Everything You Need to Know About Authentic Cali-Mex Cuisine

Everything You Need to Know About Authentic Cali-Mex Cuisine

When you’re searching for the best Mexican restaurant near me, you don’t have to look further than Mija Handcraft Kitchen. Our modern California spin on Mexican food is made even better thanks to locally sourced produce and a dedication to homecooked meals.

If you’re new to Mexican food, then you may be wondering how California sets itself apart from other parts of the country.

Our long-standing traditions stem from a rich cultural heritage thanks to our closeness to the Mexican border. If you’ve got a hankering for California’s coolness with a splash of Mexico’s brazen flavors, then you’ve come to the right place.

Read to learn all there is to know about authentic Cali-Mex cuisine, how it differs from traditional Tex-Mex, and some of the best dishes to try it for yourself at our Mexican restaurant in Culver City, CA.

What Is California-Mexican Food?

Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex cuisine are very similar, but there are enough differences that make the latter more unique. California is a place where there’s a lot of emphasis on healthy eating. It also has a strong cultural influence from the large amount of Mexican people that call our state home.

In California, you’re likely to find Mexican food bursting with flavor and fresh produce. You’ll also see a big emphasis on brunch, street food, and classic Mexican flavors passed down from generation to generation.

Cali-Mex Flavors

The flavor of Cali-Mex food is usually considered to be almost identical to Tex-Mex cuisine. It’s true that the meals are virtually the same, but how they’re prepared and what’s included are different.

Cali-Mex vs Tex-Mex

Cali-Mex vs Tex-Mex is a debate that has been going on for years. If this is your first time hearing about it, chances are you’re not sure what makes them so different. They’re subtle, but if you read closely, you’ll notice that there are some stark contrasts between Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex food.

Below are all the subtle differences that separate Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex cuisine:


When a Tex-Mex restaurant offers a side of beans for one of their meals, they are primarily refried beans. Cali-Mex restaurants offer either black or white pinto beans in its place.

The Type of Shell

One of the most iconic ingredients of Mexican cuisine is undoubtedly the tortilla shells. In Tex-Mex food, the shells included are usually soft while Cali-Mex meals prefer to have crispy tortilla shells instead. Though, if you are someone who prefers soft shells, you can always ask for them at Mija Handcraft Kitchen.

The Protein

Beef and chicken are two of the popular sources of protein and are included in a majority of Mexican dishes as a whole. Tex-Mex cuisine puts a heavy emphasis on its inclusion of beef and chicken. Cali-Mex cuisine, on the other hand, prefers to add leaner cuts of beef or chicken, which is usually shredded. This is how Cali-Mex cuisine is considered the healthier alternative.

Another difference is the type of meat used; Tex-Mex prefers to use red meat and fried chicken. Cali-Mex uses white meat or fish, which is grilled instead.

Black Olives

A unique difference in Cali-Mex cuisine is how it incorporates black olives into its meals, especially the salads. Tex-Mex cuisine has a noticeable lack of black olives, which may not be ideal for some people.


California is known as the capital of avocados, which means almost every meal is served with a side of guacamole. Tex-Mex food also comes with guacamole but as a side to tortilla chips and nachos.

The Preparation

It’s no secret that both Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex use identical ingredients, such as tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce. What separates them is how both variations use them to prepare their meals. Tex-Mex goes all-out when it comes to the cheese while only using moderate amounts of lettuce and other vegetables. Cali-Mex is the polar opposite; more vegetables and lettuce and exceptionally less cheese.

Tex-Mex vs Cali-Mex: The Verdict

With all this information in mind, you’re contemplating whether Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex is better. Well, the truth is that there is no definitive answer. We’re pretty biased when it comes to choosing a favorite. Everyone has their own unique preferences when it comes to this type of cuisine. For example, meat lovers may prefer Tex-Mex due to its heavy inclusion of beef, while others prefer to have less protein and more vegetables, so they go for California-style.

Top California Mexican Dishes

Now that we’ve covered what makes Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex different, let’s get into some of the top California-Mexican dishes you can try.

Huevos Rancheros

A famous breakfast dish in Cali-Mex cuisine is huevos rancheros. Loosely translated, huevos rancheros means “rancher’s eggs.” It is typically served on tortillas, salsa, eggs, refried beans, avocado, or guacamole. Since refried beans and soft tortillas are a part of  Tex-Mex food, Cali-Mex replaces these ingredients with crispy shells and pinto beans.

Chorizo Burrito

We mentioned that the sources of protein in both Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex include beef and chicken. However, there is a third option: chorizo. Chorizo is a type of pork sausage that is heavily seasoned and served in many types of Cali-Mex cuisine. One of the best ways to use chorizo is to stuff it into a burrito.

Chorizo burritos are flour tortillas filled with spicy chorizo sausage, scrambled eggs, shredded potatoes, cheddar cheese, and Monterey jack cheese. These burritos are perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

Street Tacos

Street tacos are a very popular dish in Cali-Mex cuisine because of their small size and wide variety of ways to make them. The size is what ultimately separates street tacos from regular tacos. Street tacos are usually filled with ground beef and salsa in a small corn tortilla shell. However, street tacos in Cali-Mex can have plenty of lettuce, veggies, and fish.

Taco Salad

Not in the mood for a shell? How about a bowl instead? Taco salads are a fantastic alternative to traditional tacos. Instead of a tortilla shell, it is replaced by the lettuce of your choice, which is then combined with all of your favorite taco fillings.

Brunch-Inspired Dishes

Brunch culture is a signature in California, and the Los Angeles inspiration has found its way into many modern Mexican restaurants. Some of the staples you’re likely to find include pancakes, breakfast burritos, and classics like huevos rancheros.

Some savory options you’ll find on Mija’s menu are:

  • Salsa, guacamole, and hummus trio with housemade chips
  • Mexican-inspired bruschetta with fresh produce
  • The Mija Mushroom Burrata on brioche
  • Vegan grilled Mexican burrito
  • Green chile hollandaise biscuit
  • Green chile frittata
  • Enchiladas
  • The Mija torta

Is your mouth watering yet? Don’t wait! Click here to order online, or plug in our address and stop by our kitchen. We’d love to serve you.

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