Authentic Tex-Mex Enchiladas with Chili Gravy

Authentic Tex-Mex Enchiladas with Chili Gravy

Tex Mex Enchiladas with Chili Gravy

Do you love Mexican Food?

Do you love Mexican food or do you REALLY love Tex Mex? 

My Love Affair Started with the O.G. – El Fenix

In 1918, the Martinez family started serving the legendary cheese enchiladas with chili gravy. Now if you prefer your El Fenix cheese enchiladas with Chili con Carne, I can make room for you in the group.

What Is Tex-Mex Food and Where Did it Come From?

Basically, it defines a blend of Mexican, Spanish and American cuisine.

If you’re like most Americans, you love Mexican food. But have you ever wondered what the difference is between authentic Mexican food and TexMex?

Many people think that they are one and the same, but that’s not the case.

Mexican Food in Mexico

Mexican Seafood Dishes

Also, because Mexico has miles and miles of oceanfront, seafood is very common in their cooking.

I was a young woman when I was in Mexico and ordered a Seafood Cocktail. I waited for what I assumed would be the familiar six pink shrimp perched on the edge of a martini glass.

No one was more shocked than I when my waiter set down a dish of lovely fresh seafood topped by … A BABY OCTOPUS.

Octopus Seafood Cocktail






What is the Difference Between TexMex and Mexican Food?

The term Tex-Mex stands for Texan and Mexican and describes a type of popular cuisine which originated along the southern border states of the US.

The biggest difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican food is the difference in the ingredients used.

For example, any Tex-Mex dish would never use European cheese or wheat flour tortillas, while these ingredients are commonly used in traditional Mexican food.

Tex Mex Tacos and Margaritas



The most common Tex-Mex foods include:

  • Tacos – tacos are usually hard or soft shell , and they can be made with a variety of fillings including ground beef, chicken, shrimp, or fish.


  • Enchiladas – these are corn tortillas that are filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, and then they are rolled up and covered in sauce.


  • Burritos – burritos are flour tortillas that are filled with meat, rice, beans, and cheese. They can also be topped with sour cream, salsa, or guacamole.


  • Chimichangas – these are deep-fried burritos that are often served with sour cream or salsa on the side.


  • Nachos – nachos are tortilla chips that are covered in melted cheese, salsa, and sour cream. They can also be topped with ground beef or chicken.


  • Quesadillas – these are flour tortillas that are filled with cheese and then grilled or fried.
  • Refried Beans – Refried beans are a usual side dish, but are used in many Tex Mex recipes. They are simply pinto beans that have been mashed and then fried.
  • Fajitas – Fajitas are grilled strips of meat, usually chicken or beef, that are served on a flour tortilla with sour cream, salsa, and guacamole.
  • Tex-Mex recipes often use a combination of these ingredients to create dishes that are unique to Texas and the southern United States.

There are many other Tex-Mex dishes as well, but these are some of the most popular.

Origins of Tex Mex Recipes  

The term “Tex Mex” was first used in a newspaper article in 1874. Tex-Mex recipes are different from traditional Mexican cuisine because they use more cheese and onions, and the spices are usually milder.

Tex Mex recipes often include beef or chicken, whereas traditional Mexican cuisine usually uses seafood or pork.


Tex Mex Nachos




How Mexico’s Terrain Dictates Homeland Recipes

The different terrain in Mexico also contributes to the differences in cuisine.

For example, the northern region of Mexico is known for its beef and dairy products, while the southern region is known for its tropical fruits and vegetables.

Seafood in Mexican Cuisine

Seafood is readily available from the hundreds of miles of Mexican coastal access.

Aquaculture, or the farming of seafood, is a big industry in Mexico. As a result, many Mexican dishes include fish, shrimp, and other seafood.

While beef and pork are used in Tex-Mex cuisine, they are not as common in traditional Mexican recipes.

