Traditional recipes

What’s America’s Best Tex-Mex Chain? You Tell Us!

What’s America’s Best Tex-Mex Chain? You Tell Us!

Take the survey and see who wins!

Chipotle is a favorite, but will it come out on top?

From tacos to burritos, quesadillas, and the whole enchilada (pun intended), Tex-Mex food is sizzling up a storm all across America. So tell us: which restaurant is the best?

Take the Best Tex-Mex Survey!

We’ve assembled a list of about 50 Tex-Mex chain restaurants across the U.S., from big names like Taco Bell and Chili’s to smaller chains like California-based Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.

So what appeals to you in Tex-Mex food? Perhaps the portions might be larger. After all, when they say everything is bigger in Texas, that includes Tex-Mex, right? Or maybe the rice is perfectly seasoned, and the beans have more flavor. Maybe you are partial to burritos instead of tacos, or feel adventurous to try something off the beaten path like mole Poblano. Or maybe one place isn’t afraid to go extra-spicy.

Whatever the case, there is always a good reason to eat Tex-Mex.

While you can vote for up to 25 chains, please be selective: only vote for ones that you believe excel in ingredient quality, service, selection, and overall experience. The chains are divided into five groups, alphabetically; you can vote for up to five chains in each group.

Fill out this survey by midnight on December 9th, and leave a comment below telling us what you look for in a Tex-Mex restaurant!


A Guide to American Taco Styles

Everyone's abuelita prepares “real” Mexican food.

This is the Abuelita Principle, a term I coined to describe an argument I often hear when debating the legitimacy of certain Mexican foods. It points to a fallacy of authenticity that simultaneously informs and undermines the dynamic culinary culture that we know as “Mexican food.” “Abuelita” means “little grandmother,” a term of endearment for elderly matriarchs, but in this context it also stands in for “authentic Mexican cook,” and so the Abuelita Principle is both true and not true: true in that every family tweaks recipes according to their tastes, creating a new, distinct Mexican food that changes with the home address not true in that the kind of authenticity it espouses is limited and ignorant of history.

Abusing the Abuelita Principle has serious consequences, for the cuisine in general and for tacos in particular. It offers a cramped view of a gastronomy that is kinetic and expansive. It restricts Mexican food to an imaginary, rigid ideal, one confined to specific borders and bloodlines, one that cannot account for how diverse and delicious Mexican cuisine is today. If we were to apply the Abuelita Principle rigidly, tacos al pastor, one of the most famous Mexican dishes, couldn’t be called authentically Mexican. Setting aside the fact that pork isn’t indigenous to the Americas, or even that tacos al pastor were invented in the mid-20th century, the Abuelita Principle would necessarily exclude the Lebanese immigrants—or Iraqi immigrants, depending on who you ask—behind the creation of spit-roasted pork tacos árabes on pita-like flour tortillas in Puebla, which evolved into the pineapple-topped tacos that everyone loves today

The taco does not recognize borders the taco doesn’t accept the limits of a finite toolbox, nor does it recognize the iron rule of elderly matriarchs. I know this because I’ve travelled the continent, I’ve visited 38 cities, eaten at more than a thousand taco spots, and listened to countless taqueros, cooks, and scribes to chronicle the stories of the tacos native to the United States and the people behind them, how they connect to Mexico, and how they might be developing in the future. The culmination of this work was my book, American Tacos: A History and Guide, published by the University of Texas Press in the spring of 2020. The book’s main section outlines several stateside taco styles, all of them dominated by fried tacos—crispy delights that remain the most commonly consumed tacos by Americans—but there are others. Some began as regional specialties now available across the United States others will forever be anchored to their geographical area.

I’ve put together a list of brief summaries of a range of taco styles that exist in the United States. This is not an exhaustive list, and it isn’t prescriptive think of it as a snapshot of the current taco moment in this country, but remember that tacos are always evolving and expanding, and while I won’t vouch for any one style’s “authenticity,” there are probably some abuelitas out there making tacos exactly like the ones described below, and will be for some time to come.


FRESH CILANTRO

Here's what's up: Chipotle uses fresh cilantro in their famous guacamole, so they always have it on hand—you just have to ask for it. The herb is basically free of calories and filled with good-for-you nutrients and flavonoids. One flavonoid in particular, quercetin, increases blood flow and activates a protein in the body that torches stored fat and keeps new fat cells from forming, so it can actually aid weight loss efforts.

Customize your order: Axe high-cal flavor add-ins like vinaigrette dressing, sour cream, and cheese Instead, mix the curly-leaved herb with tomato salsa and black beans for a better-for-you meal topper.


