7000 B.C.
Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America gather and eat wild chiles, paving the way for enchiladas, salsa, and jalapeño poppers. Because corn grows wild and is thus pebbly and stunted, their major food, besides meat, is roasted agave hearts.

3500 B.C.
Indigenous peoples cultivate chiles for food.

1200 B.C.
Native Americans discover and refine nixtamalization, a process that simultaneously loosens the skins of corn kernels and softens them for grinding. As a result, they begin making and eating the simple flat cakes later called tortillas as well as savory tamales filled with everything from chocolate and berries to gopher and frog meat.

Aztecs establish their empire near present-day Mexico City; they show their enemies no mercy—and use the smoke from roasting chiles to punish ill-behaved children.

The Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés throws a taco party in Coyoacán, now a neighborhood in Mexico City, to reward his captains for their defeat of the Aztec king Cuauhtemoc. The pork filling is supplied by pigs he picked up in Cuba.

Cortés returns home, taking with him a miraculous substance—unknown in the Old World—called chocolate. He and other Spanish explorers will eventually introduce to Europe many other important foods, including avocados, beans, squash, and tomatoes, and in turn will bring back to North America such staples as olive oil, cinnamon, coriander, oregano, and rice.

Spanish-born Alonso de Molina, a Franciscan friar who lived in Mexico for most of his life, coins the term “salsa,” or sauce, for a condiment consisting of chopped tomatoes and chiles and ground squash seeds.

Fish, ducks, and geese are roasted over open fires and served at what is arguably the true first Thanksgiving, celebrated by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate, his men, and colonists on the banks of the Rio Grande near modern El Paso.

Circa 1680
Casting about for a special dish to serve the visiting viceroy of New Spain, Sister Andrea de la Asunción hastily invents mole poblano in the kitchen of the Santa Rosa Convent in Puebla, Mexico. The dark sauce includes almonds, raisins, garlic, onion, cinnamon, and cloves, but the essential ingredient is chocolate.

San Antonio’s enterprising “chili queens” set up stands on the city’s main plaza and cook up huge batches of chile-and-meat stew, which quickly becomes a lunchtime favorite.

The Old Borunda Café opens in Marfa, becoming the first restaurant in the nation to offer the half-Anglo, half-Hispanic, chili-drenched food that will eventually be known as Tex-Mex.

San Antonio’s Original Mexican Restaurant becomes the first establishment on this side of the border to offer authentic Mexican dishes.

Gebhardt’s Chili Powder publishes the first Mexican cookbook in the U.S., a slim pamphlet of recipes for homey fare like “corn meal pot pie” as well as “dishes that have graced the table of President Diaz.”

Wilbur Scoville, an employee of the Parke-Davis and Company pharmaceutical plant in Detroit, develops the Scoville scale, a method of measuring the heat of a chile.

El Fenix opens in Dallas and will later claim to have originated the puffy taco.

Carta Blanca becomes the first Mexican beer exported to the U.S.

Texas’s first female governor, Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, inaugurates the practice of serving Mexican food—tamales, chili, chile con queso, guacamole, and more—at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin.

Adelaida Cuellar sells homemade tamales at the Kaufman County Fair. Her recipes will later inspire the menu of the nationwide El Chico chain, whose first restaurant (called El Charro) will open in 1940 in Dallas.

Kraft Foods introduces Velveeta, a processed cheese product that quickly becomes the basis for quickie chile con queso, the national party dip of Texas.

Elmer Doolin buys a recipe for fried corn chips from an unidentified Mexican man in San Antonio and—with his mother, Daisy Dean Doolin—begins churning out ten pounds of Fritos per day.

Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant, called Joe’s Barbeque and Mexican Dishes, opens near the Fort Worth Stockyards. Customers enter through the kitchen.

Rosita’s in Laredo invents the puffy taco (or so the restaurant claims).

Pace Picante Sauce is invented in San Antonio and quickly becomes the preferred salsa of gringos throughout Texas.

Jacala Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio claims to have invented the puffy taco.

A Mexico City mescal bottler, discovering that the agaves he has purchased for distillation are riddled with moth larvae, capitalizes on the situation by putting a preserved worm in the bottom of each bottle to appeal to turistas.

