimes) has some interesting takes on questions of authenticity in various cuisines - including Italian/Italian-American and Mexican/Mexican-American and many cross-pollinations thereof. Lots of overlap with the discussion here as well as some crazy-good looking food.
posted by gorbichov at 10:13 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


The author of the FPP article is Meghan McCarron.
posted by valkane at 10:41 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


A few nitpicks:

The writer is a queer woman. And she actually calls out Ugly Delicious for ignoring black pitmasters in the BBQ episode.

About 10 years ago, I lived in Houston. And a friend from Louisiana was looking for chorizo, and went to the Whole Foods looking for it. I thought it was hilarious he thought to go to Whole Foods, rather than Fiesta. But as I get more distance from the memory, I realize there's an uncomfortable whitewashing in going to Whole Foods, but there's also a class issue in thinking we can't make high quality Tex-Mex.

And yes, Tex-Mex was always just Mexican food when I was in Texas. But expanding my boundaries means needing more precise language.

My mom's side of the family is from McAllen. I'm so grateful before my aunt died, I was able to get the family recipe for tamales. But they banked on the fact that they looked more like Anglo Texans than Tejanos. And I'm glad that this article touched on the rich contribution of women of color.
posted by politikitty at 10:47 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I haven't spent much time in Texas, and I really don't know much about their Mexican food.

But it's okay. I'm a Tucsonan and I am 100% all about Sonoran food. Fuck yer whole beans and yer ricey burritos, California. Sonorense! Yum, yum, yum yum yum, yum. Refried beans all the way. I know a bunch of people, including my sister who lives in Berkeley, who stock up on tortillas to take home with them because Tucson tortillas are without peer.
posted by Squeak Attack at 11:06 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


The best breakfast tacos in Austin are at Casa Linda, inside the Texaco station at South 1st and Dittmar.


No no no no, the best breakfast tacos in Austin are at Tierra Linda, inside the Shell station at 183 and Ohlen.

Maybe they're the same Linda though?
posted by cirrostratus at 11:40 AM on March 13


The best breakfast tacos in Austin are...

Damn, son, that's a good way to start a fight.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:54 AM on March 13 [9 favorites]


I can't tell you where the best Tex-Mex is, but I do know the worst. I grew up on it. Bert's Chuck Wagon, Collinsville Il.

In high school I could power through eight of their enchiladas at a sitting. That's eight whole stale tortillas filled with ground beef, lightly spiced ketchup smothered in more of the ketchup-style sauce and melted processed cheese product. Having traveled extensively since then, I can attest that nothing else in the world tastes quite like this.

The top item listed on their meager web presence is, "Coke products and the best crushed ice on the entire planet." They're not wrong. There's something in that crushed ice. It may not be sanitary, but goddamn Sam, it is good.

I certainly can't recommend the place except as a novelty dining experience. I can't help it though, I still eat one of those enchiladas when I roll through home.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:04 PM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Damn, son, that's a good way to start a fight.

It's Texas, so "A conversation that can only end in a gunshot."
posted by mikelieman at 12:14 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The official version of chili con carne can only be made by people from Texas. It’s literally the law: In 1977, the 65th Texas Legislature enshrined the stew of beef and chile peppers as the official state dish, but also an official version of the dish, declaring that “the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.”

Hello. Former analyst for the Texas Legislature here. This assertion is simply not true, and "literally the law" is making me squirm.

Chili was made the official state dish of Texas by a House concurrent resolution, which is "a formal expression of opinion or decision, other than a proposed law." The monarch butterfly is, by resolution, the official state insect. It's a symbolic designation, not a legal one.

You may also be interested in Spurger, TX, which is literally the law symbolically designated as the Knife Capital of Texas. Or Dripping Springs, which is literally the law symbolically designated as the Wedding Capital of Texas. How about Stamford, the literally the law Western Art Show Capital of Texas? Or Big Spring, the Lighted Poinsettia Capital of Texas?

