Top 10 Tex-Mex Foods (+ Easy Recipes)

So you think taco salad is Mexican cuisine? Jajajaja

Tex-Mex Foods - Hard Shell Tacos

Tex-Mex foods are a fusion of traditional Mexican dishes with a Texan twist, and have become a beloved staple in American cuisine.

With its bold flavors and hearty ingredients, it’s no surprise that Tex-Mex dishes are so popular!

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the top 10 most popular Tex-Mex dishes often mistake for Mexican dishes.

But first …

What is Tex-Mex cuisine?

Tex-Mex cuisine (from the words Texas and Mexico) is an American cuisine that originated with the Tejano people of Texas. In addition to flour tortillas, Tex-Mex cuisine is distinguished by its heavy use of yellow shredded cheese, beans, meat, chili peppers, and spices.

Many “Mexican” dishes you grew up eating aren’t technically Mexican. Fajitas, chili, nachos, burritos are all cornerstones of Tex-Mex cuisine.

Various Tex-Mex dishes are sometimes prepared without the use of a tortilla. The “fajita bowl,” which is a fajita served without a soft tortilla, is an example of this. In general, cheese plays a much larger role in Tex-Mex cuisine as well.

Tex-Mex Foods

Here are Tex-Mex foods that are often mistaken as Mexican cuisine.

1. Fajitas

Fajitas have Mexican roots but they started in Texas in the 1930s with Mexican workers living near the border.

They were given cuts of meat like head, intestines, and skirt steak that were marinated in lime juice and pounded to make them more tender before being cooked over a fire and served in a flour tortilla.

Fajitas are a popular Tex-Mex dish that consist of grilled meat, usually chicken, beef or shrimp, along with sautéed bell peppers and onions, which are served on a hot skillet or sizzling plate, typically with a side of warm flour tortillas.

The meat is usually marinated with a blend of Tex-Mex spices, such as chili powder, cumin, garlic and oregano, which gives the dish a distinctive Tex-Mex flavor.

The meat and veggies are usually cooked together on a skillet, then sliced and served to the table, along with the warm tortillas and toppings such as shredded cheese, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, or pico de gallo.

2. Nachos

Although nachos were invented in Mexico, they are technically considered a Tex-Mex dish.

Nachos were invented in 1943 in the small Mexican town of Piedras Negras by restaurateur Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya.

When Nacho was without his chef one day, he needed to whip up a quick snack for a group of visiting US military wives. He fried tortillas and served them warm with grated cheese and jalapeno peppers, using whatever he could find in the kitchen.

The dish’s popularity quickly spread throughout Texas and the Southwestern United States, eventually becoming a global favorite.

Tortilla chips were also invented in California.

3. Chili

Lo siento, but ground beef chili, with sour cream and cheddar cheese, isn’t a thing in Mexico. Chili was actually created in Texas. 

Chili is a traditional Tex-Mex dish that consists of a hearty stew made with ground beef, chili peppers, and a variety of spices and seasonings.

The dish is typically made by browning the ground beef in a pot, then adding in diced onions, bell peppers, and garlic.

After that, a blend of spices such as chili powder, cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper are added to the pot, along with diced tomatoes and beef broth. The mixture is then simmered for several hours.

Related: How Thick Should Chili Be?

4. Hard Shell Tacos

Sorry, but crunchy, hard shell tacos are about as Mexican as ground beef, yellow cheese, sour cream, and guacamole squirted out of a Taco Bell dispenser.

In America, Tex-Mex tacos feature a hard, folded shell (instead of a soft shell). Other popular ingredients include pico de gallo, guacamole, jalapenos, or hot sauce.

5. Chimichangas

Chimichangas are essentially deep-fried burritos.

According to The New York Times, there are two competing stories about the origin of the dish, but both of them indicate that it was invented in Arizona.

It seems likely that the Chimichanga was, in fact, invented America. The actual origins, however, may never be truly known.

6. Queso Dip

Queso is a warm, creamy cheese dip that’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips or pouring over nachos.

It is typically made with Velveeta cheese, a classic American cheese product. A key ingredient in the dip, which is made with Velveeta, canned tomatoes and chilies.

It’s believed that the dish was first created by Mexican-American communities in Texas, who combined traditional Mexican cheeses with chili peppers, tomatoes, and other seasonings to create a new and unique dish.

Over time, Chile con queso has evolved to become a staple in Tex-Mex cuisine.

