In 2011, there were almost 40,000 Mexican restaurants all across the United States. Trends like “Taco Tuesday” have made Mexican food more popular than ever — and a hunger for authentic Mexican food is making itself evident. Mexican cuisine has a long and rich history — indeed, it’s believed to have derived from what the Mayan Indians created 2,000 years ago — and despite what fast food chains might have you believe, there are some incredible nutritional benefits of authentic Mexican food. There’s also so much to choose from! From the more popular tacos, enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas, to tamales, stews, and salsas, there’s flavor and color bursting in every dish. So how did Mexican food become so popular? How to spot authentic Mexican food? How can you find good Mexican restaurants?
The Popularity of Mexican Food
There are almost 70,000 restaurants in the United States that have a burrito on their menu and one out of every 10 restaurants sells Mexican food. This makes it the most popular kind of international cuisine in our country. It has a 42% share in ethnic food sales and over 70% of households in the United States use Mexican food or ingredients in their cooking. And, interestingly, salsa has become the top condiment across the country, topping ketchup and mayo. Since 2010, tortillas have outsold hot dog buns.
Some of this popularity may be due to larger ethnically Mexican populations in America, who are bringing their cuisine and culture to the melting pot. Since three-quarters of consumers are searching for new flavors in ethnic cooking and two-thirds want bolder flavors or food they haven’t tried yet, Mexican food is a natural choice.
How Can You Find Authentic Mexican Food?
Of course, the obvious answer is to visit Mexico, but failing that, visiting heavily Mexican neighborhoods or regions of the country that have been influenced by their neighbor (such as Texas), can be a great way to taste what authentic Mexican food tastes like.
In almost every big city, there’s sure to be at least a few restaurants that provide old style cooking that represents their country’s flavors. If you host an exchange student or have friends from Mexico — or who lived there for an extended period of time — you might ask them to cook a traditional meal as well!
If you’re really up for a challenge, try your own hand at making a recipe, following the ingredient list and instructions carefully. No substituting! Know the basic differences that set authentic Mexican cuisine apart from Tex-Mex. For example, an authentic tortilla is corn-based, not wheat based. You probably also won’t find much ground beef, cheddar cheese, or wheat flour in authentic Mexican dishes.
Where Can You Find the Best Mexican Restaurants in the United States?
Again, some of the states that border Mexico may have much more authentic cuisine to offer you, given their proximity. There are also plenty of lists in every city that restaurant reviewers, critics, or foodies put together that can help you find authentic Mexican restaurants.
Don’t shy away from smaller, hole-in-the-wall places either — if a menu is all in Spanish, so much the better! Similarly, if you don’t recognize all the dishes on the menu, that’s a good sign. You probably shouldn’t, unless you’ve spent time in Mexico and know exactly what you’re looking for. Savor the experience of dipping into the culinary unknown and let your tastebuds explore.
Many of the smaller restaurants are actually more authentic, cooking from recipes that were passed down in families. Simple is generally better and remember that the level of spice does not equate to the dish’s authenticity.
It’s good to be a little adventurous with your palate. Ditch the fast food chains when it comes to Mexican cuisine and go find what real flavor tastes like. Once you’ve tasted authentic Mexican cooking, you’ll never want to go back.