THE CLASSIC BURGERS…FROM BEST TO WORST

Per burger (includes fries): 965 calories, 57 g fat, 16 g saturated fat, 1,488 mg sodium, 71 g carbs, 5 g sugar, 5 g fiber, 39 g protein

Generally speaking, for a health-conscious eater, there's nothing particularly friendly about Friendly's. But If you want to have a waiter bring you your burger, this is the best option for your belly. The juicy beef, which is served with a side of fries, comes with a single patty sandwiched between a slice of American cheese with a touch of mayo. To make this burger even better for your health, have your waiter hold the fries. It slashes nearly 300 calories and 12 grams of artery-clogging fat! And speaking of fries, check out our investigative report, Every Fast-Food French Fry—Ranked! to see how they all stack up in terms of nutrition.


See Also

Pie Town, New Mexico. Photo: Alamy

2. The Hamburger

Every single American will have a different idea about where to find the best hamburger in the country, ranging from fast food on the West Coast (In-N-Out Burger) to fine dining in New York (The Spotted Pig). But only one place is recognised by the Library of Congress as being the birthplace of hamburgers: New Haven, Connecticut. The year was 1900 and the establishment was Louis' Lunch, run by one Louis Lassen. Today his great-grandson, Jeff Lassen, guides the ship, which still serves burgers made from five-meat blend and cooked in a century-old cast iron grill. See louislunch.com.

Everyone argues about where you'll find the best burger in America.


Tex-Mex

“The Tex-Mex Cookbook” by Robb Walsh.

I thought my tour through my very own Tamale Triangle would sate my cravings for Tex-Mex. Hardly.

Between eating it and talking about it for the last several weeks, I can’t get it out of my mind. So in the hope of turning it into a positive, I’m going to throw out a couple of my favorite places that didn’t make it into my story – in Texas and beyond. In turn, I’m looking for recommendations.

First here’s a few from Robb Walsh, the author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Photos and Recipes” (Broadway, 2004), and a well-traveled enthusiast.

“Some of the greatest institutions of Tex-Mex were built on the Mexican side of the border in the 1920s and 1930s during America’s experiment with Prohibition,” he told me. “ These Tex-Mex restaurants catered to Americans who crossed the border looking for cocktails, but miraculously, eighty years later, some of them are still in business. The list includes Ma Crosby’s in Acu༚, The Drive-In in Matamoros, and The Kentucky Club in Juarez.

There are good Tex-Mex restaurants in Paris. The Indiana Cafe is a favorite.

Elsewhere around the planet, I found the enchiladas at Charley Brown’s in Bangkok decent, but the tacos awful.”

Beyond the Texas borders, my suggestions are not nearly as exotic. I feel blasphemous saying this, but The Tee Pee in Phoenix (4144 E. Indian School Road) could be airlifted and set down in Texas and nobody would know the difference. La Tolteca in Wilmington, Delaware (2209 Concord Pike) is the best I’ve ever had along the New York-Washington D.C. corridor.

In Dallas, Mia’s (4322 Lemmon Ave) has a well-deserved following on the strength of its enchiladas, which are thick and drippy. La Fogata (2427 Vance Jackson) in San Antonio combines a garden setting and strong margaritas with a very powerful chile relleno.

Comments are no longer being accepted.

After having dined twice at El Mirador over the past three weeks,it’s reassuring to know I’ve done the Paris of Tex-Mex (although you did miss the Lyon of Tex-Mex, Austin, altogether and absolutely no mention of El Rancho and their exquisite chile relleno w/pecans and raisins demonstrates a certain Yankee ignorance).
But I was crushed to discover in downtown San Antonio that Lupita’s Number 2, previously reviewed in the NY Times for being that quintessential Tex-Mex lunch joint, is no more, siempre cerrado, which made me feel muy triste.

Garcia’s in Grandview, Washington, has the most amazing Tex-Mex this side of Austin. And I would put Paul Garcia’s Carne Guidada up against anybody’s in Texas. They make their tortillas fresh daily. I’ve never had a bad meal at Garcia’s, and we make the Trek from Seattle sometimes just for their amazing food.

I find it funny how people despise the mere thought of Mexicans comming into the county but love tex-mex oh so much. I like Mexicans and Tex-Mex.

La Tolteca is one of the exceptions to the rule that chain restaurants are of inferior quality. The branch near where I live, in Rehoboth Beach, DE, has been a godsend for this Southern California transplant, with good food, good spirits, and good service. The only thing I haven’t figured out is why some of the branches are changing the name to La Tonalteca.

I am surprised Austin was left out of the Tex-Mex tour. Matt’s El Rancho and Maudies among many others have amazing salsas, quesos, and enchiladas.

my god you’ve got to be kidding about the indiana cafe. when i read the first paragraph of this post, i sat back trying to remember some of the best tex-mex meals i’ve ever tried. blurs of the dallas and L.A. area floated by before i was reminded of one evening in paris when i had to go meet my thoroughly drunk girlfriend and her sister at the indiana cafe. maybe it was just the surreal quality of ordering margaritas and tacos from enthusiastically faux american french or the incongruous decor of the place (minnesota license plates and native american headdresses on the walls) but i recall food as also being pretty terrible, second only to the bangers and tostitos served up at a “tex-mex” cafe in hampstead, north london. this was 10 years ago, so maybe things have changed. i’m certainly for the emigration of good tex mex all over the world!

