Culinary terminology can get awfully confusing, especially when you approach a culture other than your own. Did you know that garbanzo beans and chickpeas are really the same thing? And just as some people might get confused over sushi, sashimi, nigiri, maki and onigiri, the same is true with delicious tortilla-wrapped food by way of Mexico. And Mexico-inspired by way of Tex-Mex. Do you know the difference between a chimichanga, an enchilada and a fajita?
Let’s start with the basics. With the noted exception of the fajita, the names of all these other dishes aren’t really derived from the contents contained within the tortillas. There are certainly standards and expectations, like how burritos should have beans in them, but these “rules” do not really need to be followed. Instead, the names have more to do with the preparations and with the tortillas themselves.
The chimichanga is Deadpool’s favorite of the bunch, likely just because it’s a fun word to say. Popularized mostly by the southwestern United States, a chimichanga is simply a burrito that has been deep-fried. Some people may work around the need for a deep fryer by pan-frying the burrito or using a panini press, but it really should be fried. The “chimi” derives from a Mexican Spanish term for burned.
A burrito consists of a flour tortilla wrapped around a variety of fillings. Most commonly, you’ll find some sort of meat (like chicken or pork), refried beans (or black beans), and Spanish rice. You might also find lettuce, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and other ingredients. Another key characteristic of a burrito is that it is cylindrical (or cylindrical-like) in shape and it completely encloses the contents. Chains like Chipotle are really popular for their mega-filled burritos.
An enchilada differs from a burrito in two critical ways. While it also wraps around similar kinds of ingredients, an enchilada uses a corn tortilla instead of a flour tortilla. Unlike a burrito, it is also topped with a sauce, conveniently known as “enchilada sauce.” This chili pepper sauce can be red or green. Some restaurants serve enchiladas con mole, which is topped with a mole sauce instead. The most common form of mole (pronounced moh-leh) is made with chocolate and chili peppers, along with several other ingredients.
A taco can be made using either a corn or wheat tortilla. It’s usually quite a bit smaller than a burrito and is served either “open faced” or simply folded almost in half (mostly for display purposes). The fillings can vary considerably, like the pork jowl or albacore tuna from Tacofino Commisary, but you’ll find that tacos tend to be not as heavy as a burrito; there’s usually no rice or beans. Instead, you get the meat, vegetables and cheese.
And finally, a fajita usually doesn’t arrive “pre-made” to your table the same way that every other dish on this list would. That’s because the fajita is defined much more by the grilled meat (sometimes served on a sizzling hot plate), along with the onions and bell peppers. Diners then pick up one of the warm flour tortillas (though corn tortillas are also possible) from a separate plate and make their own fajitas. The fajita can be further embellished with sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, cheese, fresh tomato and more. Wrap it up similar to a burrito and dig in.
To the uninformed, many of these dishes are going to sound very similar. They all involve tortillas and meat and satisfying deliciousness in one form or another. But the next time you see any of these on a menu at your favorite Tex-Mex joint, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. And this list isn’t even exhaustive! From tostadas to quesadillas, there’s so much more to eat and enjoy.