One out of every 10 restaurants in the U.S. serves Mexican food, but how many of those dining establishments can actually say that their cuisine is authentic? There are certainly a lot of places that pass themselves off as Mexican restaurants. Yet, most of their employees have probably never even been to Mexico or even know the difference between flour and corn tortillas. You yourself may not be able to tell the difference, but wouldn’t you like to know when you’re eating the real thing and when you’re simply consuming a cheap knockoff? Below are a few ways to tell if you’re at a real Mexican restaurant or an Americanized imitation.
- Are fajitas on the menu?
Guess what? Fajitas don’t actually exist in Mexico. They were invented in the U.S. in the 1960s and have become a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine -- a fusion of Mexican and Southwestern American foods.
- Is the establishment called a “cantina?”
In Mexico, a cantina is a men’s social club featuring alcohol, appetizers, and tables games like cards and dominoes. They typically don’t allow women or minors and sometimes even exclude police officers or anyone in a military uniform. So, look around you. Do you see women and children? Is there a distinct lack of gambling? You’re probably not in a real cantina but rather an American restaurant with a cactus motif.
- Did you order cheese with a side of cheese?
Did your dish come out covered in cheese? It’s not that Mexicans don’t eat cheese; it’s just that they don’t glob cheese on top of cheese on top of cheese like Americans tend to do. Authentic Mexican restaurants include cheese as an essential ingredient in most dishes, not as a topping on all dishes.
- Is your waiter dressed like he’s in a mariachi band?
If your waiter shows up at your table in a black trimmed vest, pants with silver pegs up the side, a wide-brimmed sombrero, and cowboy boots, you’re not in a Mexican restaurant -- you’re in a Mexican restaurateur’s worst nightmare. This costume is called a “traje de charro” and it is typically worn by musicians. If your waiter is serving you rice and beans in full “charro” getup, don’t expect the best Mexican food you’ve ever had.
Mexican is the most popular style of international cuisine in the U.S., but if you want an authentic Mexican dining experience, avoid any place that exhibits the warning signs listed above. Provecho!