Tex-Mex cuisine (from the words Texan and Mexican) is an American cuisine that derives from the culinary creations of the Tejano people of Texas. It has spread from border states such as Texas and others in the Southwestern United States to the rest of the country.

Examples of modern Tex-Mex dishes and ingredients: corn, tortilla chips, cheese, tacos, salsa, chilies, and beef dishes

Tex-Mex is most popular in Texas and neighboring areas, especially nearby states in both the US and Mexico. It is a subtype of Southwestern cuisine[1][2][3] found in the American Southwest.

Common dishes

A seller of baked beans and tortillas in San Antonio, c. 1939

Some ingredients in Tex-Mex cuisine are also common in Mexican cuisine, but others not often used in Mexico are often added.

Tex-Mex cuisine is characterized by its heavy use of shredded cheese, beans, meat (particularly chicken, beef, and pork), chili peppers, and spices, in addition to flour tortillas.

Sometimes various Tex-Mex dishes are made without the use of a tortilla. A common example of this is the "fajita bowl", which is a fajita served without a soft tortilla.

Generally, cheese plays a much bigger role in Tex-Mex food than in mainstream Mexican cuisine, particularly in the popularity of chile con queso (often referred to as simply "queso"), which is often eaten with chips (alongside or in place of guacamole and salsa), or may be served over enchiladas, tamales, or burritos.[4]

Moreover, Tex-Mex has imported flavors from other spicy cuisines, such as in its use of cumin, introduced by Spanish immigrants to Texas from the Canary Islands,[5] but used in only a few central Mexican recipes.


Chili with garnishes and tortilla chips
Original Ninfa's tacos al carbón/fajitas

During the mission era, Spanish and Mexican cuisines were combined in Texas as in other parts of the northern frontier of New Spain.

However, the cuisine that would come to be called Tex-Mex originated with Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) as a mix of native Mexican and Spanish foods when Texas was part of New Spain and later Mexico.

Fajitas, wheat tortillas as taco wraps
Bowl containing Chili con carne served in a Tex-Mex style, with pork, beef, cheddar and monterey jack on top.

From the South Texas region between San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso, this cuisine has had little variation, and from earliest times has always been influenced by the cooking in the neighboring northern states of Mexico.[6]

The ranching culture of South Texas and Northern Mexico straddles both sides of the border, where beef, grilled food, and tortillas have been common and popular foods for more than a century.[6]

A taste for cabrito (kid goat), barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued beef heads), carne seca (dried beef), and other products of cattle culture is also common on both sides of the Rio Grande.

In the 20th century, as goods from the United States became cheap and readily available, Tex-Mex took on such Americanized elements as Cheddar, jack, and pimento cheeses.

In much of Texas, the cooking styles on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border were the same until a period after the U.S. Civil War. With the railroads, American ingredients and cooking appliances became common on the U.S. side.[7]

A 1968 Los Angeles Times feature wrote "[i]f the dish is a combination of Old World cooking, hush-my-mouth Southern cuisine and Tex-Mex, it's from the Texas Hill Country."[8]

Outside the US

Zarillo Western & Tex Mex restaurant in Tampere, Finland

In France, Paris's first Tex-Mex restaurant opened in March 1983.[9] According to restaurateur Claude Benayoun, business had been slow, but after the 1986 release of the film Betty Blue, which featured characters drinking tequila shots and eating chili con carne, "everything went crazy."[9] According to Benayoun, "Betty Blue was like our Easy Rider; it was unbelievably popular in France. And after the movie came out, everybody in Paris wanted a shot of tequila and a bowl of chili."[9]

Tex-Mex became widely introduced in the Nordic countries and United Kingdom in the early 1990s through brands like Old El Paso and Santa Maria, and very quickly became a staple meal in the Nordics.[10] Minor local variations on Tex-Mex in these areas, are to use gouda cheese, or to substitute taco shells with stuffed pita breads. Previously, Tex-Mex had been sold on a limited scale in Stavanger, Norway since the late 1960s.[11]