Culinary maven Helen Corbitt takes over the Zodiac Room at Dallas’s Neiman Marcus and spices up its menu with a peppery red-bean dip she christens “prairie fire” and serves with fried tortillas or potato chips.

The Diccionario de Mejicanismos, an exhaustive volume of Mexican Spanish that is published in Mexico City, defines chili as a “detestable food passing itself off as Mexican.”

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson begin serving her Pedernales Chili to guests at their ranch in Stonewall, including German chancellor Ludwig Erhard.

Nachos debut as concession-stand munchies at the State Fair of Texas, in Dallas.

Sonny Falcon, the self-styled “Fajita King,” serves grilled-fajita tacos to the public for the first time at a festival in Kyle, and the Round Up, in Pharr, becomes the first restaurant to offer fajitas on its menu.

Facing criticism for stereotyping Hispanics, Dallas’s Frito-Lay ends its Frito Bandito advertising campaign, which depicted a swarthy cartoon character with a long mustache, an oversized sombrero, and an exaggerated accent.

Enraged by the thirty-year sentence given a local man, Lee Otis Johnson, for possession of marijuana, University of Houston students protest at a speech by Texas governor Preston Smith, chanting, “Free Lee Otis! Free Lee Otis!” The governor, hearing the words as “frijoles,” asks, “What in the world do they have against beans?”

Early 1970’s
Flour tortillas, which have long been as common as corn tortillas in the wheat-growing states of northern Mexico, become popular across Texas, paralleling the rise of fajitas.

Mariano’s in Dallas serves the first machine-made frozen margarita.

Diana Kennedy publishes the groundbreaking cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico, drawing a sharp distinction between authentic Mexican food and hybrid Tex-Mex.

Ninfa’s opens on Navigation Boulevard, in Houston, and restaurateur Ninfa Laurenzo begins serving “tacos a la Ninfa”(tacos al carbón), sparking a statewide craze; she will later refer to them simply as fajitas.

Franchisees of the Sonic drive-in chain in El Paso and other southwestern cities begin offering their version of a regional favorite, hamburgers enhanced with green chiles.

Edinburg hosts Texas’s first fajita cookoff.

President Gerald Ford visits San Antonio and attempts to eat a tamale without first removing the shuck.

Using recipes purchased from cook Margie Lopez Abonce, Mike and Felix Stehling open a restaurant in an old Dairy Queen in north San Antonio and dub it Taco Cabana. Twenty-six years later, it has some 130 outlets, primarily in Texas.

Early 1980’s
Seven young chefs in Dallas and Houston, including Stephan Pyles, Dean Fearing, and Robert Del Grande, gain a large and loyal following for their innovative twists on standard Mexican dishes. Dallas Morning News food writer Michael Bauer christens such fare “the new Southwestern cuisine.”

Astronaut William Lenoir eats a jalapeño in outer space while aboard the space shuttle Columbia.

In Jane Brody’s Good Food Book, the New York author refers to salsa as “the Spanish word for ’salad.’”

Late 1980’s
Restaurateurs in Texas begin serving an old-style Mexican treat, tres leches (“three milks”) cake, which is prepared with evaporated and sweetened condensed milks and cream. Sweet-toothed diners rave.

The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Contest debuts, attracting 140 entrants—red and green, mild and incendiary, prefab and homemade. By 2004, the competition will be famous and far hotter: More than four hundred salsas will vie for prizes.

Hot sauce overtakes ketchup as the top-selling condiment in the U. S.

The dining room of Austin’s Hyatt Regency Hotel sells more than 10,000 pounds of fajitas every month.

Bill Clinton visits Güero’s in Austin and orders the ample No. 2 platter, which the restaurant renames El Presidente in his honor.

Shortly after George W. and Laura Bush move to Washington, D.C., they ask their White House chef to call their former Governor’s Mansion chef, Sarah Bishop Ninaud, and request her Chex mix recipe, which is jazzed up with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and habanero sauce.

The world’s largest taco, assembled in Mexicali, Mexico, measures almost 36 feet long and weighs 1,654 pounds, including tortillas, onions, cheese, cilantro, and meat. The giant taco earns a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records; it beats, by 20 feet and 500 pounds, the record set in 2000 by Mama Ninfa’s Original Mexican Restaurant of Houston.