A Guide to Tex Mex Food in Austin, Texas
Updated: Jun 12, 2022
A Guide to Tex Mex Food in Austin, Texas by a Mexican chef who has lived in Austin for over 30 years
Austin is home to many global cuisines, but Tex-Mex takes the crown as the local favorite. This city's "keep it weird" slogan honored the creative and delicious food that comes from this genre of cooking—Texans love their burritos as much or more than anyone else!
What is Tex-Mex food anyway?
Tex-Mex cuisine (from the words Texan and Mexican) is an American cuisine that derives from the culinary creations of the Tejano people of Texas. Some food historians believe that Tex Mex cuisine was invented in the late 19th century by Mexican Americans who were living in Texas. Others believe that it is a more recent invention, dating back to the mid-20th century.
Regardless of its exact origins, Tex Mex food is now enjoyed by people all over the world. Its signature dishes include enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas, which are all typically made with wheat tortillas instead of corn tortillas. Typically, when you say Mexican food, you are referring to the cuisine of an entire country from different regions. However, when you say authentic Mexican food, you just want cuisines that use only Mexican ingredients. On the other hand, Tex-Mex is a type of Mexican food with a narrower set of base ingredients.
Common ingredients in Tex Mex dishes include cheese, beans, rice, and meat (usually beef or chicken). While Tex Mex food is often spicy, it is not always hot. In fact, many Tex Mex dishes are relatively mild, making them perfect for those who don’t like their food too spicy.
So what's the difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican Food?
The most notable difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican food is in the ingredients used. Tex-Mex cuisine is known for its use of cumin, chili powder, and processed cheese, while Mexican food relies more on fresh ingredients like tomatoes, avocados, and white onions.
By definition, authentic Mexican food means that the dish has been prepared using ingredients and cooking styles that are traditional to Mexico. Tex-Mex food, on the other hand, is a fusion of Mexican and American cultures, blending the best of both worlds.
Can Tex-Mex food be considered authentic?
Tex-Mex food is not authentic. However, you can find restaurants in Austin that use authentic Mexican ingredients in their cuisine. Here's a list of authentic Mexican ingredients that you can find in some Tex-Mex restaurants:
Tex-Mex Food List:
Beans: black, pinto, or refried, prepared daily.
Chiles: prepared from scratch, homemade, following the traditional Mexican process
Tortillas: corn or flour tortillas, prepared from scratch
Salsa: made with fresh ingredients, homemade, from scratch
Cheese: cotija, queso fresco, grated instantly, for each dish
In Austin, you can go to a Tex-Mex restaurant and still taste some delicious Mexican dishes, prepared by an experienced chef who uses fresh ingredients and follows traditional Mexican recipes.
When you're eating at a Tex-Mex restaurant that prepares their food using authentic and fresh ingredients, you'll notice a difference in the flavor. However, expect to wait a bit longer, because they will prepare your dish, most likely, from scratch.
What is the most authentic Mexican dish?
Chilaquiles is a dish made of fried tortillas that are cut into strips and then simmered in a sauce made of green or red salsa. They are often served with eggs, meat, and cheese.
For those who don’t know what are chilaquiles, think about it as Mexican-style lasagna, but, instead of pasta, you’ll use corn tortilla. Chilaquiles are served layered, starting with fried tortillas, cut in a triangle shape, smothered in fresh-made salsa, followed by cheese, and any toppings you want to add. On the side, you'll find refried beans and in some cases, additional toppings such as eggs, chicken, brisket, pastor-style beef, and plant-based options as well.
Chilaquiles are a popular Mexican dish that mixes different styles of cooking to create something new. The Tex-Mex version brings this tradition together with some Austinian flavor! You can get these at Los Chilakillers for an authentic experience you won't regret trying out - I promise your mouth will thank us later (and maybe even ask what kind they were).
"Every day, when I prepare my refried beans, I think about my grandmother from San Luis Potosí. I'm glad that I'm able to keep their tradition alive, even from the distance." - Mina Ibañez, known as The Sexy Chef Mina.
Los Chilakillers coined 10 styles. The “lasagna” is built using the same steps for all of them. The only thing you’ll change is the salsa. And that’s why people wait in lines to get these amazing chilaquiles.
