The Five Most Influential Cities in the Development of Mexican Food in the United States

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Out April 12
SO...my much-promised book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America finally hits the bookstores next month (April 10), and review copies are slowly making their way around the nation's newsrooms. So I might as well start giving out bits and pieces to entice ustedes to preorder the damn thing.

For the next couple of weeks, I'll concoct lists and drop other bits from the book to serve that end. This week? Settling once and for all what city helped define Mexican food in the United States more than any other. Note this isn't a debate about the BEST Mexican city; this is about which burg hosted the most pioneers, inspired the most people, and helped spread the cult of tacos, tamales, margaritas further than anyone.

Unsurprisingly, it's a fight to the death between California and Texas (sorry, Chicago, but as great as your city is, merely hosting an arrogant, second-rate chef isn't enoughl). The list after you-know-what!


5. El Paso
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The pride of El Paso

What? Dirty-ass, border-loving El Paso? Damn straight. Those who have never spent more than a gas station village in the city will never be able to love it, never be able to appreciate its beauty. And although its specific cuisine never ventured past city borders to influence American tastes, two of its companies did: Old El Paso (which was historically based up I-10 in Canutillo, Texas--but who's counting?) and Ashley's, a long-gone brand. Both of them emerged in the 1950s to change how Americans ate Mexican food at home, namely through the manufacturing of taco shells and the ability to make your own taco shells at home.

4. San Francisco
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The burrito that took over America by ripping off San Francisco

SanFran can boast of only three influential contributions to Mexican food in this country, and one of them--Elena Zelayeta, the country's first famous Mexican cook who was, you know Mexican instead of some scheming gabacha--ultimately didn't prove too influential. But its two other contributions--the Mission-style burrito and tamales--profoundly shaped the tastes of Americans. We all know the story of Chipotle and its burritos stolen from the Mission District--but tamales? Yep. They were America' first Mexican-food obsession, all the way back in the 1880s, and San Francisco was the instigator--and you'll have to read the book to discover the true, amazing story of when and how San Francisco tamales ruled America.
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197 comments
vegandawg23
vegandawg23 topcommenter

Albuquerque is what i'd add. 

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia

Instead of Dallas, I would add Brownsville, TX

Jose Garcia
Jose Garcia

San Antonio would be the only influence in Mexican Food but dallas bc of frito lay por favor! No me hagas reier guey y san francisco yes bc of the burrito but LA for taco hell. Sorry taco hell is not mexican food.

Jesus Archuleta
Jesus Archuleta

Ummm I've living here In San Antonio for 3 years and I didn't say it wasn't influential because it is. All I said its not even on the menu. Go to California and youll see it on the menu at every restaurant. Green Chile is New Mexico,West Texas and a Colorado thing from what my friends tell me who are from their. Its great also I don't think I have ever heard anyone call it that but yet again Im not from there so Im not going to say your wrong. I love arguing about food because once we get going we challenge each other to try it. All I said is that when I goto restaurants here and ask for it they think its green salsa. Im glad HEB sells two of my favorite things Tri Tip and Green Chile it may not be the real thing but hey its the closest im going to get here in San Antonio

Kelly Heltsley
Kelly Heltsley

Ahhhh, I learned something today. Now I can enjoy some mexcalito-guilt free.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

Dude....Jim...Jack in the box???? No way...yuccko and fish tacos is so not a Tex Mex thing either.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

Yes, Gustavo is right. Chimichanga is in no way a Tex Mex food. Niether is the borrito. Those things were developed else where for sure.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

San Anto is the real thing... It's Tex Mex and yes the Chili is hot. San Antonio Mexican food is not infulential. San Antonio Chile Verde is not to be confused with green hatch....Please don't put it in the same catagory cause it is no comparison.

