August 11, 1963: 'Tex-Mex' Makes Its Newspaper Debut

Rachel Tepper Paley
August 11, 2014


Photo credit: Yahoo Food/Instagram

"In the Mexican border district a dish of chili knows no season," wrote legendary New York Times critic Craig Claiborne on this day in 1963.

Those are some elegant words for a bowl of chili, but apparently Claiborne had been impressed by a dinner party hosted by Mrs. Margaret Field of Eagle Pass and Uvalde, Texas. Mrs. Field, wrote Claiborne, “frown[ed] on the ground meat-and tomato sauce variety of chili,” and instead served a spicy rendition using cubed meat, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic. Her famous “Texas or Tex-Mex chili,” Claiborne wrote, was the ”star of the evening.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the article marked the first time the word “Tex-Mex” ever appeared in print, but in the intervening decades the cuisine has proved itself more than just a passing fancy.

Today, Tex-Mex is part of America’s collective culinary consciousness. For a long time, many Mexican restaurants in the United States only served Tex-Mex, amazingly enough. Just consider the abundance of Tex-Mex-inspired chains on the national scene: ChipotleQdoba Mexican GrillBaja Fresh, and California Tortilla, to name a few. 

Many food writers protest that Tex-Mex is a cuisine unto itself. The “north-of-Mexico approach” to cooking, as we learned from chef Rene Ortiz, not only melds Mexican and American cuisines, it also features uniquely “cheesier, chili-er, and meatier" foods such as enchiladas, quesadillas, puffy tacos, and more. Queso, too, is a major player in that cuisine.

Hats off, Craig Claiborne, for knowing Tex-Mex was something special way back when. We’ll eat a queso-slathered taco tonight in your honor.