Authentic Mexican dishes often use a variety of different cheeses such as queso fresco, panela and asadero.


spices used in making Tex Mex dishes


Spices in Mexican and Tex Mex Dishes

Spices commonly used in authentic Mexican cooking include chili peppers, cumin, Mexican oregano or regular oregano, garlic (including garlic powder, powdered garlic and even pre-prepared chopped or crushed fresh garlic) and cinnamon.

TexMex cuisine often uses a combination of these spices (think Taco Seasoning!) as well as others such as chili powder, prepared or homemade, and cayenne pepper, to create these dishes.

What Kind Of Cheese Do Mexican Restaurants Use In Enchiladas?

When you see orange (cheddar or American) cheese – That’s TexMex!

One of the definite marks of Tex-Mex is the use of yellow cheese. … However, in (true) Mexican food it isn’t as common:

Here are some cheeses used in traditional Mexican food.

  • Cojita: A dry, crumbly cheese that originates from the state of Michoacán. It’s made from cow’s milk and has a salty, tangy flavor.
  • Queso fresco: A fresh, soft cheese that’s also made from cow’s milk. After it’s made, queso fresco is pressed to remove any excess water, giving it a firm texture.
  • Queso blanco: A white, fresh cheese that’s similar to queso fresco but with a higher moisture content. Queso blanco doesn’t have as strong of a flavor as cotija or queso fresco.
  • Oaxaca: A stringy cheese that originates from the state of Oaxaca. It has a mild, milky flavor and can be used in place of mozzarella in some dishes. Oaxaca and is made from the milk of cows, sheep, or goats.
  • Chihuahua: Also known as menonita, this cheese is named after the Mexican state where it originated. Chihuahua is a semi-hard fresh cheese also known as “cheesecloth.” This cheese made from the milk of cows that graze on the native grasses of Mexico. Chihuahua has a mild flavor.

 If you are in a traditional Tex Mex restaurant (like my FAVE old school TexMex El Fenix!) the authentic Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas recipe is going to have yellow cheese – probably a medium to sharp yellow cheddar or maybe a mix of cheddar and an American melting cheese like Velveeta.


Taco Cups



If you like Tex-Mex, I think you might like these recipes too:


Super Easy Low Carb Chili Gravy for Tex-Mex Dishes

Pork Chili Verde (THE number one recipe on the blog!)

Loaded Sheet Pan Nachos

Pulled Pork Chili




Are Enchiladas Mexican or Tex Mex?

 The Popularity of Tex-Mex

Tex-Mex is a type of Mexican cuisine that was created in Texas, and it has become popular all over the United States.

Tex Mex recipes grew out of Mexican food because when settlers from Europe arrived in Texas, they brought with them their own food traditions.

Don’t be alarmed, but enchiladas, chimichangas, nachos, Texas-style chili con carne and fajitas are NOT “Mexican food.”

picture of avocado and Ultimate Guacamole


All of these, including corn, tortilla chips, cheese, tacos, salsa, chilies, and beef dishes – they are all Tex-Mex.

And Tex-Mex is an AMERICAN creation! What????

Moreover, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Cinco de Mayo is about the Mexicans winning a war against the French in 1862.

I know – almost as shocking as THE BABY OCTOPUS.


Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, is a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s May 5, 1862 victory over France. An important and historic day, of course, but not Mexican Independence.

 Americans are great at borrowing important events and turning them into a Hallmark holiday worthy of a big party, with everyone spending lots of moolah to celebrate it – think St. Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day. And that’s OK! We like to celebrate!

What is Taco Tuesday?

Taco Tuesday had taken the spice-and cheese-loving American eaters by storm. There is such a wide variety of tacos it can be hard to decide which to order.

Here is a list of the most common types of tacos, so you can be prepared for your next Taco Tuesday:

-Asada: This is the classic Mexican steak taco, made with grilled meat.

-Al Pastor: Made with spitquerias offer a wide variety of tacos, and it can be hard to decide which to order. Here is a list of the most common types of tacos, so you can be prepared for your next Taco Tuesday:

-Asada: This is the classic Mexican steak taco, made with grilled meat.

-Al Pastor: Made with spit-roasted pork, this taco is a favorite in Mexico.