La Fogata’s margaritas are so strong because they add a hefty dollop of 150-proof Everclear along with the requisite tequila. Ouch. We called that place “La Forgetaboutit.”

And — if it is still there — Ernesto’s on the corner of Vance Jackson and Jackson-Keller was Real-Mex vs. Tex-Mex — and they, too, poured “una margarita muy fuerte.”

Here’s my 2 cents: Guadalupe Cafe and Cafe Pasqual in Santa Fe. In my opinion you can’t beat New Mexican cuisine for the best “Tex-Mex”. The warmth and flavor of the NM chilies are heaven. These places are un-touched by the hands of celebrity chefs, and retain their peasant origins. There’s also a also a little family whole-in-the-wall place on a main drag in Albuquerque (the name of which I can never remember) that’s the best of all. They have no beer license, so you have to sneak your own in (I was visiting my friend in Alb. once and she called to ask if the owner minded if we brought beer. The person on the phone said it was OK as long as the owner didn’t know. My friend asked who the owner was. The voice responded, “Me!”). We kept our beer in a brown bag under the table.

The Indiana Cafe in Paris as a good Tex-Mex place? You’ve got to be kidding. Lots better is available. Try Mexi & Co., in the 5th, and Ay Chihuahua, on boulevard de la Bastille.

I actually prefer the aged gruyere enchiladas at Cafe Pacifico in Paris, but the restaurant claims to be authentic Mexican so I hesitated to call it a great Tex-Mex place. And while I liked the tamales at Mexi & Co. there was nowhere to sit down and eat them.

I just came back from Paris and passed one of the Indiana Cafes near the Sorbonne.It was pretty crowded although Zagat gives it an 8 for food. I would say that eating Tex Mex in Paris is like going for a cornrd beef or pastrami sandwich in arkansas.
I’ve been throughout the Southwest and have eaten in some pretty well known places and have never eaten anything worth writing about.

El Leoncito in Titusville, Florida, has killer margaritas and authentic Tex-Mex. Two native Texans were skeptical, then converted within mere minutes. Plus, you can see the Space Shuttle Launch pad from there!

In the other “Space City,” Chapultapec in Houston is open 24-7 and quite authentic. Love that place.

This story almost made me start to cry. Living in NYC I’ve found authentic BBQ (Hill Country) but now what I crave, decent Mexican food. Chinese, Italian, all great, but New Yorkers point me to places they swear have great Tex-Mex, I am consistently disappointed. So, I go back to Austin once a month, ostensibly to see my spouse. And I agree, where’s Maudies on the list?

las manitas. austin texas.
nothing more needs saying

Maudie’s is fantastic, but Matt’s El Rancho is systematically and constantly overrated.

The fajitas at Ninfa’s are the best, ever.

With all due respect to John Barrows, northern New Mexico food ain’t Tex-Mex. (Maybe you can find an honest chicken-fried steak in Buffalo, NY, but what about the baking-soda biscuits or the slather of flour-based white gravy? And while we’re on the subject, real chile rellenos aren’t made with Anaheims.) On the other hand, fresh or roasted NM Hatch chiles beat anything grown in Texas—my apologies to the neighbors𠅊nd what you get in a local Santa Fe joint can rival good Tex-Mex, even though it’s genuinely different. There’s the ubiquity of green chile, for one, and the cilantro in the salsa verde. But these are mere cavils. In the spirit of the thing, I𠆝 recommend Felipe’s Tacos (Mexican, not New Mexican), Los Mayas (Central American: try the plaintains in mole), El Meson (Spanish, for the tapas), or the place that took over the old Taco Bell next door to the old Posa’s, on Cerrillos near St. Mike’s—the real deal for northern NM cuisine, and I’m thoroughly embarrassed I can’t track down their name𠅊nd the breakfast buffet at Camel Rock casino, believe it or not. But the best by far is the hot dog shack in the parking lot at Big Jo hardware, which serves up burritos made to order, and let the buyer beware if you order a Polish dog with pico de gallo: the roof of your mouth will never be the same. Hey! Chow down.

Los Tios or Irma’s in Houston! Enchiladas y Mas in Austin!

The closest thing to Tex Mex I’ve found in NYC is Lobo in Cobble Hill and Park Slope, but god I miss the stuff from home.

Pequena in Ft. Greene makes great enchiladas, rice and beans. It’s not a true Tex-Mex style, but it’s a good standby.

Props to Robb Walsh – I’ve always been a fan of his.

You have got to be kidding, the food at Herrara’s is inedible and Mia’s a former shadow of itself. The only place remotely interesting for old school Tex-Mex in Dallas is Taqueria Arandes. Herrara’s and the equally vile Ojeda’s down the street should both be closed by the health department.