And let us not forget Gregory D. Watson, whose 35-year-quest to have the grade from his University of Texas government class raised from a C to an A was enshrined in Texas law history for eternity.

And those are just from the last legislative session. Here's the full list of state symbols, as designated by resolution.

"Literally the law" is lazy journalism.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:28 PM on March 13 [20 favorites]


I know KBBQ doesn't meat the traditional definition of American style barbecue.

Typosterical!
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:04 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


The late Matt Martinez Jr. was my Tex-Mex guru, a genre label that he did not hesitate to embrace.

Simple, tasty, varied and good, and a story with almost every recipe.
posted by delfin at 3:05 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I grew up on Mexican food. Wednesday was Mexican food day in the school cafeteria. For me, the final test for a Mexican restaurant is their rice. They often do everything else OK, but their rice doesn't pass the test.
posted by Daddy-O at 4:07 PM on March 13


Just around the corner from where I work we have this place. It ... is weird. I try it again every now and then just to see if I still find it weird. I do. It's neither a good weird or a bad weird, though so maybe that makes it interesting?
posted by h00py at 4:25 PM on March 13


A sterling example of classic Rio Grande Valley Tex-Mex can be found at Ms. G’s Tacos N’ More in McAllen. Housed in a white cinderblock building with a green roof,

Uh... I’ll be back in about 2 days.

Seriously though, San Antonio blows my mind. You could go to a different good Mexican restaurant there every day for a year & not get to all of them. Austin’s commercial real-estate market is pricing out all but a few holdouts & it’s actually getting difficult to find good Tex-Mex here, outside of a few secret places I’m certainly not telling any of you about. San Antonio is a paradise though. There’s so much good Tex-Mex there that you just can’t make it trying to serve bad Tex-Mex there. I have wandered into any number of holes in the wall down there at random & have never been disappointed.

When we leave Austin, if we can’t afford to make it out of state, we will most certainly migrate to S.A.

San Antonio is right at the nexus of 3 terrains- the blackland rolling hills of east Texas where Barbeque is king, the hill country, which was settled by the Germans in the 1880’s (there’s not much love lost between the German & Latino communities where they intersect) & the south Texas scrub land that is still pretty much part of Mexico in all but name.

Me, I like it all, but I don’t think I can live without real Tex-Mex.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:41 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


One of the rudest things I've ever done is take Chuy's to a lunch party. For myself to eat, this wasn't a potluck. I have a pretty good defence (first time in Texas, it was my last meal before leaving, and all my meals to that point were Pakistani food) but I still feel bad about it even though I accept that I would do it again under similar circumstances.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:50 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm an ex-pat stuck in California, whose Mexican food is sort of the uncanny valley of American-Mexican fusion cuisine. Cal-Mex is not bad really, it's just so mild-verging-on-bland.
Has the Bay Area gentrified out too many of the good places? That sounds very unlike what I experienced growing up around the greater LA/SD area. (San Diego does have that kind of Mexican food but it’s in the tourist traps near the convention center, not in the places where most people actually live)
posted by adamsc at 7:28 PM on March 13


What a weird article. Tex-Mex is probably one of the most, if not the most, widely loved and celebrated regional cuisine in the US. It's famously great freshly prepared food and not at all low brow snackwhatever. What rock does this guy live under?
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 PM on March 13


Also I think that Tex-Mex has roots in a completely different kind of Mexican regional cuisine from Ca Mexican food. It's been explained to me and I don't remember exactly the names or difference but it's rice/ beans/ chiles as the base vs corn/ tomatoes/ citrus or something like that. I prefer CA overall because it's lighter and less carb-y but Tex-Mex is amazingly tasty.
posted by fshgrl at 8:14 PM on March 13


Has the Bay Area gentrified out too many of the good places?

