8 'Mexican' Dishes No One Eats in Mexico

Mexican dishes not found in Mexico

Cheapism / vaaseenaa / iStock / from_my_point_of_view/istockphoto / ahirao_photo/istockphoto

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
margouillatphotos / iStock

As Mexican as Spaghetti and Meatballs

As of 2023, there were 47,144 Mexican restaurant businesses in the U.S., meaning that 1 in 10 restaurants serve Mexican cuisine. The emphasis here is on Mexican cuisine, as everything north of the Rio Grande is so Americanized that it's basically Tex-Mex. These foods, although inspired by Mexican food culture, are all but impossible to find south of the border — at least in the way they're served in America. Don't spit out your margarita in shock: Here are eight 'Mexican' foods that you'd be hard-pressed to find in Mexico.

Fajitas de Pollo Chicken marinated Tortillas with Onions and Peppers

1. Fajitas

While the concept of cooking meat on a grill is very much Mexican, the specific concoction of sizzling beef or chicken strips served with peppers, onions, and tortillas was brought to Texas during the 1970s. "Fajita" means "little strip," and while it takes inspiration from Mexican ingredients, it is served in a way that would be quite unfamiliar to most people living in Mexico. 

The biggest giveaway that fajitas aren't entirely authentic is that they are usually served with white flour tortillas instead of the corn tortillas more typical of Mexican cuisine. The dish combines strips of grilled meat with onions and bell peppers, all sizzled up and served hot.

burrito plate

2. Burritos

If you ask for a burrito in Mexico, you might end up with a small donkey, because 'burrito' literally means 'little donkey.' In the U.S., though, you'll get a concoction wrapped in a wheat flour tortilla, about the size of a newborn baby. 

Burritos are as American as apple pie (which, by the way, originated in Germany). Stretched to a tortilla’s limits, the burrito comes stuffed with beef, rice, vegetables, beans, cheese, sour cream, and nowadays, just about everything you can imagine. In Mexico, you're more likely to find a taco than a burrito, though northern Mexico has been known to serve smaller versions of burritos.

Taco Salad
bhofack2/ iStock

3. Taco Salads

Despite its name, this dish isn't something you'd typically find in a Mexican cocina. Instead, the taco salad is an American invention created around the 1960s when the Tex-Mex culinary wave was riding high. This salad takes liberties with the concept of a taco, using a crispy fried tortilla bowl as its base — a creation you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere in Mexico. Inside its crunchy exterior, you'll typically find a mix of lettuce, seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, tomatoes, and perhaps a dollop of sour cream and guacamole. It's basically a deconstructed taco pretending to be healthy by posing as a salad. 

If you're on the hunt for something lighter and more traditionally Mexican, you might opt for a "tostada," which also uses a crispy tortilla but is usually topped more modestly with refried beans, fresh cheese, lettuce, and diced tomatoes, maintaining a balance of flavors that's true to its roots.

For more food history and trivia, please sign up for our free newsletters.

vaaseenaa / iStock

4. Nachos

If you say, "I love Mexican food," and then mention "nachos" in the same breath, you might just hear a collective sigh south of the Rio Grande. In all fairness, nachos were indeed invented in Mexico, but their creation was strongly influenced by the tastes of American customers. 

The story goes that in 1943, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya, a maître d' at a restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico, near the Texas border, whipped up the first plate of nachos when a group of American military wives wandered into his restaurant after a shopping trip. With the kitchen already closed, Anaya ingeniously grabbed what was available — fried tortilla chips, shredded cheese, and pickled jalapeños — and quickly put them together. He broiled the concoction just long enough to melt the cheese, creating a snack that was an instant hit. Today's nachos are heaped with everything from ground beef and pulled pork to sour cream and guacamole. 

Related: 25 Best Old-School Mexican Restaurants Across America

close-up of hot chili con carne

5. Chili Con Carne

Chili con carne is another dish popular in American cuisine with roots that stretch back to the American Southwest and Mexican traditions. However, it's not traditionally Mexican in the sense most might think. The dish as we know it today — a hearty stew containing ground or chopped meat, chili peppers, tomatoes, beans, and a blend of spices — is largely an American innovation that evolved from Mexican-inspired ingredients. 

Its origin is a bit of a mixed bag with multiple stories and claims. Some say it originated with immigrants from the Canary Islands who settled in San Antonio, Texas, in the early 18th century. Others argue it was created by cowboys and pioneers on the trail. Nevertheless, chili became a staple for those looking for a robust and filling meal that could be cooked in a single pot over an open flame. In traditional Mexican cuisine, there are dishes that resemble chili con carne, like "carne con chile," which typically involves pieces of meat cooked in a red chili sauce.

Related: Beans or Bust: 7 Reasons Why All Chili Should Have Beans

hard shell taco on wooden cutting board

6. Hard Taco Shells

In Mexico, tacos are typically served in soft corn tortillas, lightly heated until they are just pliable enough to wrap around the filling. These fillings are varied and can include everything from grilled meats and seafood to fresh vegetables and spicy salsas. The invention of the hard taco shell is attributed to Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell (although there are many restaurants in Texas that disagree with this claim), who saw an opportunity to create a pre-formed, crunchy shell that wouldn't fall apart as easily as its soft counterpart. 

Spicy Homemade Cheesey Queso Dip

7. Queso

"Queso" means cheese in Spanish, but is the creamy queso dip commonly found in Tex-Mex restaurants authentically Mexican? Creo que no. As a matter of fact, it often doesn't include real cheese at all. The creamy, smooth queso dip we're familiar with in the U.S. typically starts with processed cheeses like Velveeta or American cheese, which melt into a silky texture that's hard to achieve with traditional Mexican cheeses. 

Traditional Mexican cuisine does feature a variety of delicious, melty cheese dishes, such as queso fundido, a dish similar to cheese fondue that's often served with a side of tortillas for dipping. Queso fundido is typically made with real cheeses such as Oaxaca, Chihuahua, or Manchego, and it can be flavored with chorizo, mushrooms, or poblano peppers — none of that neon cheese product in sight.

Mexican Chimichanga Burrito

8. Chimichangas

Basically a deep-fried burrito, the chimichanga is said to have been accidentally invented when a burrito  fell into a deep fryer in Arizona back in 1922. In Mexico, you might find something slightly similar called a "flauta," but it’s much thinner and lighter than its bulky American cousin.