-Barbacoa: This type of taco is made with slow-cooked beef or lamb.

-Carnitas: These tacos are made with braised or fried pork.

-Chorizo: A spicy sausage taco that is popular in Mexico and the United States.

-Fish: Fish tacos are popular along the coast of Mexico and in the United States.

-Lengua: This taco is made with beef tongue.

-Pollo: Made with chicken, these tacos are a common sight in Mexican taquerias.

-Vegetarian: Many taquerias offer vegetarian tacos made with black beans or pinto beans, vegetables, or soft corn tortillas.



cheese and onion enchiladas with chili gravy



 Take a deep breath, back to enchiladas….

Tex Mex Chili Gravy

The one thing that is completely different in Tex Mex food is chili gravy. Chili Gravy is used in several dishes, but definitely in all enchilada dishes.

It is exactly what it sounds like – a gravy started with a roux, liquid whisked in to make the gravy and seasoned with spices. It is delish – and relatively easy to make. And it’s only fair to warn you – it can be addictive.

Chili gravy is sometimes called Mexican Gravy, Chili Gravy for Enchiladas or even Chile Gravy for Burritos. But no matter what you call it, don’t call it Chili con Carne – that is a gravy with meat that is plenty delicious, but not chili gravy and that makes all the difference! Chili Gravy is the secret ingredient in this authentic Tex-Mex recipe.

Tex Mex Cheese and Onion Enchiladas with Chili Gravy

5 from 3 votes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican, TexMex


Chili Gravy

  • 3 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano Mexican oregano, if available
  • 2 Tbsp chile powder homemade, Gebhardt's or similar dark blend preferred, if available
  • 2 cups chicken stock

Cheese Enchiladas

  • 8 corn tortillas thin
  • 3 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1 medium white onion diced small


Chili Gravy

  • Heat the oil in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  • Whisk in the flour and continue whisking for 3 - 4 minutes or until it makes a smooth light brown roux.
  • Add in all the dry ingredients and continue cooking for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients.
  • When spices are fully mixed and become fragrant, add stock, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens.
  • Turn heat down to low and let the sauce simmer about 15 minutes. Add water or stock to adjust the thickness.


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8" x 8" or 9" x 12" pan.
  • The corn tortillas need to be soft. Wrap 1 -2 tortillas in damp paper towels and microwave in 15 second increments, checking after each time.
  • Spread approximately ¼ cup gravy in the bottom of the baking dish.
  • Working quickly (so the tortillas are still warm and pliable), add approximately 3 Tablespoons of grated cheese and 1 - 2 teaspoons of diced onion. Roll the tortillas tightly and place seam side down in the baking dish.
  • Top the enchiladas with the remaining chili gravy. Bake 10 - 15 minutes until bubbly. Sprinkle with the last bits of cheese and/or onion, remove dish from oven and cover with foil until ready to serve.


You can add shredded or ground beef to the enchiladas. Season it lightly with the chili powder before rolling your tortillas.
Keyword cheese enchiladas, chili gravy, enchiladas, Tex-Mex


10 thoughts on “Authentic Tex-Mex Enchiladas with Chili Gravy”

    • Thanks! Thought that would make an impression. Dang SEO – I would have loved to title it “Baby Octopus to Go” or something like that, but then no one would get the good news about the chili gravy!

  • These look amazing. My husband and I are totally hooked on Mexican food. Or so I thought! Turns out we are crazy about Tex Mex. Pinning this so we can try your version. The sauce sounds incredible. Thanks so much!

  • 5 stars
    I’ve been making these for years, ever since I discovered Robb Walsh’s recipe for chili gravy in his Tex-Mex Cookbook way back in 2005. (I stood in Walmart and copied the recipe out of the book by hand, because I didn’t have the money to buy the book at the time. lol) Years later, I did add the book to my cook book library, and it quickly became one of my favorite cookbooks.
    We like to add cooked ground beef to the chili gravy and serve it over tortilla chips with plenty of yellow Cheddar or Colby cheese melted on top.

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