Burritos are a popular food that originated in Mexico. However, Tex-Mex style burritos have evolved to become quite different from authentic Mexican burritos. The main differences are in the fillings, size, and cooking methods.
Origins of the Burrito
The burrito first emerged in northern Mexico in the 19th century. Wheat flour tortillas wrapped around fillings like machaca (dried meat), beans, potatoes, chiles, and cheeses comprised the original burritos. They were smaller and simpler than modern burritos.
Burritos became popular in America, especially in Texas and California, in the early 20th century. Mexican immigrants took burritos north of the border to areas like Santa Fe, New Mexico. From there, burritos evolved into the Tex-Mex style we know today.
The fillings differ greatly between authentic Mexican burritos and Tex-Mex ones:
- Mexican burritos typically contain machaca, chorizo, beans, rice, vegetables, and queso fresco or other Mexican cheeses.
- Tex-Mex burritos are more likely to have ground beef, rice, beans, lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese like cheddar or Monterey Jack, sour cream, and guacamole.
Tex-Mex burritos have adopted fillings that appeal more to American tastes, like ground beef. Mexican burritos use fillings more authentic to the cuisine of Mexico.
Mexican burritos are usually smaller than Tex-Mex burritos. A typical Mexican burrito contains about 1/3 cup of filling in an 6-8 inch tortilla. Tex-Mex burritos are often 10 inches or larger and packed with over 1 cup of filling.
The smaller Mexican burritos are meant to be eaten by hand. The large Tex-Mex burritos are harder to pick up and may require a fork.
Mexican burritos are soft and pliable, using lightly grilled or steamed tortillas. Tex-Mex burritos often have crispier, sturdier tortillas. The tortillas are fried on a griddle or grill until warm and lightly toasted.
Steaming the tortillas allows them to be soft enough to fold around the looser Mexican-style fillings. Tex-Mex burritos need firmer, crispier tortillas to support heavy fillings and prevent them from falling out.
There are some regional differences in how burritos are made within Mexico and Texas/California:
- Northern Mexico – Smaller wheat flour tortillas, fillings like machaca and potatoes
- Central Mexico – Larger, thicker tortillas, fillings like chorizo, cheese, and cream
- Southern Mexico – Even larger tortillas and more elaborate fillings
- Austin – Bacon, potato, pico de gallo are common fillings
- San Antonio – Puffy taco-style tortillas, bean and cheese burritos
- El Paso – Burritos wrapped in paper, chili con carne burritos
- San Francisco – Mission-style extra large burritos, carne asada, guacamole
- Los Angeles – Carne asada, Mexican-American fusion flavors
- San Diego – California burritos with fries inside, carne asada
Even within the same country, burritos take on regional flare based on local tastes and food cultures.
Mexican Restaurant vs Tex-Mex Restaurant Burritos
Going to an authentic Mexican restaurant versus a Tex-Mex restaurant provides very different burrito experiences. Here’s what you can expect:
Mexican Restaurant Burritos
- Smaller 6-8 inch tortillas
- Fillings like machaca, chorizo, chicken, carnitas (braised pork)
- Oaxaca cheese, queso fresco, Mexican crema
- Pico de gallo, salsa on the side
- Served without rice or beans
Tex-Mex Restaurant Burritos
- 10 inch or larger tortillas
- Ground beef, shredded chicken, steak
- Shredded cheddar or Jack cheese
- Lettuce, tomato, sour cream inside
- Served with Mexican rice and refried beans
As you can see, the focus shifts from authentic Mexican flavors to Americanized ones at a Tex-Mex restaurant. The burritos also become larger meal-sized portions.
There are some nutritional differences between Mexican and Tex-Mex burritos:
The Mexican burritos tend to be lower in calories, fat, and carbs. They have slightly less protein as well. This is mostly due to their smaller size compared to the larger Tex-Mex burritos.
Beyond just ingredients and nutrition, the eating experience differs between Mexican and Tex-Mex burritos:
- Mexican burritos – Meant to be picked up and eaten by hand. More messy but authentic experience.
- Tex-Mex burritos – Often require a fork and knife to cut and eat. Neater to eat but less authentic.
Mexican burritos allow you to experience all the textures and flavors with your hands. Tex-Mex burritos focus more on big portions than authentic Mexican style.
Mexican burritos often cost a dollar or two at small taquerias and street food stalls. At a sit-down Mexican restaurant, they may cost $3-$5.
Tex-Mex burritos are more likely to be around $10 at a full-service Tex-Mex restaurant. Some gourmet ones with lots of fillings can cost $15 or more.
You pay more for the large size and full meal Tex-Mex experience versus the authentic Mexican flavors.
Both Mexican and Tex-Mex burritos have gained popularity over the decades:
- Mexican burritos – Remain very popular street food in Mexico and the Southwest US. Celebrated for authentic flavors.
- Tex-Mex burritos – Have exploded in popularity across the US. Especially popularized by chains like Chipotle, Qdoba, Freebirds.
Mexican burritos retain devoted fans who seek an authentic experience. But Tex-Mex burritos have become more widely popular across America thanks to mass franchising.
Freezing and Reheating
Burritos freeze well for reheating later:
- Let burritos cool completely before freezing
- Wrap each burrito tightly in plastic wrap then foil
- Freeze for up to 3 months
- Reheat frozen burritos still wrapped in microwave or oven
- Let sit for a few minutes before unwrapping to finish steaming
Both Mexican and Tex-Mex burritos can be frozen and reheated. Just be careful of any fillings with cream or guacamole separating.
While both Mexican and Tex-Mex burritos are wrapped, tortilla-based dishes, they have evolved to become very different. Authentic Mexican burritos focus on traditional south of the border flavors and ingredients. Tex-Mex burritos cater more to American palates with beef, cheese, lettuce and other fillings. Mexican burritos are smaller, simpler, and meant to be eaten by hand. Tex-Mex burritos are huge meal-sized affairs perfect for forks. Both have their devotees, but Tex-Mex burritos have certainly become more ubiquitous across America through mass franchising. Their similarities are only surface deep – fillings, size, and overall experience clearly distinguish these iconic wrapped treats.