Noted Texas food writer Robb Walsh dates Tex-Mex’s history to the 1700s, when the Spanish were settling their missions across the land. The polarization of the food’s so-called “authenticity” calls to mind a famous line about Mexican-Americans from James Edward Olmos in the movie Selena: “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It's exhausting!”
Tex-Mex’s roots are deeply embedded in Dallas with the families that created El Fenix and El Chico. They were pioneers in transforming the cuisine into a household name by making it more accessible to the masses with chain locations.
Those frozen margaritas you like drinking on a patio in the summer? Yup, born right here in Dallas at Mariano Martinez's restaurant.
Everyone loves going to a favorite joint, getting a quick plate of enchiladas and beans smothered in cheese, and washing it down with a frozen margarita. That’s Dallas. While San Antonio and Austin argue amongst themselves, DFW only trails behind the Rio Grande Valley, the place where Tex-Mex was forged into what we see today.
The simplicity of going to a place like Taco Cabana and getting drive-thru Tex-Mex has sterilized the experience of being served something special that was meant to represent the food of someone’s ancestors. Luckily, there are still great places to find Tex-Mex in DFW, places where you probably won’t be served a meal less than three minutes after ordering.
5100 Belt Line Road
The Urtecho brothers, Mario and Ivan, have taken Tex-Mex to a high altitude with their restaurant, La Comida. They honed their craft and tested their recipes while working at several Tex-Mex spots around DFW until they were able to open their own place. They’ve got your standard enchiladas, fajitas and nachos, but go for the arrachera steak plate. It doesn’t get more Tex-Mex than a high-quality skirt steak topped with melted cheese, poblano strips and mushrooms.
4714 Maple Ave.
Since opening in the '80s, Avila’s has been a go-to spot for folks from Dallas. Its central location in Oak Lawn and Uptown makes it an easily accessible place to grab some of the best Tex-Mex in the city. Avila’s does it all, but its menu boasts eight kinds of enchiladas, nine if you count the build-your-own option. Go for the enchilada plate that comes topped with mole and stuffed with chicken.
1901 N. Haskell Ave.
For the past few years, E Bar has been creeping up the list of best Tex-Mex spots in Dallas. Owner Eddie Cervantes has more than 20 years experience cooking the flavors and traditions of Tex-Mex. (The restaurant Best Tex-Mex in last year's Best of Dallas Awards.) If you’re looking for something different, give the brisket flautas a go. They’re served with queso fresco, sour cream and guacamole.
2408 W. Abram St., Arlington
If you’re willing to make the drive to Arlington, check out El Gabacho. Yes, it’s called the white guy — and it’s tasty. This is the spot in DFW to get yourself a puff taco, a hybrid of a puffy taco and a gordita. The house special plate, named after the restaurant, includes two cheese enchiladas, a puff taco and a tostada with chile con queso on top.
10455 N. Central Expy.
While a relative newcomer to the game, Gabriela y Sofia’s is already making a name for itself in Dallas Tex-Mex. Starting off with a plate of the hongos con queso is probably a good idea. It’s melted Monterey Jack cheese topped with sauteed mushrooms, poblano peppers and onions, served with flour tortillas to make little tacos. Follow it up with an order of rib-eye fajitas — it’s the kind of ranch-style food this cuisine was built on.
404 N.W. 25th St., Fort Worth
If you’re out in Fort Worth looking for somewhere that screams Tex-Mex, bypass the long lines waiting for lackluster food at Joe T. Garcia's and check out Dos Molinas. Here you’ll find a hearty plate of carne guisada with rice and beans. It’s pieces of cubed beef stewed in the house red chile sauce, and it's amazingly traditional. If you’re thirsty, try out one of the Jarrita 'ritas, a frozen margarita and that gets an added dose of flavor from an upside-down bottle of Jarritos soda. Combining the Texas-born frozen margarita with classic Mexican sodas is what this state is all about.