Monday, November 1, 2010

Tex-Mex Vs. Southwestern-Style Mexican Food... There Is No Debate

As I start my latest blog entry on the eve of the November elections, I have no idea how the elections will pan out. Nor am I going to discuss or speculate about the pros and cons of any candidate or position on this site. Would you not agree, however, this latest political season has been peppered with some serious conflict? So, the weekend before the mid-term elections, my husband and I did attend a rally but not the one that got all the hoopla. It was an event of our own making. Let's call it the first annual "Santa Fe Food Rally." Several of our great friends from Dallas were on hand for the festivities.

Most of my friends know I’m writing this blog and going into the weekend, I jotted down some ideas about what angle I might take when writing about our trip. Trying to be the best journalist, without really being one, I did not want to be the creator of our experiences, but organically letting the tortilla chips fall where they may. My story outline envisioned a battle between the "Southwestern Style Mexican food is best" versus "Tex-Mex can't be beat" camps. The only way to settle any disagreements was to consume great quantities of Mexican food (prepared "New Mexico" style) during the trip. My pre-conceived theory of one’s attachment to their local cuisine, by my estimate, would trump the merits of the competing version. I’ll merely sprinkle a little spice by asking pointed questions.

I have witnessed passionate discussions on this very subject before. Why wouldn’t it happen again? My friends are not shy of spirited opinion. For me, nothing beats Southwestern-Style Mexican food. It’s what I grew up with. My mother, having lived her formative years in New Mexico, passed on her love of the cuisine to me -- especially prepared the New Mexico way. Living in San Diego in my formative years, only reinforced it. While my husband and I were later living in Dallas, I just couldn’t acquire a taste for Tex-Mex. Just like I couldn’t acquire the taste of chicken fried steak. (Not to sound too Jessica Simpson like but, "Is it chicken or is it steak?") Sorry guys!

What's the difference, you might ask?

Traditional Mexican food was created with the local spices (oregano, cilantro, cinnamon, cocoa, cumin and chili powder) and ingredients (typically corn and beans) native to Mexico. The Spanish introduced rice to Mexico in the 1500’s. And depending on the region of Mexico’s food, you may encounter vegetable/chicken laced dishes in the Southeastern corner based on Caribbean influence, fish intense dishes on the Pacific Coast or more exotic renditions of iguana, rattlesnake and insect proteins in Puebla. There are many other regional versions as well. Just like regional differences you find here in the US in the way barbecue is prepared.

Tex-Mex is a blend of food products available in America combined with Mexican Americans' influences from across the border. Generally Tex-Mex has beef product due to the ranching culture of South Texas. Toss in the Americanized elements of yellow cheese because of its cheap availability along with an emphasis in cumin.

Southwestern-Style Mexican food is a blending of items that may have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers in the United States, cowboys, Native Americans, Mexicans and now modified by accountants and new-age chefs. It is similar to Mexican food, but it’s emphasis is in the chile such as red or green, most notably Hatch chile. Ask for red and green and they will bring it to your table “Christmas” style. In Texas and Arizona, green is not popular at all.

Red Hatch Chile - Southwestern Style

Green Hatch Chile - Southwestern Style

Surely this melting pot of food styles and regional tastes that made up our little group could get a rise out of somebody. Nope! Not one person stepped to the plate. Universally, my little sample size of friends on this trip preferred Southwestern Style Mexican food over Tex Mex. So much for my debate. The only nuances were whether or not they favored the red chile over the green. Believe me, we ate much of it. So much for the beginning, middle and end of my blog story. Where was the conflict?

As it turns out, this election season's conflicts, played out in :30 second commercials and newscast filters, influenced my anticipation that with every topic someone would take a “side.” The conflict, as it turns out, has been with myself. As trying as this political season has been to watch, I had forgotten to factor in my friends are reasonable, sane conversationalists giving consideration to others opinions. I didn’t need to go to a Washington rally (sane or otherwise) to be reminded most Americans are similar to my friends and it is just a few who are getting all the attention.

If you want to know where this not so great Tex-Mex versus Southwestern - Style Mexican food debate took place, visit the links below. All of these restaurants were terrific. Just like the company.

Tecolote Cafe
The Pink Adobe
Cafe Pasquals
The Pantry


  1. Great post Miss Martinez! Peter and I have often had this debate as there is one (just one, so far that we've found) Tex-Mex take out place in San Diego - Tommy's Tex Mex on Voltaire. Peter loves it. I like it. But I would choose El Cuervo on Washington any 'ol time! Southwest Mexican is my comfort food.

  2. Sylvia this is a well rounded blog. I go for the southwest flair myself. Being from Tucson I can tell you a great restaurant that my family has gone to since 1957. Please Check out the link to Casa Molina: and one I go to here in Portland Sandavals:

  3. Great article Sylvia! You captured the weekend really well!

  4. One of my Texas girlfriends emailed me and loved her poetic feedback:

    "Tex-Mex is a dreamy thing – much abused, much misused, but when executed correctly, it is heaven on toast!"

  5. Sylvia, thanks for stopping by my blog. The best thing about that is that I got to discover your blog. Wow!! A soul sister!! Love your writing!

    It's a wonder we haven't met before - we both have New Mexico and San Diego in us. And yes, I agree - it's Southwest style that wins. Hands down. To me (and many others), it's simply the best regional cooking in the US.

    I'm surprised that you didn't include Maria's on Cordoba in Santa Fe... I must go there every time I'm in New Mexico. Check it out!

  6. I think Toni and I may really be soul sisters. I've added a link to her blog on my page.

    Wish I had known about Maria's. There's always next time!

  7. nice Mexican cuisine foods.i like Mexican cuisine foods very much because it become very testy.

  8. AnonymousJune 14, 2014

    Could you explain what the difference between Southwestern and Texmex is? I see all these assertions they're different, but no real solid explanation. Is a burrito SW or TM? What about an Enchilada, or carne asada, or a bowl of chili, or Fajitas?

    1. I'll start with I am not a food historian, but more of a well-read aficianado. :) Probably the best way to think of the differences is to equate it to today's standard of localism. Tex-Mex uses what was available in great abundance (i.e. beef). SW uses local chiles. Same for the different regions of Mexico. To the question of burritos. It is believe the Mesoamerican people of Mexico started the use of tortillas to wrap food. But other cultures used the same concept too. Of the other items you mentioned Fajita's are a Tex-Mex invention because of the use of meat.

      Oh my...just writing about this is making me hungry of mexican food. At this point any of the variations will do! Thanks for reading.

  9. southwest rules .. I am from Tucson I live in South Texas.I like the corn, and chiles style cooking


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