‘Sex Mex’ Is Trendy, though Using Sex to Sell Tacos Is Hardly New

“Hmmm, how can we report El Hefe?” a restaurant’s website reads. “Think Dia de Los Muertos — yet with character (and great-looking servers!)”

In late January, Scottsdale’s nightlife district welcomed another stylish and “sexy” Mexican grill to a neighborhood: Casa Amigos, from Scottsdale-based Evening Entertainment Group, described in a new press recover as “a spicy, voluptuous Mexican restaurant.”

Evening Entertainment Group declined to be interviewed for this piece, providing instead a brief created matter about a group’s pattern truth and joining to “top-notch” food and drink. Riot Hospitality Group, who owns El Hefe, also declined to be interviewed.

El Hefe and Casa Amigos aren’t a usually restaurants putting “sexy” during a core of their brand, of course. Hooters brought a “breastaurant” into a American dining mainstream in a 1980s and 1990s. Similar concepts have followed suit, replicating a boobs-and-booze regulation to a change of some-more than $1 billion in annual sales, according to several reports.

But there’s also a whole subgenre of these kinds of restaurants — call them “Sex Mex,” if we wish — that appears to be growing. There’s a Florida grill that describes a menu as “sexy Mexican food and qualification cocktails.” The San Antonio Mexican grill where a all-female wait staff wear slip and swimwear. The Harlem taco shop, Sexy Taco/Dirty Cash, whose trademark facilities a pinup indication straddling a tough bombard taco with one palm while balancing a margarita in a other.

All of that begs a question: Is Sex Mex a new trend in Mexican dining? More to a point, should it be?


“Sexy, sharp — those are a kinds of difference that have historically been used to classify Latinas,” says Dr. Meredith Abarca, an English highbrow during a University of Texas during El Paso.

Abarca has created extensively about a intersection of class, gender, and Mexican foodways. She’s not certain what to cruise about a grill that markets itself as “sexy” and “spicy.”

“Spicy, in a context of chiles and Mexican food history, that creates clarity to me,” she says. “But when we supplement a word sexy, it raises a lot of questions.”

“The initial thing that comes to mind is ‘hot tamale.’ The aged classify of Latinas as hot, sizzling things.”

Hot tamale. Spicy señorita. The difference plead a dark-haired, red-lipped, hypersexual Latina woman. It’s one of a oldest and many determined Latina stereotypes in a book.

Spicy is what Mexican film singer Lupe Velez, star of a “Mexican spitfire” wordless film series, was called in turn-of-the-century Hollywood (Velez was infrequently marketed as “The Hot Pepper”). Spicy is “exotic” Carmen Miranda donning blood-red lipstick, a sequined bra, and pineapple headdress. Spicy is Sofía Vergara personification an archetypically loud, voluptuous Latina bombshell, good into a 21st century on ABC’s Modern Family.

Spicy suggests someone who is alluring, yet also vigourous and childlike. To be sharp is to be a chairman who can't be taken wholly seriously, and presumably shouldn’t be trusted.

It competence seem like a harmless, even flattering, cliché. But tell that to Josefa Loaiza, a Gold Rush-era Californian with a indeterminate eminence of being what many historians trust is a usually lady to be lynched and hanged in a state of California. Her crime: stabbing a male who pennyless into her house. Reports from a epoch report her as a hot-blooded beauty. From her saga, it’s easy to suppose a terrible ways that “spicy” and “hot-blooded” can be transmuted into “crazy” — or “dangerous.”

How does a “spicy Latina” trope join with a food world, though? we asked Gustavo Arellano, whose book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America charts a intriguing arena of Mexican cooking in a U.S.

Arellano, famous for gleefully imploding extremist stereotypes in his renouned long-running syndicated buttress “Ask a Mexican,” says that a “spicy Latina” is a unequivocally aged trope that played a large partial in popularizing Mexican food in a U.S.

“It goes behind all a approach to a initial famous Mexican restaurateurs, when they were famous as chili queens in San Antonio,” he says.

Arellano devotes a section in his book to a story of a chili queens. These were a Mexican womanlike cooks who set adult temporary restaurants during night in a plazas of 19th-century San Antonio. The food — that enclosed chile criminal carne and tamales dished out of large pots placed over open fires — captivated extraordinary tourists drawn to a “exotic” internal dishes.

They were drawn not usually by a newness of a food, yet by a “coquettish señoritas” portion it, that is how author O. Henry describes a women in his brief story “The Enchanted Kiss.”

“They were literally a initial sharp señoritas,” says Arellano. “And either they did it intentionally or not, a lot of their interest was their sex appeal.”

