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Some Thoughts on Tex-Mex


Since I am evidently the LGM person designated to write strong opinions about food, I will link to this long defense of Tex-Mex cuisine. It’s a good article as a whole with many solid points, but it doesn’t actually amount to a great defense of Tex-Mex on the merits. Rather, it paints legitimate points about the whitening of Texas BBQ culture, the low wages and corner cutting required to compete in the Tex-Mex world since people won’t pay much for it, the authenticity debate, etc. These are all quite legitimate points. 50 years ago, both Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex weren’t seen as high-end foods, but the recent emphasis on craft and skill (not to mention the proximity of the BBQ heartland to Austin) has completely changed the reputation of the former but not the latter. There’s very much a racial component to that. Authenticity is of course a construction that reflects nothing but the consumerism of the moment and certainly not the cooks themselves who innovate in whatever way the feel like, or don’t feel like.

But in the end, I just never found Tex-Mex to be very good food. There are exceptions of course, but even at the most famous and high-end Tex Mex joints, such as the legendary Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth (which has a lovely atmosphere and makes great margaritas), I basically felt like I was eating an over-caloried enormous portion of lower quality Mexican food than nearly everywhere else in the wide and wonderful world of that nation’s and culture’s cuisines. That modern Mexican food designed for white people around the country is an offshoot of Tex-Mex is not surprising–the huge portions of rice and beans on a plate with oversized enchiladas covered in processed yellow cheese–fits now what a lot of non-Mexicans want when they think of Mexican food. One of the great things about much of Mexican food is that it is in small portions. You go to a taco stand, you can order 1 taco and then another if you want another. If you are eating Tex-Mex, you start with the chips and salsa, fill up on that, and then have another 1500 calories to go, barring greater discipline when food is put in front of you than I have.

None of this is to say there is not very good Tex-Mex food. First, down by the border, it can be amazing. And fajitas were a worthy invention on par with anything in the Mexican food diaspora, Oaxaca to Mexico City to New Mexico. But being between pretty familiar and extremely familiar with many of the subsets of Mexican food–which very much includes Tex-Mex, authenticity snobs aside–I can’t help but to rate Tex-Mex basically at the bottom.

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