Tex-Mex cuisine originated in Texas and combines traditional Mexican dishes with American tastes and ingredients. It has become hugely popular not just in Texas but across the United States. Tex-Mex restaurants can be found in most major cities and towns across the country. There are many delicious Tex-Mex dishes to choose from but here we will look at 3 of the most common and popular Tex-Mex dishes: nachos, fajitas, and queso.
What are nachos?
Nachos are one of the most well-known and beloved Tex-Mex dishes. Nachos consist of tortilla chips covered in melted cheese and various other toppings. Some of the most common nacho toppings are refried beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken.
The origins of nachos can be traced back to the city of Piedras Negras in Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1943, a group of US military wives whose husbands were stationed at Fort Duncan in Eagle Pass were shopping in Piedras Negras. After the stores closed, they went to a restaurant called the Victory Club and asked the maître d’Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya to prepare something for them to eat. Anaya took some tortillas, cut them into triangles, fried them, added shredded cheddar cheese and sliced jalapeños, and heated them under a salamander broiler. The impromptu dish that Anaya created for the women became known as “Nacho’s Especiales” or “Nacho’s Specials”, which was eventually shortened to just “nachos”.
When the women returned to Eagle Pass, they shared the recipe for these new “nachos” with friends. The dish quickly spread in popularity on both sides of the border. By 1954, “nachos” were being served at ballparks in Texas and had also made their way onto menus in restaurants throughout the state. The popularity of nachos then exploded across America over subsequent decades and it became one of the most ubiquitous appetizers and snacks nationwide.
While the original nachos were simple – just tortilla chips and melted cheese – creative chefs and cooks have developed many variations over the years. Some popular ways to enhance basic nachos include:
- Adding spicy beef or shredded chicken
- Using refried or black beans
- Topping with salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc.
- Adding jalapeños, pico de gallo, olives, etc. for extra flavor
- Using different types of tortilla chips or tostones
- Melting cheese blends rather than just cheddar
- Topping with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc. for crunch
So whether you prefer basic nachos with just chips and cheese or loaded nachos piled high with toppings, this versatile Tex-Mex specialty is sure to satisfy any craving. Nachos have become a staple at sporting events, bars, parties, and backyard BBQs for good reason – they are simple, customizable, and delicious!
Nutrition Facts for Nachos
The nutrition facts for nachos can vary significantly depending on the specific ingredients and toppings used. Here are some general estimates for a typical serving of nachos:
As you can see, nachos are generally high in calories, fat (especially saturated fat), and sodium. The protein and fiber content can vary depending on ingredients. Loading up on veggie toppings like beans, tomatoes, and lettuce can help increase the nutritional value of nachos. Overall, nachos make for a tasty indulgence but are best enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
What are fajitas?
Fajitas are another very popular Tex-Mex dish that can be found on menus everywhere from casual Mexican restaurants and taquerias to upscale establishments. Fajitas feature grilled meat wrapped in a warm tortilla along with assorted toppings. They are served sizzling hot in a cast iron skillet at many restaurants for an added visual flair.
The origins of fajitas date back to South and West Texas cattle ranches in the 1930s or 1940s. When butchering cattle, ranchers would often keep the unfashionable cuts of meat from the skirt steak region of the cow for themselves. These chewy but flavorful cuts were typically grilled over an open fire and served in a tortilla by ranch hands. “Faja” is Spanish for belt or girdle, and this dish came to be known as “fajitas” referring to the cut of meat from the cow’s belt region.
The traditional Tex-Mex fajitas consisted of the grilled skirt steak, warmed tortillas, and condiments like guacamole, pico de gallo, and salsa. Fajitas began showing up on Texas restaurant menus in the 1960s and started gaining broad popularity by the 1970s. Creative adaptations also emerged incorporating chicken and various vegetables along with the steak. The signature sizzling fajita presentation was popularized by Ninfa’s restaurant in Houston in the 1970s.
Today, the most common styles of fajitas are:
- Steak fajitas – sliced skirt steak, onions, and bell peppers
- Chicken fajitas – strips of chicken breast with onions and peppers
- Veggie fajitas – a meatless version with sautéed onions, peppers, zucchini, squash, and other vegetables
Regardless of the protein and veggies used, the components of a fajita dish are generally:
- Grilled, sliced steak, chicken or sautéed vegetables
- Onions and bell peppers
- Warm flour or corn tortillas
- Condiments like guacamole, salsa, sour cream, etc.