The chili queens might have faded from a plazas of San Antonio decades ago, yet a thought of “coquettish señoritas” lives on to this day.

Before there were sincerely passionate breastaurants, Mexican restaurants were skilful during highlighting womanlike sexuality, despite in somewhat some-more pointed ways than today’s Hefe Girls.

Like other “ethnic” cuisines angling for a American mainstream, Mexican restaurants in a latter half of a 20th century mostly played adult a intrigue of exoticism, in this box a intrigue of “Old Mexico.” Portraying Mexican women in a certain light was a large partial of that regretful image.

Arelleno points to a china poblana dress — a infrequently low-cut farmer dress mostly ragged by womanlike servers — that became a hallmark of higher-end Mexican restaurants in a latter half of a 20th century. The dress was a discernible pen that placed Latinas as exotic, sensual, and decorative.

The china poblana dress has mostly been late from contemporary Mexican restaurants. But in cities like metro Phoenix, Arellano says, Sex Mex continues in during slightest dual opposite veins.

“You have a restaurants for a Scottsdale crowd, yet we also have restaurants for a Mexican newcomer crowd,” he says. “And where we unequivocally see it is in a marisquerías.”

If a Scottsdale crowds have places like El Hefe, afterwards a Mexican newcomer throng has places like Mariscos Hector, a sexed-up Sinaloan marisquería (seafood restaurant) that’s turn a buttress of a Orange County Mexican food scene.

Mariscos Hector proudly bills itself as a “Mexican Hooters.” Unlike other breastaurants, that downplay charges of sexism by articulate adult a peculiarity of their duck wings or burgers, Mariscos Hector feels some-more like an oversexed bar that happens to offer seafood. The restaurant’s womanlike servers, a well-developed organisation that serves aguachile platters with a side of strident banda music, are shamelessly plugged as a restaurant’s underline attraction. (Mariscos Hector did not respond to New Times’ ask for an interview.)

This form of Mexican restaurant, geared toward Mexican newcomer men, doesn’t play on secular stereotypes to interest to a non-Mexican dining public. It relies, instead, on good out-of-date Mexican machismo.

In a end, El Hefe and Mariscos Hector, dual restaurants that evidently seem worlds apart, feel a small like consanguine spirits. Beneath Hector’s howling banda music, and El Hefe’s thumping EDM soundtrack, we can hear both vocalization a concept denunciation of sexism.


These days, when restaurants exaggerate about sex appeal, it’s mostly dictated to communicate things like tufted leather booths, or pricey, showstopper bars.

“Sexy” has turn a renouned — and, arguably, stale and confused — selling and pattern term, a catchall for anything meant to be accepted as youthful, deluxe, or stylish. we think that’s what places like Casa Amigos have in mind when they speak about a “spicy, sexy” Mexican restaurant.

But sexy, when it’s specifically describing a intimately charged grill sourroundings — well, that can be problematic, Abarca tells me.

Hyper-sexualized work environments, like those found in some restaurants, figure a “bigger picture” of society, she says. They simulate a change of appetite in a universe — one that mostly belongs to absolute men.

“With all these accusations we keep conference about … group who feel like they can do whatever they wish — this is usually another approach in which, systematically, women are monotonous and objectified,” she says.

No matter what is meant by regulating a word “sexy,” though, regulating sex interest to sell Mexican food, even on a broadest terms, fundamentally evokes some-more than a century of extremist and sexist stereotypes — evidence a prohibited tamales, hot-blooded chicas, and loud, empty bombshells.

And it’s value observant that cheerfully branding Mexican food as “sexy” or “fun” or “spicy” exoticizes a food enlightenment that is not exotic. Mexican food, in box we haven’t noticed, has been around these tools for utterly a while. It’s as American as apple pie, or Taco Bell.

“Mexican food now is so popular,” Arellano tells me. “You unequivocally don’t need sex interest to sell it anymore.”

That kind of clear-eyed comment still seems mislaid on some restaurateurs, though, who continue to gaunt on old concepts to sell food and drink. Why not, instead, concentration that appetite on creation good food?

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It’s tough to ignore, too, how disingenuous, tone-deaf, and unwelcoming these kinds of restaurants can feel.

Proclaiming that your Mexican grill is like Dia de Los Muertos, for instance — yet with some-more character and great-looking servers — underlines a emplacement with character over substance, and a miss of honour for a enlightenment that’s assisting put dollars in your pocket. And employing usually “sexy chicas” to offer food? It’s a surefire approach to close out a large partial of a dining public.

“Sex and food, that’s not a new connection,” says Abarca. “But it’s engaging that it’s being used so resolutely by restaurants.

“The doubt remains, who are they anticipating to attract?”

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