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What is Cali-Mex Cuisine and How is it Different from Tex Mex?

Here at Mezcali, we pride ourselves on being the best SoCal / Cali-Mex restaurant in lower Manhattan. This style of food is what our owners ate growing up in Southern California and we’re happy to bring this amazing cuisine to the heart of Manhattan.

But if you aren’t from Los Angeles or SoCal, you’re probably wondering what Cali-Mex cuisine even is, and what makes it different from other popular Mexican-style cuisines, like Tex Mex. After reading this article, you’ll know what Cali-Mex is and what makes it unique.

Cali-Mex Cuisine Defined

Cali-Mex is a style of Mexican cuisine originating in California that takes cooking methods and ingredients used in traditional Californian cooking, and adapts them to traditional Mexican dishes. It can be viewed as a fusion of Californian style with Mexican food. Cali-Mex is famously known for its use of fresh and seasonal ingredients, as well as fish.

But how did this cuisine emerge? Back in the 18th century, Spanish colonists started immigrating to California from Mexico, of course bringing their culinary traditions and tastes with them. And according to a book titled California Mission Cookery by Mark Preston, this mixture of Spanish and Mexican cuisine, along with the fresh Californian beans, corn, and chiles began to form the original California cuisine. During the California Gold Rush, more traditional American-style cooking became increasingly popular in California.

This blend of culinary styles over the periods of the 18th to 19th centuries evolved into what’s commonly known today as Cali-Mex, Cal-Mex, or SoCal cuisine. The term Cal-Mex first appeared in The Los Angeles times in the 1970’s and the world has been using it ever since.

Cali-Mex vs Tex-Mex

Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex cuisines vary in their ingredients and preparation. Both cuisines generally use the same items but each cuisine certainly has its preferences. Cali-Mex typically chooses fish and avocados, while Tex-Mex prefers red meat and chicken. But that doesn’t mean that Cali-Mex avoids beef. It doesn’t. It just utilizes beef differently. For example, in Cali-Mex, beef is lean-cut and shredded, while Tex-Mex often uses seasoned ground beef. Generally, seafood, lighter meat, and more vegetables is what Cali-Mex tends to use, versus the fattier meats of Tex Mex.

The differences between the two cuisines are more apparent when considering the minor ingredients. Cali-Mex fans usually like their taco shells crispy, while Tex-Mex fans prefer soft. Refried beans are a staple of Tex-Mex, while Cali-Mex prefers to use simple black and white beans. Black olives and garlic pop up in Cali-Mex much more often, while meals smothered in cheese are almost guaranteed to be Tex-Mex. Fans of spicy will likely prefer Tex-Mex more as it’s used more in that cuisine, while lovers of sour cream, lettuce, and tomato may enjoy Cali-Mex more.

Overall, Cali-Mex is healthier and more nutritional than Tex-Mex. It’s not overwhelmingly saucy and full of beans like Tex-Mex. And, Cali-Mex is more fresh and subtle, compared to the savory taste and boldness of Tex-Mex.

Give Cali-Mex A Try Today!

Tired of the food from your local Mexican restaurant? Then come try some fresh, delicious, and healthy Cali-Mex food at Mezcali, the number one SoCal Cali-Mex restaurant in lower Manhattan. We love bringing our Southern California culinary roots to the Big Apple and we’d really love for you to come try it. We guarantee that your taste buds will have an experience like no other.


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