No matter what kind of food you’re craving, eating out when you have dietary restrictions can be tough. Allergies, intolerances, ethical concerns—whatever the problem is, finding foods that you can safely and happily enjoy may require you to do extra research, ask questions, and/or make plans in advance. Fortunately, Tex-Mex has something for everyone, and that includes people who have to avoid certain ingredients.
Some folks can’t imagine eating a Tex-Mex meal that doesn’t include a big bowl of queso for the table and piles of yellow cheese and sour cream on every entrée. For people who can’t properly digest dairy products, though, these Tex-Mex staples can be gastronomical time-bombs. If you know that eating dairy will inevitably lead to you tying up the bathroom for the rest of the evening (or worse), skip the queso and sour cream and instead dip your chips in salsa or guacamole. Avoid main dishes that specifically mention being dairy-based (e.g., cheese or sour cream enchiladas), and when you’re ordering your food, tell your waiter or waitress to hold the cheese.
Vegetarian / Vegan
While many people do favor meat or dairy-loaded foods when they’re going out for Tex-Mex, it is possible to enjoy a meal without these ingredients. Look for entrées that use black beans or spinach as their main protein, and ask your server if other menu items can be prepared in this manner, as well. For example, taco salads and tostadas can often be made with extra avocado but no meat or sour cream. If you’re “only” a pescatarian, definitely check out the restaurant’s seafood offerings; a fish taco can be just as delicious as one made with beef! One important thing to be aware of is that many Tex-Mex restaurants use lard in the preparation of their refried beans, so avoid this side dish entirely if that’s going to be an issue for you.
With more and more restaurants now offering (and advertising) gluten-free options, it’s certainly easier than it once was to avoid wheat protein. Corn tortillas, a longtime Tex-Mex staple, are traditionally made without gluten, and many places also offer gluten-free flour tortillas, as well. If you’re in the mood for alcohol, stick with a margarita or other cocktail instead of beer. And check the menu for symbols or stickers indicating gluten-free entrées; the variety offered by different restaurants may just surprise you!
Certain religions forbid the consumption of certain foods or beverages, and some folks are more strict about these rules than others. For example, one person may be fine with just picking the bacon out of a breakfast taco, while another person who subscribes to the same religion may feel that the whole dish has been “tainted” by the presence of pork and is therefore inedible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the ingredients in the restaurant’s offerings! When dining Tex-Mex, it may be helpful to remember that “carnitas” nearly always means “pork,” “con carne” usually (but not always) means “with beef,” and “fish” usually refers to some kind of white fish (like tilapia) unless otherwise specified.
Allergies to Specific Foods
The most common food allergies among humans are (pea)nuts, milk, soy, eggs, wheat, and (shell)fish; reactions to these ingredients can range in severity from stomach cramps and itching to potentially deadly anaphylactic shock. If you have a severe food allergy, please tell your server so that the kitchen can properly accommodate you—or inform you that they can’t guarantee your safety 100%. One strategy recommended by the Food Allergy Research & Education organization is to call the restaurant before you go and ask to speak to a manager or head chef. Explain your concerns, and you’ll hopefully be able to come up with a dining plan that meets your needs. Beyond that, use common sense (e.g., don’t order chorizo con huevos if you’re allergic to eggs), read the menu carefully, and be sure to keep your epinephrine auto-injector and/or other medications on your person at all times.
Coping with dietary limitations can be difficult, especially when it comes to eating in a restaurant. But fortunately for diners with food issues, many Tex-Mex entrées can be adapted to suit a wide variety of restrictions, and most eateries don’t mind making substitutions. Whether it’s sour cream, gluten, or pork, that trips you up, you needn’t avoid Tex-Mex entirely. In fact, you may just introduce your fellow diners to an entirely new, totally delicious variation on their favorite meals!