When we think about Tex-Mex, we tend to focus on entrées, dinner platters, drinks and even desserts (sopapillas, anyone?). Far too often, appetizers get pushed into the background, cast aside as if they’re not valuable players in this category of cuisine. Well, no more! Today’s post will be all about appetizers. Here are four options that prove that the only thing better than Tex-Mex food is more Tex-Mex food:
Chips and Salsa (or Queso or Guacamole)
We’ll start with an oldie but a goodie. Chips and salsa are the most common Tex-Mex appetizer; they’re so ubiquitous that many restaurants serve them from the very moment a patron is seated. But really, who doesn’t love crispy, salty tortilla chips dunked in tangy (and often mildly spicy) tomato salsa or pico de gallo? And if you want to branch out a bit while still keeping it traditional, you can also invite queso or guacamole to the party.
Fun fact: some folks like to shake things up by plopping a blob of guacamole into their queso bowl and allowing the two to mix. It may seem like an odd combination, but don’t knock ‘til you’ve tried it!
Think nachos, only inside-out! In their most basic form, quesadillas are made by grilling a tortilla, melting some kind of cheese (usually cheddar or Monterey jack) on top of it, plopping another tortilla over the melted cheese, and cutting the whole thing into triangle-shaped pieces. To take it to the next level, you can add diced meat (e.g., steak, chicken, shrimp, or even brisket) to the cheese and serve the dish with salsa, sour cream or guacamole for dipping.
Oh, and remember: it’s pronounced “kay-suh-DEE-uh,” not “kay-suh-DILL-uh.” Even if you don’t speak Spanish, as long as you get that third syllable right, you’ll be fine!
Stuffed Jalapeños (AKA “Jalapeño Poppers”)
While stuffed bell peppers can be an entire entrée on their own, these little morsels are the perfect size for a pre-meal snack! Jalapeño poppers are made by replacing the seeds and “innards” of a normal jalapeño with cheese, spices and other ingredients, lightly battering the pepper, and then frying it to hot, crispy perfection. If you like spicy foods, this dish is probably going to be right up your alley! And if you’re not a fan of spicy foods…well, poppers are usually served with a side of ranch dressing. A few good dunks in that stuff will curb the pepper’s natural heat.
Elote is officially classified as a Mexican “street food,” but in most of America, it’s rare to see this snack outside of a restaurant or concession stand. Elote is made by char-grilling an entire ear of corn and topping it with condiments such as chili powder, butter, lemon or lime juice, mayonnaise, or and/crumbled cotija cheese—just as there are dozens of ways to garnish a hot dog, there are dozens of ways to dress up elote. Elote can also be served in bowls, with the corn sliced off the cob and the condiments added on top, but there’s something very fun (and kind of festive) about the traditional, straight-off-the-cob presentation!
Don’t take it personally if your favorite appetizer didn’t make our list—there’s a whole world of dishes out there to try, and we couldn’t possibly name them all in one post! Hopefully, though, we’ve given you some new ideas to try the next time you’re craving Tex-Mex. You can mix and match, try different combinations and different flavor profiles, and maybe even take a few small steps outside of your comfort zone. A word of caution, though: if you’re going to sample appetizers, don’t forget to save room for your meal, your margarita and your dessert!