Depends on what you mean by "good places". I'm talking specifically about Tex-Mex, and I crave nothing more than a plate of enchiladas with bright-orange cheddar cheese and beef chili sauce and fresh white onion on them. That's a specifically Tex-Mex thing you can't find regularly in California. Just yesterday I did have a very good Jack cheese enchilada with tomatillo salsa, also a nice thing, but that's more Cal-Mex.

The best American-Mexican option in San Francisco is still the Mission burrito and AFAICT that hasn't changed in the 20 years I've been eating them. Taqueria Cancun still grills their flour tortillas to a slight char with lard in the dough and excellent pinto beans. La Taqueria still does their weird delicious thing with no rice and seems to have survived the baleful eye of Nate Silvers national fame. We even have San Diego burritos with french fries, at Los Coyotes. The big gentrificiation change is Papalote and to a lesser extent Little Chihuahua, both of which offer hipster tacos for white people which honestly are pretty good but not so autentico. The low budget excitement has moved more into the pupusa sphere, there's a bunch of great divey Salvadoran places. You still can't get a good simple taco anywhere that primarily speaks English. No one seems to understand the importance of passing the tortilla through hot oil.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


What elevates the humble Frito Pie from Little League food to glorious Tex-Mex is the addition of a shit ton of jalapeños. At Wheatsville (Austin food co-op) the Frito Pie made with vegetarian tempeh chile and mucho jalapeños is one of my most beloved foods.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:43 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Texas can steal our dirt, and steal our water, but it’ll still have to buy our chiles to make it’s derivative fare. There is no such thing as New Mex-Mex, because we (a group which includes the lost ones in El Paso, a place of some of the greatest taco restaurants known to man, which the article glosses over) serve the platonic ideals of all things listed on a Tex-Mex menu. We simply call them food.
posted by wobumingbai at 10:32 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


What rock does this guy live under?

Probably as a general rule one finds it worthwhile to doublecheck one's attributional gendering. I know it's been beneficial to me in many ways. Sometimes I don't get the job done properly; it happens.

But chili is strickly Texan? Hell no.
posted by mwhybark at 12:44 AM on March 14


Londoner and former San Diegan and I have Opinions on this topic.

Others have shared their experiences with British fajitas but for a while here that was like the best Mexican I could find when I moved here over 10 years ago. I personally love enchiladas more and I made the mistake of ordering that once in Guildford (I was so excited they even had it on the menu) and I got served a very dry burrito with a drizzle of tomato sauce on top. It was Not Good and I was envious of the chicken fajitas that my sensible companions ordered.

I think Mexican food on offer in England is more Tex Mex leaning (although changing rapidly in London with things like Lupitas and Wahaca) but without Frito Pies or queso dip, which makes me pretty sad.

The loaded nachos are getting pretty solid in many restaurants though so that’s good.
posted by like_neon at 5:52 AM on March 14


It always surprises me how poorly Tex-Mex travels. You'd think Tex-Mex nachos would be easy. I mean it's drunk bar food, loaded with cheese and meat and you can get Mrs. Renfro's sliced jalapenos world wide. Right? But most places make the rookie mistake of making a giant pile of chips with piles of shit on top. That is not right. Nachos have to be made individually, each chip a tiny little stand-alone pie. You can't expect people to go digging in a giant bowl of cheese-n-meat like a savage.
posted by Nelson at 8:11 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Oh but that's the only way eating nachos can be a Competition where the goal is to be That Person who gets the Mother Chip that takes pretty much all the toppings along with it, leaving the pathetic leftovers to your feeble opponents.
posted by like_neon at 8:19 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


"Barbecue is, for most people, a long Friday lunch or weekend drive out to the country, a three-hour wait with a cooler full of beer, a tailgate for meat."

What? That sounds like torture. I just BBQ when I am in the mood for some, it's not some sacred dish or ritual associated with it. Unless googling "barbecue" and driving to where it shows me is a ritual.

