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When you are craving Mexican food, it can be tricky to find an authentic restaurant. Many places that appear to serve Mexican cuisine are actually Tex-Mex restaurants, a modern mix of Texan and Mexican food. Learn about the origin of Tex-Mex and how to spot authentic Mexican food, with this guide. 

What Is Tex-Mex?
This mixed cuisine started in the 17th century when the Spanish settlers landed in what is now Texas, where native Mexicans were living. As with any type of cultural mixing, their traditional cuisines started to blend into a new type of food. Tex-Mex evolved over time and developed into a mix of Spanish, Mexican, and American food. Tex-Mex food as we know it started gaining popularity in the 1970s. 

How Can You Separate Tex-Mex From Authentic Mexican?
Mainstream Tex-Mex chains distract from the quality of authentic Mexican dishes. Learn how to spot the difference with these simple tips. 

  • Cheese: American influence has sprinkled yellow cheese into classic Mexican dishes. Authentic cuisine will have white cheese.

  • Spices: Authentic Mexican dishes will have a variety of spices, including coriander, epazote, parsley, and oregano. You will rarely see cumin on the menus of traditional restaurants, where this ingredient is commonplace in Tex-Mex food.

  • Tortillas: In Mexico, it's all about the corn tortilla. Tex-Mex restaurants will often offer flour varieties, a sure sign that they are far from authentic.

  • Taco Shells: Traditional Mexican tacos have soft shells. If you are served a hard shell taco, you are at a Tex-Mex restaurant.

  • Toppings: Getting a dollop of sour cream on top of your meal is common in Tex-Mex restaurants. Authentic Mexican restaurants serve crema, which is thinner and less sour. These more authentic dishes will also be topped with cilantro, raw onions, avocados, and limes.

  • Burritos: While Tex-Mex burritos are stuffed with a variety of vegetables, the original Mexican version sticks to mostly meat.

One-tenth of restaurants in the United States serves Mexican food, making it the most popular type of international cuisine. Not only does it taste better than Tex-Mex food, but the best Mexican food is also more likely to be naturally sourced. Now that you know how to spot authentic Mexican food, make sure you are getting an authentic culinary experience by checking a restaurant's menu for the above signs.