100 Years of Tex Mex Food

The popularity of Mexican cuisine has led to the emergence of several variations of this cuisine in other countries. The Tex-Mex cuisine evolved in Texas-Mexico in Southwest America, and is a modification of traditional cuisine with an unusual American touch to it. One of the best examples of the Tex-Mex cuisine is the 'refried beans', which is a term that has actually been coined in Texas, and is the translation of the Mexican term 'Frijoles refritos'. The Tex-Mex cuisine is however quite different from original Mexican cuisine, even though it might include the same ingredients to a certain extent. Similarly, there also exists a 'New Mexican Cuisine', a type of regional cuisine originating from the state of New Mexico in USA and in southern Colorado, and is a subset of Mexican-American cuisine.
  • 1500

    From chili and nachos to fajitas and enchiladas, Tex-Mex could be called the ultimate comfort food. Native Americans lived in the area that is now Texas for thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived in the early 1500's.
Throughout this complicated history, and in the years since, a number of cultures—and culinary traditions—have been inextricably combined to produce what is known as Tex-Mex cuisine today.
  • 1875

    The term “TexMex” (with no hyphen) originally began as an abbreviation for the Texas and Mexican Railroad, chartered in 1875.
  • 1920

    By the 1920s, some people were using “Tex-Mex” (with hyphen added) to describe people of Mexican descent living in Texas—more accurately called Tejanos—and eventually the label would be applied to the Mexican-style food typical of the region.
Adapted from Tejano home cooking, Tex-Mex cuisine made its way to a larger audience for the first time in San Antonio in the 1880s, largely thanks to the cheap, delicious food dished out by a group of women known as the “chili queens” in the city’s plazas. A steaming bowl of chili con carne—now one of Tex-Mex’s signature dishes.
San Antonio was the birthplace of another Tex-Mex standard: the combo plate. Many Mexican restaurants in Texas began copying the idea of the combination platter, often topped with sour cream and melted cheese, and it became a signature of Tex-Mex cuisine.
  • 1911

    One year after the onset of the Mexican Revolution, Miguel Martínez leaves his beloved town in Mexico and arrives in Dallas
  • 1918

    September 15th, 1918 On the eve of the important Mexican holiday, Diez y Seis, Miguel decides to make his modest café a Mexican restaurant. The name chosen is El Fenix, meaning “The Phoenix”, which appealed to his dearly held philosophy of turning setbacks into assets. And tex-Mex revolution begins
  • 1919

    Miguel Martinez sells a tortilla machine, his own invention, to Herman Lay for $200.00. Miguel thought he had been the winner in that deal but little did he know, Herman Lay would later go on to create Frito-Lay .
  • 1941

    In 1941, Faustina Martinez, wife of Miguel Martinez, became a citizen of the United States. Six years later, in 1947, Miguel followed suit and also became a citizen.
  • 1943

    As the story goes, in 1943 a group of military wives from Eagle Pass in Texas made a short trip over the Rio Grande into Piedras Negras, located in the Mexican state of Coahuila. When they stopped for a cocktail-hour snack at the Victory Club restaurant (or the old El Moderno, depending on your source), they were greeted by a maître d’ named Ignacio Anaya, known to his friends as Nacho.
  • 1950

    In the Mid-1950’s, the famous Enchilada Wednesday Special was born. The dish featured two hand-rolled Enchiladas made with Wisconsin Cheddar, rice & beans – all for only 65 cents, or half-price, staying that price all the way through the 1960’s. The special went away during the 1970’s, but returned in the 1980’s and has been a staple at every El Fenix, every Wednesday, ever since.
As no one was in the kitchen yet, Anaya concocted an impromptu plate of sliced fried corn tortillas topped with melted cheese and jalapeño strips on top. The ladies devoured the result, and spread the word about what became known as “Nacho’s Especial.” Even as the popularity of chili, nachos, enchiladas and fajitas spread to other parts of the United States, these dishes were still considered Mexican food until the early 1970s, when cookbook author Diana Kennedy inadvertently turned Tex-Mex into its own regional cuisine.
  • 1972

    In her 1972 cookbook “Cuisines of Mexico,” the English-born author made a clear distinction between “authentic” Mexican food served in Mexico and the stuff served north of the border.
Having spent decades studying and transcribing the recipes and cooking techniques of her beloved Mexico, Kennedy had no use for the “mixed plates” served in Mexican restaurants north of the border.
Though chefs and fans of Tex-Mex food were insulted by Kennedy’s characterization, it was her work that popularized the term and put Tex-Mex squarely in its own category as an American cuisine, with its own distinctive flavors.