Tex-Mex has also spread to Canada, where it has become as naturalized as in the United States. The cuisine is also readily found in Argentina, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Thailand, and many other countries.[9]


Ingredients commonly used in Tex-Mex cuisine

The word "TexMex" (unhyphenated) was first used to abbreviate the Texas Mexican Railway, chartered in southern Texas in 1875.[12] In the 1920s, the hyphenated form was used in American newspapers to describe Texans of Mexican ancestry.[12][13]

The Oxford English Dictionary supplies the first-known uses in print of "Tex-Mex" in reference to food, from a 1963 article in The New York Times Magazine, and a 1966 item in the Great Bend (Kansas) Tribune.[14]

However, the term was used in an article in the Binghamton (New York) Press[15] in May 1960 and a syndicated article appearing in several American newspapers on October 6, 1960, uses the Tex-Mex label to describe a series of recipes, including chili and enchiladas[16]

The recipes included the suggestion of "cornmeal pancakes" in place of tortillas, which at the time were not reliably available to readers outside of the Southwest.

Diana Kennedy, an influential food authority, explained the distinctions between Mexican cuisine and Americanized Mexican food in her 1972 book The Cuisines of Mexico. Robb Walsh of the Houston Press said the book "was a breakthrough cookbook, one that could have been written only by a non-Mexican. It unified Mexican cooking by transcending the nation's class divisions and treating the food of the poor with the same respect as the food of the upper classes."[17]

The term "Tex-Mex" also saw increasing usage in the Los Angeles Times from the 1970s onward while the Tex-Mex label became a part of U.S. vernacular during the late 1960s, '70s, and '80s.[18] Adán Medrano, a chef who grew up in San Antonio, prefers to call the food "Texas Mexican," which he says was the indigenous cooking of South Texas long before the Rio Grande marked the border between Texas and Mexico.[19]

Influential chefs

  • Felix Tijerina was a successful restaurateur and civic leader who helped pioneer the Tex-Mex cuisine through his dishes.
Born in 1905, Tijerina began working as a busboy at the Original Mexican Restaurant after moving to Houston in 1922.[20] He rose through the ranks and opened his own restaurant, the Mexican Inn, in 1929.[20]
After serving in World War II, Tijerina opened a chain of restaurants named the Felix Mexican Restaurant.[21]
With mildly-spiced dishes and reasonable prices, Tijerina's restaurants catered more towards an Anglo audience.[20] His spaghetti con chile special exemplifies how Tijerina americanized traditional Mexican food to appeal to the local Texans.[20]
Tijerina used his influence and economic profit from the restaurant business to become active in politics.[20] In 1935, Tijerina joined the local council of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), and eventually became the national president of organization, holding the position from 1956 to 1960.[20]
Tijerina died in 1965, but his chain of Felix Mexican Restaurants continued to promote the Tex-Mex cuisine until operations stopped in 2008.[21][22]
  • Josef Centeno grew up in San Antonio, becoming familiar with Tex-Mex cuisine through his Tejano family's cooking.[23]
In 2011, Centeno opened his first restaurant, Bäco Mercat which became an instant success due to the multicultural menu.[24]
Centeno subsequently opened Bar Amá,[25] then Orsa & Winston[26] which received a Michelin star in June 2019.
Centeno's most recent Tex-Mex restaurant, Amácita,[27] opened in July 2019.[28]
Centeno has also written two cookbooks: Baco: Vivid Recipes from the Heart of Los Angeles (2017)[29] and Amá: a modern Tex-Mex kitchen (2019).[30]
Centeno has become a leading chef in the Tex-Mex cuisine, receiving praise for both his restaurants and his cookbooks. While the New Yorker listed Centeno's Amá: a modern Tex-Mex kitchen as one of the best cookbooks in 2019, the LA Times named Orsa & Winston as the "Restaurant of the Year" in 2020.[31][24] His restaurants, the Bar Amá and the Amácita, have been described as “the country's most thoughtful Tex-Mex”.[32]