First – warm appreciation for the great article. New Yorkers have *no* idea about Tex-Mex, so this was a great primer. That said, I have to agree about the Austin oversight!

Maudies, Matt’s, Magnolia, and my personal favorite – Polvos𠉪ll outstanding choices for real Tex-Mex as described in your piece. Maybe an Austin follow-up article is in order?

And believe me once you start, you can’t stop𠉪 few days from now, you’ll be scouring NYC for real chips and salsa𠉪nd resigning yourself to booking a flight to Texas instead!

Best Tex-Mex: try Dallas’s Rafa’s on Inwood Rd., or in San Antonio, La Fonda is hard to beat. Does anyone have a suggestion in Manhattan?
BBQ as good as it gets in New York–Virgil’s beats Hill Country, in my estimation, but nothing can hold a candle to Sonny Bryan’s of Dallas.

Yuck, Lobo’s is awful! At least when I’ve been there, although their margaritas are quite good (I’ll admit that much). Other than that I think NYC is seriously lacking in the Tex-Mex scene…I hope someone gets it going.

Yeah, I’m surprised Austin didn’t make the article. Enjoyed reading it, nonetheless.

My faves: Trudy’s(better and cheaper than Maudie’s, with superior service)and Dario’s(which I was reminded of when Mr. Drape described the clientele of the best of the best).

For mexicano autentico, Fonda San Miguel, por supuesto!

If you find yourself in southwest Germany and have a craving for Tex-Mex, you’re not out of luck! There are two excellent Tex-Mex restaurants in Kaiserslautern, home to the largest American community outside the USA (Ramstein Air Base, Landstuhl Medical Center, etc.). My favorite is Cantina Mexicana [Kaiserstrasse 117, 67661 Kaiserslautern, Tel. (0631) 99328]. The food is excellent – it sure satisfied my native Texan taste buds. The service is also very good as well. Another good choice is the Hacienda Mexican Restaurant [Weilerbacher Strasse 110,
67661 Kaiserslautern, Tel. (0631) 56986].

Finally, there is Mexico Lindo, located in downtown Mainz [Adolf-Kolping-Strasse 17, 55116 Mainz, (06131) 228060]. It is owned by a Mexican-American from San Antonio which, as their website proclaims, explains why their offerings mirror San Antonio-style Tex-Mex. I have eaten here several times as well – the food was always great.

Lo siento mucho, folks, but it’s true. Tex-Mex travels neither well to distant plate nor page. It’s nice that folks in New York and K-town recall their Tex-Mex meals, but it just doesn’t fly very far. While it is natural that critics and authors flock to urban surrounds and laud their experiences, the heart just isn’t there.

One visit to Mirando City or Donna will yield up the tradition of Tex-Mex in a way quite beyond renderings flopped on a bolillo’s plate in Dallas or Paris. NM, AZ, and CA all have their Mexican influenced foods, but none have a culture fully intertwined with norteño Mexico as does Texas.

Thanks Mr. Walsh, but quesadiillas made with white a༞jo from Castroville are the genuine article – not a crepe gruyere. And a good bowl of menudo on a Sunday morning doesn’t follow Mexican beer (which I came to love before I knew there was a drinking age) on Saturday night – it cures a headache from too much Shiner (no longer Pearl or Lone Star). Your cookbook’s bullseye is on a target situated way north of the Red and Canadian.

For the dearie who touts her Pacific Coast guisada, well the issue is simple – attend a quincea༞ra just about anywhere in a Texas town with a population under 5000. Have some barbacoa on fresh tortillas while you’re at it. How many such gatherings are catered in Grandview? Oh, and my apologies to folks in Johnson County. A short jaunt to Cleburne used to, on occasion, treat you to a harp serenade from a fellow considered a national treasure in Mexico.

Since New York seems to consider Dallas a center of the folkways of Tex-Mex, I’m surprised you missed a conversation (or at least a meal) with Matt Martinez. Matt came to Dallas from Austin where his folks fed Texas University students and Texas’ elite and powerful side-by-side for decades from recipes more like what you𠆝 find in a home kitchen in the Valley. Unless you’re lucky or friendly, though, what you get from his restaurants’ kitchens these days is now more aimed at the tastes of northern immigrants. (Matt, we miss ‘No Place’!)

Matt is not a presupposing fellow, but he probably qualifies as the closest thing to a Tex-Mex food anthropologist. And it doesn’t hurt that Julia Child asked him once for a second helping of his milanesa. His books on cuisine never mention the event, I believe.

If you’re still in Dallas and insisting on menus in English, you might want to check in with Jorge, Jake, and Michael Levy – a family with an ability, likewise, to treat Dallas’ pallid palate as well as those of us needing a verdadera Tex-Mex fix. Just make it clear to the kitchen that’s the experience you want.