Related: 29 Popular Mexican Cheeses You Should Try

7. Mission Burritos

Burritos, originated in Mexico, but the Mission-style burritos, named after the neighborhood in San Francisco, were invented in the United States.

According to Vox, the over-stuffed burritos were originally invented at El Faro in the Mission District of San Francisco in 1961.

These burritos were filled with more than just traditional beans and rice and became increasingly popular, which led to the creation of larger tortillas and even larger burritos.

The Mission burrito is likely the style of burrito that is commonly found on the menus of local restaurants in the United States.

8. Sopapillas

Sopapillas were actually invented in New Mexico, which is technically not a part of Mexico (I consulted a map and history book).

Sopapillas are a type of fried pastry made from a dough typically consisting of flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening, which is then rolled out and cut into shapes before being deep-fried to a golden brown color.

They are light and fluffy and have a crispy exterior. Sopapillas can be served sweet or savory and are often served with a light dusting of cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar.

They can also be filled with meat, cheese, or beans for a savory option.

9. Margaritas

The true origins of Margaritas are unknown. And you won’t find Margaritas in Mexico, except in tourist spots.

According to Texas Monthly, El Paso native Pancho Morales takes credit for inventing this iconic drink in the summer of 1942. Although there are other American origin stories for the Margarita.

The frozen Margarita machine, which revolutionized the way we enjoy this refreshing cocktail, was also invented in Dallas, Texas in 1971.

Related: 15 Best Christmas Margarita Cocktails

10. Taco Salad

With cheddar cheese and sour cream there’s no way taco salads can be Mexican.

The earliest version was called the Tacup, and was created by the mastermind behind Fritos, Elmer Doolin.

The dish was a delicious blend of beans, ground beef, cheese, and sour cream, served in a Frito cup, much like a large tortilla bowl.

Tex-Mex Foods FAQs

What is Tex-Mex cuisine?

Tex-Mex cuisine is a popular food style that originated in Texas and combines traditional Mexican dishes with American flavors and ingredients. It typically includes dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and fajitas.

What are some popular Tex-Mex dishes?

Some popular Tex-Mex dishes include chili con carne, nachos, tacos al pastor, tamales, and refried beans.

What are the key ingredients in Tex-Mex cuisine?

Common ingredients in Tex-Mex cuisine include chili powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, and cayenne pepper. Cheese, sour cream, and avocado are also commonly used.

What is the origin of Tex-Mex cuisine?

Tex-Mex cuisine originated in the late 19th century in Texas as a fusion of traditional Mexican dishes with American flavors and ingredients. It has since spread throughout the United States and become a popular food style.

How is Tex-Mex cuisine different from Mexican cuisine?

Tex-Mex cuisine is characterized by the use of ingredients such as cheese, sour cream, and ground beef, which are not typically found in traditional Mexican cuisine. Tex-Mex also tends to be spicier and more heavily seasoned than traditional Mexican cuisine.

Can you recommend any popular Tex-Mex restaurants?

There are many popular Tex-Mex restaurants, it depends on your location. Some well-known Tex-Mex chains include Chuy’s, On the Border, and Chevy’s Fresh Mex.

What are some must-try Tex-Mex dishes for first-timers?

If you’re new to Tex-Mex cuisine, some must-try dishes include chili con carne, enchiladas, fajitas, and tacos al pastor. These dishes are a great way to experience the flavors and ingredients that make Tex-Mex cuisine so popular.

Tex-Mex vs Mexican food: what’s the difference?

Mexican cuisine is the traditional food of Mexico and is characterized by the use of native ingredients such as corn, beans, and chili peppers, as well as a variety of herbs and spices. Tex-Mex cuisine tends to be spicier and more heavily seasoned and also includes cheese, sour cream, and ground beef which are not typically found in traditional Mexican cuisine.

Top 10 Tex-Mex Foods (+ Easy Recipes)

Top 10 Tex-Mex Foods (+ Easy Recipes)

5 from 1 vote

It says a lot that chili is the most boring dish on the list!


  • Fajitas

  • Nachos

  • Chili

  • Hard Shell Tacos

  • Chimichangas

  • Queso Dip

  • Mission Burritos

  • Sopapillas

  • Margaritas

  • Taco Salad


  • Choose your favorite Tex-Mex recipe
  • Prep and enjoy!
Tex-Mex Foods