Jan 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

99% of Americans live near a Mexican restaurant

Number of Mexican restaurants, by county
Data: SafeGraph; Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

About 99% of all Americans live near at least one Mexican restaurant, a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from SafeGraph has found.

Why it matters: The proliferation of Mexican restaurants — once staples only of the Southwest and parts of the Midwest — highlights the growing influence of Mexican Americans on U.S. culture and the effects of increased migration from Mexico over the last 30 years.

The big picture: About 37.2 million people in the U.S. trace their ancestry to Mexico, making Mexican Americans by far the largest Hispanic origin group in the nation, per the Pew Research Center.

  • They represent 11% of the total U.S. population and could surpass Black Americans, who represent 12.5% of the nation's population, in the next decade.

Details: Mexican restaurants are found in a large majority of U.S. counties (about 85% have at least one of them) but make up a substantial share of all restaurants in states that border Mexico, the study found.

  • They account for 22% of all restaurants in New Mexico, 20% in Texas, 18% in Arizona and 17% in California.
  • In California, Los Angeles County alone is home to more than 5,400 Mexican restaurants, or 30% of the nation's total.
  • In Texas, 17% of the state's Mexican restaurants are in Harris County, which includes Houston, while 9% each are located in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, and in Dallas County.

Zoom in: The analysis found that 22% of Mexican restaurants nationwide are fast-food restaurants, 12% specialize in serving tacos, 8% are classified as food trucks or carts, and 6% offer Tex-Mex food.

The intrigue: The 15% of counties without any Mexican restaurants have only 4 million total people living in them — 1% of the total U.S. population.

What they're saying: "Mexican cuisine really is ubiquitous across the American landscape," Aaron Smith, Pew Research Center's director of data labs, tells Axios.

  • "Anywhere you find people, you are probably going to find a Mexican restaurant serving them food.
  • "In many ways, Mexican food is American food, and vice versa."

Between the lines: The growth of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. comes as Tex-Mex, one of America's most popular cuisines, is facing pressure to evolve amid increased migration and changing palates from consumers.

  • Plus, well-known Mexican chefs have helped Mexican cuisine grow globally in popularity.

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