5/01/2013 01:41:00 PM

Ask the Austin Zagat Blog: What’s the Difference Between Tex-Mex and “Interior” Mexican Food?

Oaxacan delicacies from El Naranjo
Eating out in our fair city raises all sorts of burning questions. Is it okay to take a date to a food trailer? Yay or nay on cargo shorts at Uchiko? Then there are the more general questions we’ve always wondered but been too afraid to ask. Are you allowed to eat garnish? Who pays for that extra appetizer?  

That’s where the Austin Zagat blog comes in. Ask us anything your heart desires in the comments section below, and we'll give you our honest opinion.  

In honor of Mexican food week, today we're talking about the difference between Tex-Mex and “interior” Mexican food.

Growing up in Texas used to mean weekly pilgrimages to hole-in-the-wall joints to eat cheese enchiladas with chile con carne along with refried beans and Mexican rice. This was Tex-Mex at its finest, and it mainly meant chips and salsa, yellow cheese and grease, oh, delicious grease.


This type of cuisine was wildly different than what you’d find in Mexico proper, which instead emphasized seafood, pork and white cheese instead of cheese product.

The distinctions have since blurred. For example, fajitas were traditionally a Mexican dish, but over the years they’ve become a classic Tex-Mex staple.

However, if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, here it is: Interior Mexican food from places like Oaxaca can be found all over town, from the traditional El Naranjo to the trendy La Condesa. There, queso means panela or Monterey Jack, and mouth-watering queso fundido appetizers are served with stringy, baked cheese and tiny tortillas. Interior is famous for fish, as well as rich moles; meats like pork, venison and duck; whole black beans; and flan for dessert. Also, the authentic places will serve salsa with rolls, not chips.

Tex-Mex, on the other hand, is ruled by yellow cheese (think cheddar or - dare we say it - Velveeta). Chips and salsa, queso dip, refried pinto beans, guacamole, cilantro, nachos, chicken verde enchiladas and sherbet or praline for dessert characterize this cuisine. We have a soft spot for El Fenix in Dallas, but in Austin, check out places like Maudie’s and Matt’s El Rancho for the classic dishes.

Have a restaurant query you need answered? Ask us below in the comments section.

Need to get in touch with the Zagat blog in Austin? Email Megan Giller at megzagATX at gmail dot com.

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