Everyone's heard of the phrase "Tex-Mex". If you're eating Mexican food in the UK, then you're almost definitely eating Tex-Mex food rather than authentic Mexican cuisine. Quick test: does the restaurant have a cheesy name and is it pushing tequila specials? Then it's Tex-Mex.
The term "Tex-Mex" was first used in 1973 by the Mexico City News, to differentiate between Amercanized Mexican cuisine and authentic Mexican cusisine. However, the cuisine itself has a history going back to before Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, and became it's own country, the Republic of Texas, for 10 years. The state's inclusion in the fledgling Mexican nation prior to joining the US made it inevitable that Mexican cuisine would heavily influence Texan gastronomy.
Tex-Mex cuisine is characterised by generous portions of meat, beans, spices, and sauces. Many items which people consider "Mexican" are, in fact, Tex-Mex creations. Have you had chili con carne, chili con queso, nachos, crispy tacos, or fajitas? Then you're eating Tex-Mex cuisine. The practice of serving chips and salsa as an appetizer is also a purely Tex-Mex custom. Unfortunately, pouring gallons of sauce all over a meal also became a Tex-Mex tradition (what taste are they covering up?). Tex-Mex took on a reputation for being heavy, filling food. Tasty, to be sure, but a Tex-Mex meal meant that you could skip eating for several days.
California is a very different place. Scratch the cowboys with their big belt buckles -and big belts -and substitute legions of would-be actors and models. Add a generous helping of surfers and skateboarders and rollerbladers and rock climbers. And let's not forget a culture that brought us health food and the strictest environmental regulations in America. Are Californians going to huddle around picnic tables stuffing themselves with huge, heavy, artery-clogging Tex-Mex meals? As if, dude! Mexican food in California is the perfect complement to a day of fun in the sun: light, healthful, packed with fresh flavours, and portable. We're talking burritos. We're talking tacos. We're talking Cal-Mex! And it's this Californian twist on Mexican food that we at Tortilla are proud to bring to London.
Various centres of burrito excellence have subsequently claimed to have the best burritos on the planet. San Diego and Los Angeles, with their proximity to Mexico, have strong claim to the title. However, it is the Mission District in San Francisco that has had the biggest influence on the explosion of the burrito across the United States. The Mission District has been, for many years, the cultural centre for the Latino community in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Latinos brought with them their cuisine, and modified it to suit the local multi-ethnic community. The result is an area overflowing with taquerias and narry a Taco Bell in sight. (Why would you ever eat there when "fresh-Mex" is right around corner.) Quick-service, informal restaurants like El Castillito, La Taqueria, Pancho Villa's, Taqueria Cancun, and, literally, countless others, became institutions within the Mission. They open early, close late, serve people quick meals at lunch, sit-down dinners with a beer, and late-night take-away for the revelers. It is no wonder that the Mission District of San Francisco has laid claim to be The Burrito Capital of the World.
We owe our inspiration for Tortilla to the Mission District, that bastion of California-Mexican culinary bliss. We think we do a good job, but we are simply standing on the shoulders of the hard-working Latino workers who came to California to make a better living and ended up contributing to a pan-American craze.