Last, trust whatever Joe Nick has to say – he’s your first comment on this blog. His command of Texas’ real culture – not the one folks from Ohio and Illinois imagine they see from sterile suburbs – is one in the tradition of the “Tres Sabios”. And he’s mercifully more adept at brevity than I am. Patoskie, they’ll add your likeness as a fourth in Zilker Park one of these days.

Post for Kareem –
Texas has a border with eight states and some people in a national capital, the sixth nearest one to Austin, presume to tell us we need a wall against four of our neighbors. Meanwhile, in several non-bordering states, more property taxes are billed to Texas addresses than to addresses within those states. Time for a re-think of the dog and tail analogy? I think so and six generations of my family would say the same. We are Texas and we thank you for your sentiment.


Chile Verde

Chile verde differs from its rustier cousins in a few ways: The go-to meat is pork, tomatillos make their way into the sauce, the chili peppers are fresh, and the stew typically doesn't include cumin. For some, particularly the residents of New Mexico, chile verde isn't chile verde unless it's made from Hatch chilies***—any of a variety of chilies grown in and around the village of Hatch in that state. While the ICS describes "chili verde" (yup, with an i) as "any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with green chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA," one of the defining elements of a true New Mexican chile verde is the smoky flavor that comes from roasted Hatch chilies, which lend the stew both a hint of bitterness and welcome peppery sweetness. The result is a rich green sauce, fortified by melted fat, surrounding tender chunks of stewed meat.

*** We formally acknowledge that New Mexicans strongly prefer the spelling "chile," but to maintain our house style, we'll be referring to chilies of all varieties uniformly throughout this article.


Yelp Reveals America’s Top 100 Places to Eat in 2020

Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat is a list unlike any other “best of” out there. Sure, you’ll see your fancy-schmancy spots and white tablecloth restaurants, bu t it’s also chock full of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path joints. From fine dining to shawarma food trucks — find them all in Yelp’s seventh annual Top 100 Places to Eat in the US.

Shawarma Guys is a popular San Diego food truck and was even crowned the best food truck in California earlier this year. With nearly 500 reviews and a 5-star average, it’s clearly making customers happy. Yelpers love their chicken shawarma wrap (61 reviews)! Other favorites on this year’s list include: Lewis Barbecue (no. 34) who make their Top 100 debut this year Healthy Substance (no. 57), a vegan Mexican restaurant where Yelpers rave about the chilaquiles and Yardie Spice (no. 7), a beloved Miami mainstay who has made the list three years in a row.

To determine Yelp’s Top Places to Eat in 2020, Yelp’s data science team pulled the top restaurants by ratings and number of reviews in 2019 across the U.S., with representation based on each place’s share of top-rated restaurants nationally, then curated the list with the expertise of our Community Managers around the country to finalize the rankings. The result is a list as quirky, interesting and unique as the Yelp Community itself.

You’re going to want to make a note of these spots, so we made it easy for you. Open this link on mobile (make sure to have the Yelp app downloaded!) and hit ‘follow’ once you’ve opened it in the app. Now you’ll always have the Top 100 with you.

Did we miss one of your must-try restaurants? Share your thoughts on the list on social media using #YelpTop100 and tell us what you think. Remember, we only know how good a spot is if people take the time to review it, so share your thoughts on Yelp, and maybe your favorites will be on next year’s list! Don’t forget to check out our picks for the top places to eat in Canada, too !

Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2020

Businesses that offer reservations or waitlist on Yelp, as of 1/1/2020 ♥
Businesses that are available for delivery or pickup on Yelp are marked with, as of 1/1/2020 ⧫