- Served sizzling hot in a cast iron skillet (at restaurants)
Part of the appeal of fajitas is the interactive communal dining experience. The meat and vegetables arrive at the table piping hot for diners to assemble their own fajitas using the tortillas and condiments. The blend of textures and flavors – the tender meat, the crunchy veggies, the warm tortilla, and creamy guacamole or salsa – is what makes fajitas so craveable. This popular dish can be customized based on each diner’s preferences.
Nutrition Facts for Fajitas
The nutritional value of fajitas varies depending on the specific ingredients used. Here is an estimate for a typical serving of steak fajitas:
Fajitas can be a healthy choice when made using lean beef or chicken, while loading up on sautéed veggies. Going easy on high-fat condiments like cheese, sour cream, and guacamole can help control calories and fat. Fajitas provide a good source of dietary fiber (from the tortillas and veggies), vitamins (from the peppers, tomatoes, onions), and protein. Overall, it’s a satisfying Tex-Mex meal when prepared mindfully.
What is queso?
Queso (Spanish for “cheese”) is a cheesy, creamy dip that is a popular appetizer in Tex-Mex cuisine. Authentic queso is made from chiles, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and of course plenty of melted cheese. It is served with tortilla chips for dipping but can also be used as a topping for tacos, enchiladas, chili, and more.
While cheese and chili pepper-based dips trace back to Mexico’s early street food culture, the specific dish of queso as we know it today has roots in Texas. Restauranteurs from the state played a key role in popularizing queso nationwide. Some accounts credit a concoction called “chile con queso” at a 1920s cafe in San Antonio with perhaps being the earliest version of Tex-Mex queso.
But it was a dish called chili con queso developed by restauranteur A.R. “Butch” Bridges for his Dallas Tex-Mex chain El Chico in the 1940s that many consider the progenitor of queso dip. Bridges’ original chili con queso combined melted cheddar cheese with roasted green chiles. It became a hugely popular menu item at El Chico and was imitated by other Tex-Mex restaurants across the state.
Queso continued gaining popularity over the decades, with brands like Tostitos and Fritos introducing packaged chili cheese dips. Additions like ground beef, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and jalapeños put creative new spins on queso while Velveeta’s smooth, creamy melty texture became a key ingredient in many queso recipes. Chili con queso is now served at Tex-Mex spots nationwide and remains an addicting crowd-pleaser.
Beyond its Tex-Mex origins, queso has also become a fixture of stadium nachos, movie theater concessions, and party snack spreads across America. Some key facts about this cheesy dip:
- Ingredients traditionally include Monterey jack, cheddar, peppers, onions, tomatoes
- Melting techniques give it a smooth, creamy texture
- Spices like cumin, garlic powder, cayenne add flavor
- Garnishes like scallions, olives, and chili provide texture
- Dipped with tortilla chips, used as taco topping, or spread
- Comes in white queso, yellow queso, chile con queso styles
While queso can make for an indulgent, comforting snack, it does come with a heavier calorie cost. A 1/4 cup serving of a typical chili con queso provides around 180 calories, 16 grams fat, 13 grams carbs, and 7 grams protein. As with any rich food, moderation is key! When enjoyed occasionally and alongside veggies, queso offers a delicious cheesy blast of Tex-Mex flavor.
Nutrition Facts for Queso
Here are the nutrition facts for a typical 1/4 cup serving of Tex-Mex queso dip:
As the data indicates, queso is high in fat and sodium so it’s best enjoyed in moderation. The protein comes from the cheese, while the carbs are from added thickeners like flour or cornstarch in most recipes. Overall, queso makes for a delicious occasional indulgence when served with a veggie-filled meal.
Nachos, fajitas, and queso represent three of the most iconic and ubiquitous Tex-Mex dishes. While the origins of these specialties trace back to Northern Mexico and Texas, they have become firmly established across the entire United States thanks to their craveable flavors and textures.
Beyond just being tasty, nachos, fajitas and queso each offer their own unique eating experience. The interactive, build-your-own nature of nachos and fajitas brings a fun, communal feel to these Tex-Mex favorites. And the smooth, creamy decadence of queso is the perfect accompaniment to any Mexican meal.
Of course, it’s important to keep nutritional considerations in mind when indulging in these dishes. Loading up on healthy toppings can help balance nachos’ fat and calories. Choosing lean proteins and veggies boosts fajitas’ value. And eating queso in moderation limits its saturated fat and sodium.
At the end of the day, the popularity of nachos, fajitas, and queso is no mystery. Their signature flavors, textures, and customs have made them enduring favorites. Tex-Mex restaurants nationwide have these specialties on lock, but they can also be easily replicated at home for a flavorful fiesta!