Jump to content

Tex-Mex vs. Cal-Mex


Recommended Posts

I am currently reading _Taco USA_ by Gustavo Arellano, a history of Mexican food in America by a terrific young food journalist who grew up in Orange County, south of L.A. And I encourage anyone interested in the subject to read his book.

When I was growing up in L.A. in the fifties and sixties, there probably wasn't a whole lot of difference between the typical Mexican food in California or Texas, available in restaurants that attracted gringos like my parents. We didn't see fajitas in L.A. until the seventies--that was a Texas invention. As was the burrito. But hard-shell tacos, chili con carne, enchiladas (beef, chicken or cheese) with red-brown chile gravy, tamales, chiles rellenos, rice and pinto beans, the grande combo platter blanketed with melted jack cheese was what Mexican food was then. Tex-Mex food, influenced by the proximity to New Mexico, included green chile salsa, carne deshebrada, queso fundido. But the defining characteristic of Tex-Mex food, then and now, is the blanket of melted jack cheese and sour cream.

Cal-Mex food started differentiating itself during the early seventies, when the first La Salsa opened in West L.A.--a young American guy, Howdy Cabruns (?sp), opened a Mexico City-style taqueria, featuring soft tacos and quesadillas made with grilled rather than stewed meats and fresh salsas made with fresh vegetables. La Salsa's burritos were smaller and simpler-- meat, beans and salsa only. The cheese, if any, was Mexican queso fresco, not melted jack. (Baja Fresh is one of many chains that followed the La Salsa model.) Cal-Mex came to include other dishes with fresh ingredients like tostadas with mounds of lettuce; the taco salad; from San Diego came the fish taco, popularized by surfers. Many more traditional Mexican dishes, chilaquiles, tortas, birria, posole, menudo, moles, regional dishes from Veracruz, the Yucatan and Oaxaca have broken out of the ethnic enclaves and are available everywhere. But, in general, Cal-Mex is lighter, fresher than Tex-Mex.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...