Is there such a thing as "authentic Mexican food?"
Yes, though you are apt to find difficulty in locating authentic, traditional Mexican food from the overwhelming number of Tex-Mex restaurants that are present in nearly every neighborhood and Mexican chain restaurant in NJ
Tex Mex is an American style of Mexican cooking that has evolved during the last half of the 20th century, beginning along the Texas Mexican border where restaurant owners began to introduce flavors and ingredients to accommodate the tastes of " gringo's". The Ingredients, not normally found in traditional (authentic) Mexican cooking, such as beef, yellow cheese (like cheddar), wheat flour, black beans, canned vegetables (especially tomatoes), and cumin were introduced. For example, enchiladas with ground beef is not normally found in Mexico except in popular American tourist areas such as Cancun, Los Cabos, and others.
Authentic, traditional food in Mexico can be found across 32 federal entities with each of these entities having their own style of Mexican cuisine. The styles of cuisine amongst the Mexican entities varies widely depending on the regions use of ingredients, flavors, and method of preparation.
The North of Mexico reflects the presence of cattle ranches. Dishes often include grilled beef, and the most popular dishes include machaca, arrachera (Fajitas) and cabrito (baby goat). The use Cheeses are also popular and the region produces the widest varieties of cheese in Mexico, including queso fresco (fresh farmer's cheese), and ranchero (similar to Monterey Jack). Other popular ingredients are burrito sized flour tortillas, dried meats, pinto refried beans, and Spanish rice.
The South of Mexico (Campeche, Yucatan, Quintana Roo) style of Mexican cuisine is distinct from the rest of Mexico and is based on Mayan, Cuban, and other Caribbean island influences. Corn is the basic staple. Chicken, sea food, and vegetables with corn tortillas, black beans, and plantains, being ingredients most widely used. The use of spices is common. One of the main spices, achiote (annetto seed) gives food a reddish color and a slightly peppery smell.
Tex Mex has also evolved. Today, many of the high-end Mexican restaurants in the United States have taken Tex-Mex to a higher level with creating new twists of Tex Mex by introducing new flavors and fresh farm to table ingredients to accommodate the trend of Americans wanting lighter fares, healthy food, and Tapas portions.
Both Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican restaurants have been included in our picks for the best New Jersey Mexican restaurants. The criteria for the best are primarily driven by the flavor, the use of fresh ingredients, the creativity of their menu, and other factors such as ambiance, trendy, and popularity.