See also

  • Tex-Mex cuisine in Houston
  • List of Mexican restaurants


  1. Walsh, Robb. The Tex-Mex Cookbook (XVI ed.). New York: Broadway Books.
  2. Feniger, Susan; Siegel, Helene; Miliken, Mary Sue (2002). Mexican Cooking for Dummies. Scranton: Courage Books.
  3. Martinez, Etienne. "Mexicans in the U.S.A: Mexican-American / Tex-Mex Cousine". Lightmillennium.org. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  4. Goodgame, Dan (15 July 2013). "Recipe: Chile con Queso – Texas Monthly". Texasmonthly.com. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  5. Jennifer Steinhauer (10 February 2014). "If It's Chili, It's Personal". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 January 2015. it was Canary Islanders who brought a taste for it in heavy doses
  6. McCarron, Meghan (7 March 2018). "Everything You Know About Tex-Mex Is Wrong". Eater. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  7. Walsh, Robb (27 July 2000). "Pralines and Pushcarts". Houston Press. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  8. "Pedernales Recipes 'Good for What Ails.'" Los Angeles Times. 12 September 1968. p. K30
  9. Walsh, Robb (23 November 2000). "The French Connection". Houstonpress.com. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  10. "How Taco Tuesday Became Taco Friday in Norway". The Culture Trip. 23 July 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  11. "– Vi solgte taco og tortillachips før alle andre". NRK (in Norwegian Bokmål). 23 November 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  12. Pruitt, Sarah. "Tracing the History of Tex-Mex". HISTORY. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  13. "Tex-Mex". Mexia Evening News. Mexia, Texas. 23 May 1922.
  14. Oxford English Dictionary entry for Tex-Mex: 1963 N.Y. Times Mag. 11 Aug 50/1 Star of the evening was her Texas or Tex-Mex chili. 1966 Great Bend (Kansas) Daily Tribune 19 Oct 5/4 It's too bad that it has become known as ‘chili powder’ because some homemakers may associate it only with the preparation of ‘Tex-Mex’ dishes.
  15. Spallone, Roz (20 May 1960). "Miss New York State's crown just 'old hat' to family". Binghamton Press. p. 15. Retrieved 16 March 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. "6 Oct 1960, 32 - The Record at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  17. Walsh, Robb (28 September 2000). "Mama's Got a Brand-new Bag". Houstonpress.com. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  18. Wheaton, D.R. & Carroll, G.R. (2017). Where did Tex-Mex Come From? The Divisive Emergence of a Social Category. Research in Organizational Behavior, 37, 143 – 166.
  19. Wharton, Rachel (22 April 2019). "Don't Call It Tex-Mex". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  20. Pilcher, Jeffrey (2012). Planet Taco A Global History of Mexican Food. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. p. 135.
  21. "TSHA | Tijerina, Felix". www.tshaonline.org. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  22. Press, Houston (21 March 2008). "Felix Mexican Restaurant Closes After 60 Years in Business". Houston Press. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  23. "Roasted Cauliflower with Cilantro-Pecan Pesto Recipe". Sunset Magazine. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  24. Snyder, Garrett (1 August 2020). "Josef Centeno's downtown restaurant Bäco Mercat has closed permanently". Los Angeles Times.
  25. "Bar Amá". Bar Amá. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  26. "Orsa & Winston". Orsa & Winston. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  27. "amá•cita". amá•cita. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  28. "LA chef Josef Centeno has a Michelin star restaurant and a new cookbook, now he's on a mission to defend Tex-Mex cuisine". Daily News. 2 January 2020. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  29. Centeno, Josef; Hallock, Betty (5 September 2017). Bäco: Vivid Recipes from the Heart of Los Angeles. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-1-4521-5578-4.
  30. Hallock, Betty; Centeno, Josef (1 October 2019). Ama: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-1-4521-5685-9.
  31. Rosner, Helen. "The Best Cookbooks of 2019". The New Yorker. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  32. Bull, Marian (22 October 2019). "The Chef Reclaiming Tex-Mex Says There's One Secret To Successful Nachos". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
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