…is Tex-Mex, and undeniably so. Having grown up in San Antonio, I have been an avid consumer since birth, and as such feel qualified comment upon the various subsets of the genre:
This is not that place in downtown Philly that my friend thought was tex-mex when he was growing up because they had menu items with too many l’s in a row and a very thin bowl of ketchup on the table. It is not, for that matter, anywhere north of Dallas or east of Beaumont; there is usually (though not always) a tortilla lady making tortillas thicker than 1 mm, and your chips do not – do not – break under the considerable weight of your spice-laden guac. El Real is the best new example I can think of in Houston. Puffy tacos! Recipes that taste like the Rio Grande Valley, which in my imagination exclusively produces food from the 1970s! Also, an orange building – all the best capital-t-capital-m Tex Mex places are orange, as a rule.
It’s 1 a.m. and you’re really not sure if the room is blurry or is that just how that wall looks or is it you? and the TV is on, maybe, because there are only four other people here and it would be too quiet otherwise, and you’re trying to figure out the plot but all you see are girls and businessmen gesticulating a whole lot in an exclusively Mexican language of hand-motion. You figure out how to read again when handed a menu, and then figure out that the first two pages of the menu are filled with margaritas and obscure tequilas, and then decide to order whatever the fuck a “chimichanga” is. You see cracks in the windows, realize you’re eating on a plastic table, hear the stiff drone of a portable air-conditioning unit, and begin to wonder about how your car is doing in the gravel lot out back. Behind the back entrance. Which was covered with a tarp. And then there’s a flutter, and thirty people storm in! Bars have closed, but this place is still open, and every single person here is drunk and in desperate, desperate need of greasy food from a waiter who may or may not speak a language that they also speak. And then your food arrives! It’s a burrito the size of a baby dipped and oil and fried to hell and back! You tip gallantly, and do not return until very, very early the next Saturday morning.
I will defend Chapultapec’s performance in this category slightly over Ruchi’s until my dying day. Tapatia? Don’t even touch it.
Food truck? Maybe. Attempt at Korean fusion? Also that. Crumbled and spiced soy protein as a ground beef substitute? Definitely.
Tex-Mex by Analogy
When eating Ethiopian food, there is a fantastical lack of silverware: you pick up various chucks of meat and vegetables and things using a thin sheet of vaguely sourdough-esque bread. Savory filling wrapped in bread = taco, and this analogy can be extended indefinitely. Does your kolache have egg and sausage inside? It’s a breakfast taco. Russian pirozhki: bread wrapped around stuff? Taaaaacoooo. In this sense, every culture – every single one, except maybe some places in Asia? – is obsessed with tex-mex, and it’s great.
Not Tex-Mex, or Sketch-Mex, or Honestly Anything Worthwhile
Also New-Mex, because damned if I’m going to call a taco a burrito.