Fajitas are a Texas/Mexican (Tex-Mex) dish made from marinated, grilled meat served on a flour or corn tortilla. Originally fajitas were made of beef, fajitas can now commonly be found made with chicken, fish, shrimp, and pork. Often times onions and bell peppers are grilled up with the meat, and traditional Tex-Mex condiments, such as salsa, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole, may be served as side items.
The word fajita is the Spanish diminutive of “belt” or “girdle.” Along the Texas-Mexico border, butchers historically used the word to refer to the diaphragm of beef, known as “skirt steak” in the United States. This cut of meat was the centerpiece of the first fajitas, eaten perhaps as early as the 1930s.
Like the soul food of the American South, fajitas arose from a need to make cheap food more appetizing. The thin, tough diaphragm is one of the least enticing cuts of meat. It was typically all the ranch hands along the Rio Grande of the 1930s and 40s could afford. Fajitas make good use of the skirt steak and for that reason the cut of meat is still the most popular to use in the dish. Chiefs often argue that using any other kind of meat would not be authentic.
The fajitas of today are called tacos al carbon, after a Mexican dish, in its early incarnations sold at food stands. While tacos al carbon are served ready to eat by hand, with the meat wrapped in a tortilla, many restaurants serve fajitas with a bit more pizzazz. Sizzling fajitas, brought to the table on a hot iron skillet, were first served in 1982 by Chef George Weidmann of the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas. This meal is served with tortillas and other condiments on the side, so that the dish can make fajita tacos to his or her taste.