    – San Diego, CA
    What to order?The Chicken Shawarma – Los Angeles, CA ⧫
    What to order?The Truffle Salmon – Washington DC
    What to order?The Avocado Lime Salad – Valley Village, CA
    What to order?The Country Boy Burger – Phoenix, AZ ♥ ⧫
    What to order?The Wild Mushroom Enchiladas
    (Left, top to bottom: #6 Fratellino in Coral Gables, #1 Shawarma Guys in San Diego
    Right, # 12 Shish Ke Baba in San Francisco) – Coral Gables, FL – Homestead, FL – Gardena, CA – San Diego, CA ♥ – Fairfield, CA ⧫ – Kahuku, HI – San Francisco, CA – San Clemente, CA – Bakersfield, CA – Roseville, CA – Grapevine, TX ⧫ – Lakeway, TX – Corona, CA ⧫ – Las Vegas, NV ⧫ – Cape Canaveral, FL – San Antonio, TX – Houston, TX – Seattle, WA ♥ – Portland, OR ⧫ – Las Vegas, NV – Oceanside, CA – Oakland Park, FL – Dallas, TX – Columbus, OH – Frisco, TX – Ashburn, VA – Denver, CO – Chicago, IL – Charleston, SC – Gainesville, FL – Brooklyn, NY – Santa Clara, CA ⧫ – Evanston, IL – Denver, CO ⧫ – Providence, RI ⧫ – Portland, OR – Cincinnati, OH – Orlando, FL ⧫ – Lancaster, PA ⧫ – Ferndale, WA – St. Petersburg, FL ⧫ – Woodland, CA – Red Bank, NJ ⧫ – Boston, MA ♥
    (Left, top to bottom: #72 Stella’s in Richmond, #36 Otis in Brooklyn
    Right, top to bottom: #21 Gino’s Deli Stop N Buy in San Antonio, #84 Yummy Pollo in Louisville) – Reno, NV – St. Louis, MO – Fresno, CA ⧫ – Tucson, AZ – Jersey City, NJ ♥ – Albany, CA – Albuquerque, NM – Chicago, IL – Brooklyn, NY – Memphis, TN – Charlottesville, VA – Pensacola, FL – Knoxville, TN – Alpharetta, GA – New York, NY – Tacoma, WA – Kahului, HI – Burlingame, CA – Kansas City, KS – Eagan, MN ⧫ – Campbell, CA – Oakland, CA – Richmond, VA – Sedona, AZ – Virginia Beach, VA – Teaneck, NJ – Marlborough, MA – Augusta, GA – Brockton, MA – Milwaukee WI – Greensboro, NC – New Haven, CT – Savannah, GA – Kirkland, WA – Louisville, KY ⧫ – Philadelphia, PA – Buffalo, NY – Provo, UT – Pittsburgh, PA ⧫ – Chattanooga, TN ♥ – Indianapolis, IN – Asheville, NC – Johnson, AR – Charlotte, NC ⧫ – Coeur d’Alene, ID – Rockville, MD ♥ – Omaha, NE – Oklahoma City, OK ♥ – Fort Myers, FL – Lubbock, TX – Birmingham, AL

Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant Has Come A Long Way From Amarillo, Texas But Here’s Why It’s Taking A Breather

Rated one of the top 50 emerging restaurant chains in the U.S. by a leading industry publication, Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant is taking a breather before it expands again. It has been ranked the number one rated Tex/Mex chain by Consumer Reports and has introduced healthy Mexican food by adding antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed chicken to its menu.

It’s expanded to 35 units traversing 12 states including Texas, Florida, and several Southern states. But unlike most restaurant chains that expand through franchising, so it doesn’t have to raise capital, its restaurants are 100% company-owned, with none franchised.

Four business partners launched it in 1989 in Amarillo, Texas and three of them are still involved: James Young is chairman, Dirk Rambo is executive VP of Operations and Dickie Overstreet is VP of Properties. The fourth founder, Chuck Anderson, died several years ago.

In 2018, Abuelo’s added two locations in the Tulsa area, but in 2019 it has no plans to expand. Instead it’s focusing on remodeling existing units with the intention of boosting revenue.

It’s also trying to offer dishes that go beyond the usual tacos and nachos. For example, some of its most popular dishes are: beef tenderloin medallions wrapped in bacon accompanied by jumbo shrimp the grande which includes three enchilladas, one beef, one cheese and one sour-cream chicken and Australia sea bass served with a sherry sauce.

Several Yelp respondents liked the large portions and commented on bringing home leftovers for lunch the next day. The customers who complained on Yelp all got personalized reaction and follow-up from managers located at one Abuelo’s in Dallas to get to the root of any complaint.

Philadelphia’s Managing Beer Organization Loses Two Board Members Over Abuse Allegations

Guy Fieri’s Newly Minted Deal Makes Him One Of Cable TV’s Highest-Paid Hosts

Black History Hits The Ice Cream Aisle With Creamalicious

Here’s what Dallas, Texas-based Brian Bell, VP marketing and merchandising, who has been with the restaurant chain for 20 years in different capacities, said about Abuelo’s growth.

There are a slew of sit-down Tex-Mex restaurant chains out there. What makes Abuelo’s distinctive?

Bell: You find many places that offer strictly a Tex Mex menu or coastal cuisine, but we hit all of the different parameters of regional cuisines of Mexico. Though we offer tacos and enchiladas, we have items on our menu from the central area of Mexico such as beef tenderloin filet served with jumbo shrimp and many seafood dishes that you don’t often see in Mexican cuisine.

Abuelo’s website emphasizes its made-from-scratch dishes based on chef Luis Sanchez’s family recipes. What makes these recipes different?

Bell: We work with a lot of fresh ingredients brought in daily and have a strong focus on trying to find unique ingredients. Luis Sanchez’s mother loved cooking and inspired him, including one of our most popular desserts, flan, which is based on her recipe.

On what basis has Consumer Reports ranked Abuelo’s the number one Mexican restaurant chain?

Bell: They do a ranking system based on value, cleanliness, food quality and service. We ranked number one based on their broad-based system.

Why introduce healthier options and vegetarian options?

Bell: That seems to be a big driver of what customers want to see. By not offering it, you’re leaving yourself out. There are some things on our menu not considered healthy, but when you start talking about seafood and chicken, we have many items that are. One of my favorites is a seared tuna appetizer.

Abuelo’s has expanded over the years, but is taking a breather to remodel in 2019. Why?

Bell: As you can imagine after a while, there are some buildings that need to be modernized. We have a strong presence in western Texas, which is where we started, and that area is starting to boom and grow. We want to be ready to grow in that area.

Many restaurant chains grow through franchising, but all of your 35 units are company-owned. Why grow that way rather than franchising?

Bell: I think that our biggest reason is we like the control of the product. When you do franchising, you give up ownership and bring in a lot more voices.

Who is the target audience that dines regularly at Abuelo’s?

Bell: It’s younger families in their upper twenties and thirties who appreciate the atmosphere and food quality and price points.

Speaking of price points, what’s the average dinner check?

Bell: We have items on our menu in the $8 or $9 range to $22.

Delivery is a fast-growing segment. Do you offer it?

Bell: We are currently aligned with Doordash, starting last fall. It’s been good for us, and so far, we’ve seen over 100% growth rate in takeout. If you’re not participating in that market, you’re left out.

When do you step up growth efforts?

Bell: We’ll start up next year and the year after that. In fact, I spent yesterday looking for locations for next year.

Where do you expect Abuelo’s to be in two years?

Bell: I’d like to see us at 40 locations, and I think we have a really good future. We’re looking at new items for our menu.

Describe the three keys to its success.

Bell: 1) Great execution of our concept, 2) Getting the message out to our consumers about our offerings and values, 3) Taking care of our employees.


Taco Bell

In November 2020, Taco Bell said “adios” to several classic items from their menu including Mexican Pizza—one of my long-time favorites—and anything with shredded chicken in it including the chicken soft taco. But teary goodbyes from fans of the tasty spiced chicken can be avoided if we have a good (and easy) recipe to craft a duplicate at home. Since the fast Mexican chain announced the changes several months in advance, I had time to work up a good hack before the tacos were gone forever.

After cooking the chicken several ways I settled on poaching the fillets in chicken broth, which kept them moist and added great umami flavor. When the chicken cooled, I shredded it, and added it to a sauce seasoned with spices and lime juice, and flavored with Knorr tomato chicken bouillon.

As the sauce thickens it will reduce and infuse the chicken with flavor, then it’s ready for you to use on tacos, burritos, salads, or whatever. And don't forget the hot sauce!

Taco Bell’s popular Cinnamon Twists are inspired by a traditional Mexican treat made by frying duros de harina until puffy, then sprinkling the crunchy spirals with cinnamon/sugar. Duros, or duritos, is a special pasta made with wheat flour and cornmeal or cornstarch that swells up in seconds in hot oil, transforming it into a light and crispy snack.

You can find duros in many shapes at Latin markets or online, but for this hack you want spirals that look like rotini. Most duros you find will likely be saltier and denser than what Taco Bell uses since the chain created a custom recipe for American palates.

It takes just 10 to 15 seconds for the pasta to puff up in the oil—it will be sudden and dramatic and the duros crisps will float to the top. When they do, gently poke at them, and stir them around in the hot oil until they are evenly cooked. It only takes about a minute to fry each batch.

Watch me make these tasty twists in this new video!

Find more of my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

This limited-time-only new product from the country’s biggest Mexican fast food chain is easy to make with bagged fries found in the freezer section of your food store, and you can make as many or as few as you want at one time since there is enough seasoning and cheese sauce for one 2-pound bag. Get Ore-Ida Golden Fries if you can find them, and if you want the best clone you really should fry them, although baking works too.

The secret spicy ingredient in the nacho cheese sauce is brine from the bottled jalapeno nacho slices, plus a little cayenne for extra boom.

Taco Bell has two green sauces mentioned on its website. One is a green chili sauce, which isn’t served at any Taco Bell I’ve been to. The other is a green tomatillo sauce, the most popular of the two, which can be ordered on any Taco Bell item or will be provided a la carte for you to pour on as you see fit. The tomatillo sauce, with its mild heat and bright tomatillo flavor, is the one we’re hacking here.

It appears that Taco Bell uses canned peppers and tomatillos for their recipe, which is great because canned ingredients are ready to use, they add additional flavors and the acidity we need, and they simplify the recipe. Fresh produce would certainly require much more wrangling.

The recipe is easy. Just pop everything into a blender in the order prescribed and blend away, but don’t blend so much that the seeds get pulverized. You want a sauce that isn’t completely pureed, with visible small pieces of peppers and seeds. You’ll end up with 1½ cups of the tasty green stuff to use on tacos, burritos, salads, eggs, and more.

Be sure to warm up the sauce a little before you use it (they keep it in a warmer at Taco Bell). The flavor of the real thing is fairly mild, so if you want your version hotter than that, just add more jalapeños to the blender.

The hottest of Taco Bell’s five hot sauces cranks up the heat meter with a special blend of peppers for true chili heads. Diablo Sauce was introduced on Cinco de Mayo in 2015 as a limited-time-only product and was soon discontinued. But demanding fans pleaded for the chain to bring the sauce back, and on May 5 of the following year, Diablo Sauce got a permanent spot in the Taco Bell hot-sauce lineup.

According to Taco Bell, the sauce contains aji panca, a sweet Peruvian red pepper, and chipotle, which is smoked red jalapeño. Since aji panca can be hard to find we'll use ground ancho instead, which has a similar taste. There are other peppers in Diablo Sauce which remain a mystery, but it's easy to tell that at least one of them comes packing big heat. I added habanero and cayenne and the sauce had a perfect kick.

Puree all of it in a blender, then cook it for 10 minutes. Once it’s cooled you’ll have an easy home hot sauce, with great flavor and heat that’ll turn your face red, just like the real one.

I’m not sure when it happened, but it appears Taco Bell recently changed its seasoned beef recipe. I hacked the recipe several years ago for the book TSR Step-by-Step, and I recall the recipe had much more oat filler, so that’s how I cloned it. Taco Bell came under fire in 2011 for the significant amount of oats in the recipe that the chain was listing as “spices,” and after that, Taco Bell was more transparent about ingredients. But somewhere along the way it appears the company tweaked the recipe to include less filler and more flavor, so I decided I had to create a new Top Secret Recipe for the beef.

This recipe makes a duplicate of the beef currently served at Taco Bell. If you want to turn it into a Chalupa—which the restaurant makes by deep frying the flatbread used for Gorditas—the instructions are here. But you can also use this new, improved beef hack for anything you’re copying, whether it's tacos, burritos, Enchiritos, Mexican Pizzas, or a big pile of nachos.

The secret ingredient in our hack is Knorr tomato bouillon. This flavor powder adds many ingredients found in the original recipe and provides the umami savoriness that’s required for a spot-on clone of the famous seasoned ground beef. To get the right flavor, you need to find "Knorr Tomato Bouillon with Chicken Flavor" powder, in a jar. Not the bouillon cubes.

Smother your creation in mild, hot or diablo sauce. Try all my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

When Taco Bell introduced breakfast to America in 2014, the company had high hopes for its new Waffle Taco: a waffle shaped like a taco, filled with scrambled eggs and sausage, and served with a side of syrup. But the Waffle Taco had less-than-stellar sales and the product was eventually yanked off the breakfast menu.

But another clever morning item, the Breakfast Crunchwrap, continues to sell well at the Mexican food chain. This hexagonal grill-pressed wrap is a variation of the Crunchwrap Supreme, made by wrapping a large flour tortilla around a crispy corn tortilla, meat, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and tomato (i hacked it in TSR Step-by-Step). When it was introduced in 2005, the Crunchwrap Supreme was Taco Bell’s most successful new product launch.

The Breakfast Crunchwrap looks exactly like a Crunchwrap Supreme from the outside—albeit slightly smaller—but the inside has been swapped out for morning food. The flour tortilla is wrapped around a crispy hash brown patty that’s been slathered with creamy jalapeño sauce and topped with cheese, eggs, and bacon (or sausage). The flour tortilla is folded over six times to make a pinwheel wrap, then the wrap is pressed on a flat grill until golden brown on both sides.

In this recipe I’ll show you how to clone the creamy jalapeño sauce, build the wraps, and flat grill them until golden brown using just your stovetop, a skillet, and a saucepan half-full of water.

When Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell in 1962, he probably never envisioned that one day he would see his name on more than 10,000 locations serving his special brand of Americanized Mexican fast food. He probably also didn't expect there would one day be a clone recipe for a reduced-fat version of his popular menu item.

You'll want to start this one several hours before, or even the day before you plan to eat it, so that the chicken can properly marinate.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size–1 burrito
Total servings–4
Calories per serving–157 (Original–400)
Fat per serving–5g (Original–16g)

Here's a way to make plenty of hot sauce that tastes just like the stuff people are pouring over the tacos at Taco Bell. If you like it even hotter, check out my recipes for Taco Bell Diablo Sauce, Fire Border Sauce, and Lava Sauce.

Now that you've got your sauce, whatcha gonna slather it on? Find all your favorite Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

This is a simple recipe to clone the contents of the seasoning packet that bears the Taco Bell logo found in most grocery stores these days. You probably expect the seasoning mix to make meat that tastes exactly like the stuff you get at the big chain. Well, not exactly. It's more like the popular Lawry's taco seasoning mix, which still makes good spiced ground meat, and works great for a tasty bunch of tacos.