How Austin popularized Tex-Mex food

12:00 a.m. Saturday, July 1, 2017 Local
A 1933 advertisement for Mexene Chile Powder made at Walker’s Austex Chile Company factory on Guadalupe Park, now known as Republic Square. Contributed by the Gallery of Graphic Design

Now the landscape of Austin will speak for itself.

The Downtown Austin Alliance in partnership with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department has embarked on a series of interpretive ventures — online for now with a street presence planned for later — about the city’s natural and man-made environments.

The first in this series is devoted to downtown’s original squares and can be found at Engage Downtown Austin. Your stories are invited at the site.

“The soul of Guadalupe Park, now Republic Square, is food, and that food is Tex-Mex,” writes Ted Eubanks on the website. “The term “TexMex” with no hyphen originally began as an abbreviation for the Texas and Mexican Railroad, chartered in 1875. In 1883, a bridge was built across the Rio Grande to Nuevo Laredo, making the TexMex the first Mexican-American rail connection.”

By the 1920s, folks were using the term Tex-Mex, Eubanks continues, to refer to people of Mexican descent living Texas. Eventually the hyphenated label was applied to the Mexican-style food of the region.

“San Antonio is often credited with creating — or popularizing — this cuisine,” Eubanks writes. “But, Austin had an equally critical role in its ascendancy. Tex-Mex, certainly Austin’s variety, began in the cocinas of Tejano women who lived around Guadalupe Square. Families in the neighborhood would make tamales and Mexican candies to sell along Congress Avenue. These kitchens were the beginnings of the Tex-Mex industry that helped shape American cuisine, and that thrives in Austin still.”

Among the best remembered of several food plants in proximity to Guadalupe Park was Walker’s Austex Chile Co. Founded in 1910, it distributed its Mexene chili powder nationwide.

Local residents worked at those factories that bordered Guadalupe, also known as “Mexican” or “Chili” Park, where their kids played while they labored in the plants.

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