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

also, nm chile isn't the hottest, I've had tx habañeros & more, but we're not discussing the "hottest" we're discussing the "most influential"

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

there is hot Hatch chile they just don't sell it at yr store

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

&. . .if it has "enchilada" sauce on it, it's got chiles. . .& Hatch is the capital.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

New Mexico hatch is just that. It's not hot and only know to New Mexican's so that in a nut shell says it all. Let's talk real Chilie...lol..

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

there is hot Hatch Chile they just don't sell it at yr store. . .they're selling "Chili" or "Chilie" ?!!

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

Hatch is strictly a New Mexican Chilie and stands to be only known to New Mexican's for the most part tells you that only New Mexican's love it. Hatch is not even hot. Let's talk real Chilie.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

I learn stuff everyday. What in the world is Sonoran cuisine. Definitley another Cali thing.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

Matthew...a hotdog in any fashion is never Mexican food...lol...and no, I don't eat scrambled eggs and hotdogs together. Hatch Chili is not hot. Hatch Chilie is strictly a New Mexico thing, so Gustavo is spot on. Rick Perry??? Texas is about to turn blue soon and the majority of Texans are waiting to vote for the next Govenor of Texas.

Martha Arciniega Schiller
Martha Arciniega Schiller

Sorry Emma...Never had decent Mexican food in Dallas but then I've only visited North Dallas area - Plano, Frisco and Mc Kinney, TX

Jesus Archuleta
Jesus Archuleta

Mexican Food I think is the one people of all races love to argue of where the best one is located at. One thing for sure here in San Antonio I'm just disappointed que no saben que Chile Verde is!!

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

definitely Hatch instead of Dallas (nothing against the good people there), should be a SF/Tucson double-up since we've picked up the tamale slack (& we've also got the Sonoran hotdog now appearing on a menu near you). . .I bet one of the bigger cities like NYC or CHI could also be in the running for some variation(s) that I'm just not familiar with. . .

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

It's an overwhelming influence; chiles & enchilada sauce are in almost EVery supermarket in the US & EVery Mexican restaurant. You cannot overestimate its impact. Since you put SF on the map for one item (& one which has "fallen out of favor" with the American palate, except here in Tucson AZ ;]) I have to give props to the tiny town in So.NM that is the headquarters of the one ingredient on everyone's lips.

Kelly Heltsley
Kelly Heltsley

Isn't Santonio the birthplace of the chimichanga ?

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

There's kickass, and then there's influential, and I agree with you on the former!

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

Matthew: That's one. What else? And I say this as someone who travels to Hatch every year.

Ask a Mexican
Ask a Mexican

As much as I love the Old Pueblo, how did it influence American cuisine outside Sonoran cuisine?

Joseph Baca
Joseph Baca

Awesome Gustavo. You are always right on the money.

Jesus Archuleta
Jesus Archuleta

Umm bro these cities have kick ass Mexican Food Denver,Albuquerque,Visalia,California my home town just to name a few.

Jesus Archuleta
Jesus Archuleta

Ummm thats Mexican I dont care what Gustavo says but its New Mexico and at one time it was Mexico I so agree with you

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

I understand that New Mexican food isn't Mexican food, but if we're talking about "the Development of Mexican Food in the United States" then I challenge you to go to any "Latin" or "Hispanic" foods aisle or any Mexican restaurant in the U.S., survey their sauce options & tell me that Hatch NM doesn't belong on that list #dropsmic

Veronica Zarate
Veronica Zarate

I was told of this place called Bar Ama that serves puffy tacos in downtown L A. I'm a gonna try 'em and report back

Matthew Conley
Matthew Conley

Only Texas & California huh? Is "Gustavo Arellano" the pen name of "Rick Perry" ?

Jim Ricker
Jim Ricker

Fish tacos, rolled tacos, (and don't forget Jack-in-the-Box tacos) and San Diego has no influence?

Emma Valverde
Emma Valverde

What are the many reasons to hate Dallas? :(

Pia Calderon
Pia Calderon

¡All those "influential cities" are *in* Mexico!

theburningdown
theburningdown

@Kelly Heltsley I think New Mexico claims it. 

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