Tex-Mex might be a pillar in Texas culture, but that doesn’t mean it’s good food

Audrey Larcher

Last week, Austinites flocked to Matt’s El Rancho, celebrating the Tex-Mex restaurant’s 65th anniversary. For some, the celebration commemorated the 65 years our community has enjoyed classic, hearty food. For others, the celebration represents the outrageous 65 plus years that people have consumed tex-mex and honestly believed it tasted good.

Tex-Mex is not that great. But it isn’t just not that great, it is a snack food wearing an inauthentic Mexican mask. The distinguishably disgusting cuisine originated out of out of San Antonio in 1880 with chile con carne stands. Tex-Mex grew to encompass more and more dishes, combining native cooking with different settler influences. Now, we relive this history with every Torchy’s taco consumed and each bowl of queso defended by Ted Cruz.

The cornerstone ingredients should be enough to send any well-minded consumer running in the opposite direction. Flavorless tortillas, bland rice, lackluster beans are components fit for a West Campus apartment meal, not this great state’s culinary hallmark.

But if the lazy foundation fails to startle your gag reflexes, the protein probably will get the job done. Sure, the sizzling hot fajita plate may offer a nicer cut of steak, but the majority of dishes like enchiladas and nachos do not always showcase the best meat. These dishes are typically drenched in salsa or some other fluid, meaning consumers aren’t necessarily inclined to inspect the meat quality. Thus, shredded chicken and carnitas plates do not need to meet a very high standard.

And the cheese. Queso is not just a side dip, but a crucial ingredient in many dishes, a congealing substance that never looks too far off from Velveeta. Recipes seem to rely on queso as a cooking band-aid, calling for the goop when a dish is too dry or flavorless to stand on its own. Austinites do not hesitate to spend hours debating who sells the best queso when really, most dips can be boiled down to the same cheap, warmed up cheese.

Texans identify with this form of dining. These are the foods that associate our cultural heritage with, and brandish as testaments of our state’s greatness. Tex-Mex is available across the country, and in sharing these dishes with others, we reshape our own cultural image.

We deserve better. If Texans are intent on continuing the Tex-Mex tradition, we should set higher standards for ourselves, adding more interesting spices so dishes do not need to be drowned with queso for flavor. Texans should also look to other facets of our state’s cuisines, such as Czech and other Central European influences, and embrace their important role in our cookbooks. Because Guad doesn’t need more queso spots.


Larcher is a Plan II and Economics freshman from Austin. Follow her on twitter @veg_lomein

Editor's note 7/20: A portion of this column has been edited from the original version for language that some may find offensive.