The Longhorn comes at the top of the list, because, for this one, our chef coined 5 levels of spiciness.
🌶Level 1 is mild. No spicy at all.
🌶🌶Level 2 has a kick.
🌶🌶🌶Level 3 is considered medium.
🌶🌶🌶🌶Level 4 is hot.
🌶🌶🌶🌶🌶Level 5 is crazy hot.
If you’re familiar with chilaquiles, be prepared for a gourmet-style experience. Los Chilakillers goes above and beyond the traditional red and green sauce. Their cooking 🍳style comes from San Luis Potosí, MX.
Best Chilaquiles in Austin, Texas: Los Chilakillers
Los Chilakillers take pride in bringing nothing but fresh chilaquiles. Chef Mina, known as The Sexy Chef Mina has brought her cooking experience to Austin, Texas and has been serving the best chilaquiles in town for over 30 years. Chilaquiles have been her family's traditional breakfast food, so it only seemed natural to bring the delicious dish from home to Texas. She uses a homemade habanero sauce that takes a very delicate process to make, giving a unique taste experience beyond what you'd expect in a chilaquiles dish. The dish is simple yet effective, and The Sexy Chef Mina's take on it will have you hooked from the first bite. So if you're ever in Austin, be sure to stop by Los Chilakillers and get your fill of the best chilaquiles around.
Los Chilakillers Reviews from the Yelp Community
Since you’re considering visiting Los Chilakillers, here are some popular Yelp reviews:
“When you walk into a very small dining area where the open kitchen takes up the majority of the place... you KNOW it's gonna be good! This place did not disappoint! Mags site you cube in with an appetite and ready to eat, I guarantee you will not leave hungry. The only thing I would tell you to beware of is the heat in the food.. if you're not a habanero & jalapeño type of heart person... stay on the very mild side of the menu.”
Keep Austin Weird Goes Mexican for Mexicans!
The Austin Restaurant Scene - and its Mirror Image Yelp -
Pigeonhole two distinct restaurant archetypes.
One - Call it "Keep Austin Weird" are very cool trendy places.
Populated by Anglo Yuppies with a lot of outstanding creative types both in the dining room and the kitchen.
The New East Side is full of these places.
The Second - Call it "Real Deal Salt of the Earth Mexican".
These places can be Tex-Mex but are more often Interior Mexican with some Tex-Mex.
The customers are Working Class Mexicans - generally immigrants or first-generation native born.
They have high standards in Mexican food - even if the food doesn't cost much and is prepared in a truck.
Southeast Austin is full of these places - and there is a huge concentration on Route 812.
* * *
Los Chilakillers is the perfect fusion of these two types.
It is a Mexican Mexican restaurant.
90% of the customers are Mexican-Central American.
The staff and the customers speak Spanish to each other.
Nearly 100% of those Mexicans are younger than 35, highly educated, professional-technical and completely globalized.
Think programmers at Dell, or graduate students in communication at UT.
They are totally Austin-cool.
The music on the sound system is American pop and rock played at blasting volumes.
I could hear "Bad Romance" from Lady Gaga five doors away in the parking lot.
* * *
How is the food?
Awesome beyond amazing.
The house specialty is chilaquiles.
Other stuff might be good. (They do a fine job on refried beans.)
But you are here for the chilaquiles.
The cook is an Mexican-origin Austin-lady wacko creative cook.
These are not your grandmother's chilaquiles recipes.
There are ten different sauces - each one developed by the mad genius in the kitchen.
The sauces are pure amazingness.
You are there to eat tortilla chips baked and steeped in those amazing sauces.
* * *
A few side notes:
a) In the department of Austin cool, the vegetarian ingredients and plant based ingredients are listed first in their long list of add-ons.
How often do you see THAT in a Mexican restaurant?
b) Samuel C's culinary advice.
The house is eager to sell you "add-ons" for your chilaquiles . The menu has a list of no fewer than 30 items that you can have dumped on top of your chilaquiles.
Think long and hard before you order an add-on.
Those sauces are pretty damm perfect coming out of the kitchen.
The add-ons just can't compete.
c) The cook has a glamour photo of herself at age 28 next to the cash register.
How many Austin chefs do you know who post "hot model" photos of themselves in their restaurant?
