Most Mexican restaurants located north of the border serve Americanized Mexican dishes, or Tex-Mex. How can you tell if your favorite Mexican restaurant actually serves authentic Mexican tacos? These five questions and answers will teach you how:
1. Is your taco shell hard or soft?
If the restaurant serves your taco in a hard corn tortilla shell, it is Tex-Mex. Authentic Mexican tacos are traditionally made with soft corn tortillas. That box of hard pre-formed taco shells you see on the supermarket shelf is actually a Mexican-American hybrid invention that was popularized in the U.S.
2. Does the taco have ground beef?
Authentic Mexican dishes are prepared with shredded or minced meat that can be found locally, including pork, beef, seafood and chicken. In Mexico, tacos are often made with chorizo (minced beef and pork mixture) which looks a lot like ground beef, but is not. Traditional Mexican tacos do not use ground beef.
3. What types of fillings are in the taco?
Americanized tacos are typically stuffed with seasoned ground beef, cheese, shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. In contrast, the traditional fillings for real Mexican tacos are fresh avocados, cilantro, lime juice and onions. You'd be hard pressed to find a taco in Mexico that is served with lettuce.
4. How is the taco topped?
First things first: Tex-Mex tacos are often topped with sour cream, but authentic Mexican tacos are topped with a product called "crema" which is not quite the same thing. Crema has a runnier consistency and a smoother flavor than sour cream. Chile con queso is also another sign that you are eating a Tex-Mex taco because this is not something you'll find in a restaurant in Mexico.
5. What kind of cheese is served in the taco?
In Mexico, you won't see tacos topped with yellow cheese (like cheddar) because this is mainly an American ingredient. Instead, authentic Mexican dishes use only white cheeses, like queso blanco and others. The type of white cheeses offered at restaurants in Mexico depends on local preferences.
In Mexico, restaurants rely heavily on the use of fresh ingredients when preparing traditional tacos, making them healthier and less-processed than most Americanized versions of the taco. That's not to say that Tex-Mex tacos aren't delicious because they certainly are. However, these five questions will steer you in the right direction if you simply want to know whether or not your favorite Mexican restaurant serves authentic tacos.