From chili to the combo plate, fajitas to tacos al carbón, the frozen margarita machine to nachos, Texas has long dominated the national conversation on Mexican food in this country. But that's now irretrievably changed, as California and our onslaught of regional Mexican, Korean tacos, Mission burritos (via Chipotle) and other troops have overtaken Tex-Mex and left it eating Pecos dust (read the full argument–of course–in my Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America).
That's not to say Tex-Mex is completely dead. The state can still be strip-mined for its many regional specialties that have yet to penetrate the American market. Having just returned from the heart of Texas, Austin and San Antonio, I was reminded of their jewels but also of how few people outside the state have tasted them, let alone know about them. Behold five of them. And Texans: I know there are many more I didn't mention, from barbacoa to carne deshebrada (or guisada), but we can't all be like ustedes, you know?
The rest of the country might think migas are chilaquiles,
as both are based on tortillas, eggs, and salsa–but migas are to
chilaquiles as the Washington Wizards are to professional basketball.
Chilaquiles are spartan–fried tortilla strips, salsa, and a side of
beans and rice, with eggs usually thrown in. Migas are Baroque–that
same structure, but the tortilla strips sometimes sauteed, sometimes
grilled, sometimes pulverized, and always mixed and a harvest of peppers, onions, and tomatoes mixed into the
egg. And the cheese–oh, lordy, the cheese. AND the queso.
4. El Paso-Style Burritos
I just discovered these last month, at a stand in El Paso strangely called The Real Burrit-O. While Chico's Tacos are necessary food for anyone who passes through El Paso, these are more exportable, as you don't have to explain to the country what a burrito is, as opposed to rolled tacos covered in cheese, drowned in tomato salsa. El Paso burritos are really Juarez burritos, which are beautiful, spartan things: not too big, stuffed not with beans and rice and a grilled meat but usually any number of guisados (or, turkey tail tinted crimson–fatty and brilliant). Another big reason why they're so delicious is because Texas features…
3. Edible Flour Tortillas
There's some guy who always asks why we don't review flour tortillas in
our Tortilla Tuesday column, and the answer is simple: California's
flour tortillas are uniformly vile, cardboard imposters that are victims to the GRUMA cartel. That's
not the case in Texas, where flour and corn are equals on the Mexican
breakfast table, with the flour versions upstaging their corn cousins in
artistry: as small as the palm of your hand, or as long as a forearm;
buttery, crispy, thin, thick, all of it. Unfortunately, the United
States has sided with California for its flour tortillas (with the
exceptions of Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado) instead of
Texas on this one.
2. Puffy Tacos
This is Tex-Mex personified, at its most
excessive and wonderful: crunchy and greasy and cheesy and gargantuan.
They're like eating into a fried cloud, with a torrent of juices coming
from the oil and carne guisada that traditionally comes with it. We
Californians are lucky–the first family of the puffy taco, the Lopezes
(the people behind the legendary rivals Henry's Puffy Taco and Ray's
Drive-In–don't ask why they're at war), have a branch at Arturo Puffy Taco in Whittier.
But the rest of the country must suffer, with only the occasional expat
or usurper placing them on their menus, to the roar of the Texans and
the bewilderment of everyone else.
1. Breakfast Tacos
exemplifies better the unreachable divide between Texas and California
more than what we eat for breakfast: tacos, or burritos. Californians:
those crazy Texans enjoy their Mexican breakfast best with tacos. Made from flour tortillas. And they're small. And they're wonderful. Texans: us crazy Californians enjoy our Mexican breakfast best with burritos. Made from flour tortillas that are huge. And they're wonderful.
But whenever I tell my Tejano friends about breakfast burritos, they
laugh. Loudly. And when I tell my Cali friends about breakfast tacos,
they laugh. Loudly. We can learn from each other, folks–hell, the both of us
shared college-baseball coaching legend Augie Garrido.