* * *
I love the ambience.
I love the crowd.
But I love the experience.
But, restaurants - and Yelp - are all about the food.
The chilaquiles are absolutely positively amazing.
Just go five minutes after you read this review.
Just when I had given up hope on finding good chilaquiles in Austin, I found Los Chilakillers. I feel I need to preface this review with filling you in on my love for Chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are my heart space and the Holiest of breakfast foods. As a Peruana, I'm only sad that my people didn't come up with them sooner. Chilaquiles Is a way of life for me and my friends, a weekend staple where we would meet over a plate, catch up on life, and share the joy of this perfect dish. In some ways, I will go as far as saying it has been the glue holding my group of friends together when life got busy and we didn't find time to meet unless it was for some magical Chilaquiles.
So, with that knowledge and growing up in San Antonio, I knew I'd be sacrificing the unmatched family owned Mexican restaurants when moving to Austin...until last Sunday.
When my friends and I arrived a few hours after opening, there was already a few people waiting outside to be seated. The place is small, about 7 four top tables, but our 45 min wait was beyond worth it.
From entering, I immediately felt like I was back at home in San Antone. I was greeted in Spanish, which warmed my heart, and was added to the wait list. For those who are not Spanish speakers, please don't be intimidated by this, this place welcomes all gringo patrons and everyone speaks fluent English.
After we were seated, we were greeted quickly and asked if we wanted appetizers, again in Spanish, and opted for some Agua Fresca and Horchata. The Horchata was a little sweeter and under spiced for my taste, but the Jamaica agua fresca was refreshing and hit just right. I also noticed that they were nearly out of the Jamaica which leads me to believe it's popular.
I wouldn't recommend ordering apps unless you have a REALLY large appetite or you plan on splitting a chilaquiles plate because the servings are HUGE and quite dense with melty cheese.
Me and two friends ordered the chilaquiles plate with the Longhorn sauce, spice level 2, an over easy egg and soyrizo, and our fourth companion ordered the chilaquiles with mole at spice level 3, over easy egg, and carnita meat. We were conservative with the spice level because a friend of ours who is Vietnamese and a friend to chilis, ordered the max heat the last time she was there and said it was too hot for her. If something is beyond An, it's beyond all magical spice resistant humans so we stuck with 2s and 3s. That said, because the Longhorn sauce has some habanero peppers in it, a level two in the longhorn is equal to a level three in the mole, and both could have been more spicy for our taste.
I have zero complaints about the longhorn chilaquiles, mostly because I was embracing the nostalgia they inspired of my favorite hidden gems in San Antonio. The chips had the perfect balance of crispy softness, the beans balanced the sauce and cheesy flavors without taking any attention from everything else that was happening on my plate, the eggs were just the right amount of drizzly yoke that an over easy egg demands, and the sauce was a heavenly union of peppers and creamy goodness.
The mole was just as impressive. I must admit that I'm very picky when it comes to mole as it's very easy to mess it up; most places either make it too sweet or unbalanced and dull. NOT Chilakillers. I would bathe in that mole it was so perfect. My only complaint is that I don't have two stomachs to make the experience last longer. The carnita meat was not anything memorable on its own, but paired with that sauce it was like they were made for each other. All this said, mole is a commitment. You gotta be sure you want that much of it, so if you're unsure, I recommend going with a friend and splitting two plates, one with a lighter sauce like the longhorn or salsa verde, and one with the mole. You'll still have leftovers so don't worry about not getting enough of one of them.
The place will most likely be packed when you get there so be ready for a wait, but also be thrilled that you are about to embark on the best chilaquiles Austin has to offer. The staff is warm and inviting despite how busy the place is, and anyway, you'll be too busy thinking of who you'll bring there next (or lost in a chilaquiles coma) to care at how noisy the tables around you are. In truth, the noise only adds to the ambiance, so enjoy it and focus your attention on the food rather than serious conversation.
Los Chilakillers gave me the one thing I always felt was missing in this town and I'm grateful. Can't wait to show all my Austin Born friends the chilaquiles they've been missing.
Chilaquiles with "Longhorns" sauce at a level 2 spice with over easy eggs and soyrizo.
Got a question about Los Chilakillers? Ask the Yelp community here.