Tex-Mex “of, relating to, or being the Mexican-American culture or cuisine existing or originating in especially southern Texas.” -Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The term “Tex-Mex” first entered the language as the nickname of a railroad. Chartered in 1875 the short line ran between Laredo and Corpus Christi. Just as the Missouri Pacific was shortened to Mo Pac on train schedules, The Texas and Mexican Railroad, was abbreviated to Tex Mex. The railroad was built and operated by English engineers and Mexican laborers who communicated with each other in a pidgen language that also came to be called “Tex-Mex.” The term was additionally used to describe other bicultural hybrids of the borderlands including Tex-Mex music.
America’s Oldest Regional Cuisine
In the old days, chili con carne served with tamales or enchiladas was known as “Mexican food.” But in the 1970s, Diana Kennedy’s influential cookbooks specifically excluded Americanized combo platters, chips and salsa, and other such Tex-Mex inventions from the definition of Mexican food.
Tex-Mex was first identified as an American regional cuisine by Waverly Root in Eating in America: A History published in 1976, in which he wrote: “Tex-Mex food might be described as native foreign food, contradictory through that term may seem. It is native, for it does not exist elsewhere; it was born on this soil. But it is foreign in that its inspiration came from an alien cuisine; that it has never merged into the mainstream of American cooking and remains alive almost solely in the region where it originated…”
Historians and culinary folklorists now use the term retroactively and trace Tex-Mex cooking all the way back to the state’s native American peoples and to Juan de Onate’s colonists who first brought European livestock to El Paso in 1581.
We can all thank Diana Kennedy for inadvertently granting Tex-Mex its rightful place in food history. By convincing the world that Tex-Mex wasn’t really Mexican food, she forced us to realize that it was something far more interesting: America’s oldest regional cuisine.
Your Grandfather’s Tex-Mex
At El Real Tex-Mex Café, we are bringing back vintage Tex-Mex. Back in the good old days, before there were pre-formed taco shells and canned enchilada sauces, restaurant Tex-Mex was just like homemade. At El Real Tex-Mex café you’ll find the same homestyle flavors–and the same fresh-fried taco shells, house made chili powder, and made-from-scratch enchilada sauces that your grandparents once enjoyed.
Along with Houston’s favorite Tex-Mex dish, fajitas, El Real is serving dishes from Tex-Mex restaurants in other parts of the state. There are green chiles sauces from West Texas, shrimp dishes from Brownsville, and lots of San Antonio-style puffy tacos. You’ll also find some forgotten dishes here like chili con carne with poached eggs and the famous Felix chile con queso.
Legends of Tex-Mex
At El Real Tex-Mex Café, we respect the history of Tex-Mex and we love to share it with others. If you stroll around the restaurant and take a look upstairs, you’ll find old photos of Tex-Mex legends like Felix Tijerina and Leo Reynosa on the walls. We have also collected some artifacts and mementos from their restaurants and some other noteworthy Tex-Mex collector’s items. We’d be happy to talk to you more about Tex-Mex. If you have a Tex-Mex relic you’d like to donate to our collection, please let us know.