What's the difference between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex enchiladas?

I was born in Texas. Whenever I reveal that the Lone Star state is my birthplace, I gain instant insider status as a qualified expert in all things Texas, including Tex-Mex.

Sometimes, I reveal the truth. It’s true that I was born in Amarillo. My dad was a Lieutenant in the Air Force and stationed there. But my parents eventually moved to Long Island in New York—when I was six weeks old! So, of course, I know nothing about Tex-Mex. Or Texas, for that matter.

Sometimes, I choose not to disclose the fact that I left Texas when I was an infant. It depends if it works to my advantage or not—like when I was recently sitting in a hotel lobby in NYC and a group of visiting Texans sitting next to me had a delivery of five of the best-looking pizza pies I’d ever seen. The smell of the pizza was a heady mix of garlic and pepperoni, and I couldn’t resist to lean in and proudly announce to this friendly bunch that I, too, was a Texan—and that was one of the tastiest slices I’ve ever had.

Now that I’ve gone full disclosure about my strong Texan heritage here’s what you can expect from a Tex-Mex or an Mexican enchilada. Both are hearty comfort food dishes—to enjoy wherever you’re from.

The Differences

Enchiladas were born in Mexico, dating to the Mayan times with humble beginnings as corn tortillas rolled around small fish. Today, an enchilada is a popular street food in Mexico, considered more of a snack food than a meal.

Tex-Mex is typically Mexican food you get north of the border (of course, there are also many authentic Mexican restaurants located north of the border, but you’ll find way more Tex-Mex). True to its name, Tex-Mex did get its start in Texas and, because Texas is big on beef (it’s big on everything), beef has a leading role in Tex-Mex enchiladas, whereas you’d never or rarely find beef in a Mexican enchilada. Instead of beef, expect queso fresco or white cheese to be folded into a Mexican tortilla (and maybe, just maybe, chicken or pork, depending on the region).

You’ll most likely use a flour tortilla in Tex-Mex enchilada recipe. When it comes to tortillas in Mexico, it’s corn, or maize, all the way. Never flour tortillas in Mexico.

Another big difference—the spice factor. In a Tex-Mex enchilada, cumin is the stud spice. In Mexico, cumin is never or rarely used, but chile peppers and cilantro are common. Order an enchilada in a Tex-Mex restaurant and you’ll get a much less spicy dish than you’d find in Mexico.

Another significant variation: in a word, cheese. A Tex-Mex enchilada will be blanketed with yellow/orange cheese like Cheddar. In Mexico, the cheese is a white cheese like cotija and it is tucked into the tortilla, rather than blanketed across the top of the dish. The Mexican enchilada might have a sprinkle of cheese on top.

The cooking methods also differ. Tex-Mex enchiladas involve rolling or folding the flour tortillas around the filling and then smothering it in a gravy/sauce and cooking. The Mexican enchilada is first dipped in a spicy chile sauce (made from dried chiles and tomatillos), and then fried or grilled in oil slightly. It is then filled.

And, still going with that big theme, you’d expect the Tex-Mex version of the enchilada to be bigger than its Mexican counterpart. And, you’d be right. Tex-Mex enchiladas are bigger.

Tex-Mex enchiladas, like these beef enchiladas from Gimme Some Oven, are favorites for family dinner or a dinner party:

Tex-Mex beef enchiladas

Gimme Some Oven

Get the recipe.

And, when you want to impress, try these more authentic Mexican enchiladas from Mexico in my Kitchen:

Mexican chicken enchiladas

Mexico In My Kitchen

Get the recipe.

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