Taco, fajita, burrito, what's the difference? They're all wrapped in tortillas, aren't they?

(This is perhaps more appropriate in CS, but since this seems more like a factual question, I’m trying GQ. Mods, feel free to move if I’m wrong)

I’ve eaten some Tex-Mex food, but that’s been the “make it yourself”-kit type of cooking, so I’m really ignorant about Tex-Mex cooking. This may be a very stupid question, but bear with me. I’m a European :rolleyes:. I’d like to understand the differences between the different food-in-a-tortilla stuffs I’ve eaten. What is it that really makes a taco a taco and not a fajita, what’s the difference between a fajita and a burrito, what distinguishes a burrito from a “wrap” and so forth?

Well, that’s EASY. Why the answer is…

OK, this requires a bit more thought than I anticipated. Some of the differences are subtle, some are entirely regional (fun fact: Burritos are not eaten in Mexico. They are pretty much straight-up American cuisine.)

Fajitas, at least, seem to always have a particular style of filling. Some kind of seasoned meat (usually steak or chicken, sometimes shrimp depending on the restaurant you eat at) grilled before being served with sauteed onions and peppers.

Burritos, in my mind, usually have rice, and often have beans, along with numerous other ingredients. They also seem to have a tendency to be closed up on the ends.

Tacos are probably the superspecies to burritos and fajitas, basically just being some meat and cheese and veggies served in a tortilla. For me, a taco has always had the hard corn shell. I’ve seen them with soft corn shells or flour shells, but those always struck me as more burrito than taco.

Probably helps that “Burrito” is, just like with “Hot Dog”, a name that more describes the shape of the food than the content (Burrito is spanish for “Little Burro”, but will almost never contain anything of the sort, given that, as mentioned above, burritos are American cuisine)

Does that vague it all down for you? Well, let’s not forget Taquitos and Flautas, which are both basically smaller tacos made with rolled up tortillas and crisp-fried. A “Wrap” is anything that would normally be a taco or a burrito, but isn’t Tex Mex.

Let’s not get into Quesadillas or Tostadas. That’ll just get complicated. :smiley:

I think the question is kind of like “What’s the difference between a Sub and a Club and a French Dip?”

I wouldn’t refer to fajitas as having any kind of filling… the tortillas are typically served on the side.

Don’t forget enchiladas.

The Italians have six thousand words for pasta, and the Tex-Mexicans have six thousand words for “stuff in a tortilla.” Like pasta, these varieties largely differ mostly by shape and the traditional accompaniments, which vary considerably by region.

A taco is a small flour tortilla (about the size of your hand) that’s folded in half filled with just about anything you want – often some sort of meat and salsa, possibly with veggies, beans, or cheese. It’s traditional Mexican street food. You usually eat two or three at a time. ETA: I think hard corn tortillas (pre-formed into shells) are another US invention.

Burritos are pretty much the same thing, but larger and completely enclosed in a larger tortilla. Less messy. They’re not as traditional – IIRC they’re an invention of gringos from Southern California – but they’ve become ubiquitous in the US and some parts of northern Mexico.

Fajitas are a particular type of filling that’s usually served in a particular way. In a Tex-Mex restaurant, they’ll cook up marinated skirt steak with peppers and onions and usually bring out the whole skillet, along with all of the other associated fixings and flour tortillas. You assemble them yourself at the table.

A “wrap” is a very recent variation where you put whatever the hell you want into a very large not-quite-flour-tortilla. Most restaurants in the US have wraps which are filled with whatever sandwich fixings or salads they serve normally. They’re particularly popular today because they are “low-carb” and also a convenient portable way to eat a salad. Usually has nothing to do with Mexican or Tex-Mex food.

Raguleader & Lazybratsche have it right.

Tacos are basically a sort of sandwich, if you think about the tortilla being the bread. You have some sort of filling, usually meat and some kind of vegetables in the tortilla, which is folded up into a u-shape.

Fajitas more properly refers to the meat itself - it’s marinated grilled skirt steak slices and grilled onions and peppers that you generally eat taco-style in a tortilla with pico de gallo and/or guacamole. Sometimes cheese and sour cream are served alongside as well.

Burritos are a little different- they’re more of a self-contained taco, if you will. Usually burritos also have beans in them in my experience. I think Lazybratsche is right- they’re a north of the border invention, and typically seem to be a meal in themselves, while most people eat at least a couple of tacos at a sitting, sometimes with side dishes.

There’s no reason that you couldn’t make a taco with any burrito filling and vice versa; the main thing is that tacos are open tortillas and burritos are closed up.

If you ordered “fajitas, hold the tortillas”, they would know exactly what you meant: the grilled meat/vegetables ARE the fajitas. But if you ordered tacos or burritos without the tortilla, it wouldn’t even make sense.

Note that “taco” and “burrito” are not necessarily the same thing north and south of the Rio Grande; the basic formula may apply but what you get may be widely varied and possibly unrecognizable as one or the other. What everyone above are describing are the American conventions. In Mexico a hard-shelled taco is unseen; a soft corn tortilla with meat, veggies and other ingredients like guacamole and/or salsa is what you will get in Mexico. A burrito in Mexico is essentially just an extra-large taco with a flour tortilla instead of corn (large corn tortillas tend not to hold up too well).

Are you familiar with the subtle differnences between spaghetti and linguine? Or penne and rigatoni? They have slightly different shapes and typical uses. Same type of thing. Perhaps to the Mexican, each of those labels are just inscrutable words representing indistinguishable fragments of pasta.

And isn’t a “burrito” descended from a “burro”?

Yeah the story is that there was a street taco vendor who would transport himself and his wares on his donkey, prompting people to refer to his fare as “food of the little donkey.”

Is that right? Interesting.

At some restaurants, I’ve actually seen something called a “burro” on the menu, and they seem to be super-large burritos.

My ~1990 edition of The People’s Guide to Mexico warns that if you ask for a burrito anywhere outside the North, then you may get a small donkey.

Whatis the difference between a sandwich, a panini, a melt, a sub and a burger? It’s all stuff between two pieces of bread.

Burritos may have been invented on this side of the border, but probably not by gringos. I think it’s more a product of the northernmost regions of Mexican cuisine, which happen to be in America at the moment. Culinary traditions respect no border, and there is nothing inherently “inauthentic” about the Mexican cuisines of America.

That’s just a sort of Spanglish joke. A burro is a burrito (“little burro”) that isn’t so little.

I thought the whole thing about donkeys was a myth. :smiley:

Since this is about food, let’s move it across the border to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

Reminds me of a rant I like to go into. When I was stationed in Kansas, I was treated to a cornucopia of fast food joints the likes of which I’d never seen before (Texas has its own fast food chains, as does Cali, Kansas is just… weird.)

Anyhow, one day my girlfriend and I stopped in at a place called Taco Tico. I had a beef-and-potato burrito that was honestly pretty good. I went back to the office and mentioned it when asked about my lunch. One of my co-workers (one of the whitest guys I’ve ever worked with, incidentally), then complained that “That’s not authentic Mexican food!”

My reply being “So what? If I want authentic Mexican food, I’ll go home.”:smiley:

I have never heard that. I heard that the nickname was based on the fact that a “burrito could carry everything/you could pack anything into/onto it” - i.e., at its most basic, it was “leftovers and rice in a tortilla.” Now that I think about it, I have no recollection where I heard that…

Hmm, at this site, they state:

More than you ever wanted to know.

We tend to hash this one out every year or so. Never to any satisfactory conclusion, mind you! :smiley: