How to Get Tex-Mex Food in Mexico
Be forewarned folks, you're gonna have to make some adjustments.
I grew up in Texas so I thought I knew all about Mexican food. A couple of times each month, my mom, dad, sister, and I would pile into our family’s Ford LTD for an evening out at “El Pollino” or “Casa Elena”. When Russell and I started dating in high school, we could frequently be found munching on chips and salsa at one of these two local hotspots. Truth be told, we might also have had a margarita or two since the drinking age was 18 back then. (My kids still can’t wrap their heads around that, or the fact that our school had a smoking section, but I digress…..)
Russell and I were both familiar with the term Tex-Mex and had also heard the phrase Interior Mexican Food tossed about here and there, but we didn’t really understand the differences until we got to Merida. In fact, since we’ve been here, we’ve learned that Tex-Mex really isn’t a thing south of the border, and that Interior Mexican Food varies widely. For example, there are pork dishes from the Yucatan, smokey moles from Oaxaca, and seafood ceviche from the coast.
Never fear though! Even though you won’t be able to find crunchy tacos or enchiladas con carne at traditional Mexican restaurants, we do have a few tricks you can use to make some comparable substitutions.
Tostadas. This one is easy. It’s just a matter of using the right word to get what you want. Basically, Tex-Mex tostadas are totopos in Mexico. Keep in mind though, at a true Mexican food restaurant, you probably aren’t going to be served totopos and salsa before your meal. If by chance you are, it’s probably going to be a few token chips.
Nachos. If you’re hungry for some greasy tortilla chips smothered in beans and cheese, then go for some chilaquiles. We fondly refer to this dish as “soupy nachos” because of the amount of salsa or mole, they’re usually smothered in. You can get them topped with most anything, beef, chicken, veggies, or even eggs over-easy.
Quesadillas. Ok, in reality this is an item you may see on some menus. But if you don’t, you can always look for sincronizadas. These “synchronized” flour tortillas are filled with ham and cheese, lightly griddled, and then cut into quarters for eating. They will definitely do in a quesadilla pinch.
Crunchy Tacos. Bad news, you probably aren’t going to be able to get any crunchy tacos filled with beef and cheddar cheese. But if you’re ok with having chicken-type tacos on a flat shell, then salbutes or panuchos are your best bet. Both have a fried corn tortilla base that is topped with chicken or turkey, lettuce, tomato, onion, and maybe a little bit of Oaxacan cheese. Salbutes are puffier than panuchos, and panuchos have refried beans in addition to the other fixings.
Cheese Enchiladas. So far, we haven’t found Tex-Mex enchiladas (you know, the kind filled with cheddar cheese and covered in chili gravy) at any restaurants in Mexico. But, it’s fairly easy to find chicken enchiladas. So, they may not be quite the same, but at least they're in the enchilada family.
Chile Con Queso. Uh, oh! Sorry, but you’re out of luck on this one. In truth, we can’t think of anything that’s similar to what we call “queso” back in Texas. So, if you think you’re gonna have a hankering for a big ol’ bowl of melted cheese and peppers when you're in Mexico, then we recommend that you sneak some Velveeta and Rotel tomatoes in your suitcase. That way you can make your own. (We wish we would have thought to plan ahead.)
Final Note: Sincronizadas, chilaquiles, and chicken enchiladas are often found on breakfast menus in Mexico. At first this seemed a little odd to us, since we’re used to eating heavier types of foods for lunch or dinner. But hey, the longer we’ve been here, the more we’ve gotten used to it.