Mexican Tacos vs. Tex-Mex Tacos: See If You Know the Differences

Is Taco Tuesday your favorite day of the week? It's definitely mine - I could cook and eat tacos every day! I love the versatility of the taco, allowing you to transform everything from Asian to Indian food into a tasty package. There is something to be said for an authentic taco, though, and we're ready to learn all about it thanks to our friends over at

Fusion food aside, there's a huge difference between authentic Mexican tacos and the Tex-Mex tacos most of us have come to know and love. Tacos, quesadillas and burritos may have originated in Mexico, but most of us are more familiar with the Americanized versions at restaurants like Chipotle or Taco Bell. Let's take a peek at the few defining characteristics before we give you the infographic that explains it all.

What an Authentic Taco Looks Like

Serving of tacos with shredded roast pork and cheese filling on brown paper in wooden plate

Getty Images/zoranm

First of all, you need to look at the tortilla. American tacos use flour tortillas or crispy, hard-shelled corn tortillas. You'll find that authentic Mexican tacos use soft corn tortillas as the wrapper.

Next comes the toppings. Tex-Mex tacos are filled with shredded cheese, lettuce, diced tomatoes and sour cream. If you try a street taco in Mexico, chances are it'll only be topped with fresh cilantro leaves and finely chopped onions. Red onions or white onions work, and it might have a bit of cotija cheese or queso fresco as well- soft, fresh cheeses that are staples of Mexican cooking.

Then comes the meat itself. You'll find Mexican tacos filled with flavorful, marinated meat like flank steak or skirt steak. The marinade often contains oregano, ground black pepper, ground cumin, paprika, fresh lime juice, soy sauce, and chilies, but the flavors used to marinate depend on the particular taco recipe. The cooks cube the meat before marinating it, or they leave it whole and cook it over a high heat grill called an Asada. Either grilling, cooking on a griddle, or using a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat are authentically Mexican methods!

Delicious Mexican birria tacos with coriander and onion on top in a white plate held by one hand.

Getty Images/Emmanuel Perez

Some of the most popular Mexican taco meat are carnitas and chorizo.  Carnitas translates literally to "little meats" in Spanish, and it consists of seasoned pork slow cooked in oil or lard, and then fried to perfect golden crispiness. Chorizo is flavorful sausage made from pork and beef, beloved for its strongly seasoned taste. For a vegetarian option, Mexican tacos will often use refried beans.

On the other hand, the American taco recipes enjoyed on Cinco de Mayo or taco Tuesday usually call for taco seasoning from the grocery store (which is mostly chili powder or its alternatives) and involve shredded chicken, pork, or cooked ground beef.

Finally, most Mexican food isn't as spicy as the Tex-Mex counterparts. Americans use salsa as a hot sauce to add spice to the dish. Mexicans use the salsa as a "sauce" that coats the meat. You'll find all kinds of non-spicy salsa in authentic Mexican street tacos, like fresh pico de gallo, avocado salsa, or green tomatillo salsa verde. When Mexicans do want to turn the spice up, they often use poblano or jalapeno peppers. Guacamole is actually a popular topping in both Tex-Mex and Mexican tacos!

Let's Get Authentic

Assortment Of Delicious Authentic Tacos, Birria, Carne Asada, Adobada, Cabeza And Chicharone, Arranged With Lime Slices, Onion, And Roasted Chili Pepper

Getty Images/grandriver

Here's the full breakdown on how to make authentic tacos. I don't know about you, but I'm going to celebrate my newfound knowledge by getting into the kitchen and whipping up a batch of taco al pastor, fish tacos, or carne asada tacos - served with a side of lime wedges and garnish of cilantro, of course! I can't guarantee you that I'll skip the hot sauce (because I love spicy food). But, I will serve it with a side of beans to make up for my lack of authenticity.

Are you craving tacos yet? Just imagine a warm tortilla filled with your favorite toppings.

How to Make Authentic Mexican Tacos

If this newfound information has inspired you to make your own authentic Mexican tacos, it's not as hard as you might think. Start by mixing ingredients for your meat sauce or marinade, which might be a simple blend of spices or a more elaborate sauce for your meat. Then, prepare your meat. You might need to marinate it overnight, or you can go a simpler, faster route and simply season it heavenly or marinate for a few minutes.

Grill, bake, or fry your meat depending on your preferences. Then, warm your tortillas on the grill and keep them in foil to stay soft and warm as you prepare your toppings. Put in the meat, onions, pico de gallo or sauce of choice, crumbly Mexican cheese if you so choose, and guacamole if you like. Add on a dollop or two of hot sauce if you want to add a little kick! Here's a recipe for authentic steak tacos at Better Living.

READ MORE: The Taco Trail: Your Guide to the Best Tacos in Texas