People who rag on Tex-Mex can fuck right off. They're the same kind of dips who will bag on American pizza or chines food as not being authentic, as if that were the goal and intention. Pizza, TexMex, Chinese food, etc are American food.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:11 AM on March 14


are an American food

That’s not quite right. TexMex originates with the people who the border crossed, rather than people who crossed the border. That’s one of the things I appreciated about the article. Calling it American is giving too much credit to Anglo Texans who have never quite been authentic- yet are becoming the ones cashing in on the franchising of TexMex. Or Mexicans who are selling authenticity. The tejano roots are being left behind as cheap (economically unsustainable) or low quality.

It’s not the dishes that are being left behind, but the culture that created it.
posted by politikitty at 10:27 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Two words: Chi-Chi's
posted by slogger at 10:37 AM on March 14


Four words: Deep Fried Ice Cream
posted by mmascolino at 10:58 AM on March 14


A long-awaited Chuy's arrived here in Colorado to much rejoicing. And then we ate there. Same same with Torchy's ... some things just don't transplant. We have stellar tacos, but I'm still searching Denver for that perfect cheesy plate of Tex-Mex.
posted by cyndigo at 11:58 AM on March 14


Sweet Jesus Murphy but I'm missing TX right now.

We have really outstanding restaurants here in DC - almost every kind of food you can imagine.

But I can't find a decent tex-mex place anywhere. God knows, I'm looking but haven't found one yet. Why is this? I can find esoteric cuisines all over this goddamned District but not a single decent tex mex place. Breakfast taco? Hah! No one has any idea what I'm talking about...


Hope me. Where is there decent tex-mex in DC?
posted by Thistledown at 4:39 PM on March 14


From TFA: …there are far more paying customers and legions of critics amateur and professional ready to declare this newly expensive barbecue the greatest in the world. And… they’re not wrong.

Can I just open up a whole new avenue of contention by pointing out that anybody who says something like this obviously hasn't been to Argentina?
posted by signal at 4:50 PM on March 14


A few nitpicks: ... And she actually calls out Ugly Delicious for ignoring black pitmasters in the BBQ episode.

So, yeah, a good reason for me to RTFA before commenting, definitely. Should have seen that call out before chiming in. I think her criticism is well-placed, for sure. That being said, and now having watched 3 or 4 more episodes of the show, Chang goes on to address such socio-gastronomical issues as:

Viet-Cajun cuisine, and the involvement of the KKK in ugly episodes in American history regarding the Vietnamese refugees in the 70s and 80s who took up shrimping in the Gulf Coast after arriving in the U.S. (something I knew nothing about)

and the stigma attached to fried chicken for the African-American community (while exploring how this dish has analogues in most cultures in the world) through interviews with both white and African-American proprietors of Nashville Hot Chicken restaurants, as well as fancy-restaurant African-American chefs like Edouardo Jordan of Salare in Seattle

So while I'm not completely sold on the series - chefs like Chang are kinda too much to take ego-wise, and he is kind of a DUDE - I have to admit to being really interested in the issues he brings up as an immigrant chef, and the overlap between food and culture, and pretty well charmed by his underlying belief that food is a good way to bridge a lot of the gaps/chasms/disconnects within our cultures. It's not perfect by any stretch, but I think worth a watch.
posted by gorbichov at 7:31 PM on March 14


My crackpot semi-literate opinion about why the really great barbecue in Texas mostly stops at the edge of the Edwards Plateau is because that’s where the frontier was for “civilization” & its black slaves. Westward expansion was pretty much held in check by the Comanche until the mid 1870’s. All the best barbeque I’ve ever had was cooked by black folk east of the hill country.

San Antonio south to the Rio Grande is a similar story - it might have become America in name in 1846, but was & is predominantly Latino & that culture gave us Tex-Mex. Cut off from Mexico by the border, but still ethnically Mexican, it just evolved in a semi-isolated region, not unlike Cajun food.

/end crackpot semi-literate food theories.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:52 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


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