You’re at a restaurant and a platter is placed in front of you. It includes a corn or flour tortilla wrapped around your choice of protein, topped with a variety of dressings and other condiments. What exactly did you order? Was it a plate of taquitos, flautas, or enchiladas?
Considering they can all be described in the most basic terms as “a tortilla wrapped around a protein and topped with your choice of add-ons,” it’s understandable why these three traditional dishes might get confused. Let’s walk through the key distinctions of each.
Both taquitos and flautas (more on those later) fall under a larger category of tacos dorados, or golden tacos, which refers to the fact they are fried until golden brown. The name “taquitos” simply means “small tacos,” a fitting name since they’re so tightly rolled. They’re filled with everything you’d normally find in a taco: chicken, pork, or beef, plus cheese, and an array of accompaniments like lettuce or cabbage, diced tomatoes, onions, and avocado.
Although taquitos are enjoyed in many Mexican restaurants, the origins of these tiny tacos are more Mexican-American than the others, explains Taste Atlas. The invention of taquitos is often attributed to a man named Ralph Pesqueria, who owned a tortilla factory in San Diego in the early 1900s, though it might just be that he provided a name for a dish that was already gaining popularity throughout Southern California and the Southwestern United States.
To distinguish taquitos from other tacos dorados and dishes involving a rolled tortilla, it is important to remember that taquitos are made using a small corn tortilla that is twice folded; compared to the other dishes, these are generally the smallest.
“Flauta” translates to “flute,” a reference to the very long, cylindrical shape of these rolled tortillas; they sometimes have a conical shape to them, with one end a bit more open than the other. As for fillings, flautas are like taquitos, featuring any number of fillings from beans and cheese to chicken and vegetables. They’re also deep fried to get that golden color.
However, flautas are more traditionally made using a flour tortilla (though you can use corn too), and the tortilla is much larger than the ones used for taquitos. This dish comes from Mexico and recipes vary across regions.
Enchiladas are made using corn tortillas and are filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, but unlike the aforementioned dishes, they are not deep fried or crispy. Instead, enchiladas are bathed in a sauce made from chiles (either red or green) and often topped with cotija cheese.
What we know as enchiladas today can be traced back to the Maya and the Aztecs based on historical accounts. As early as 2000-250 BC, the Maya were said to have dipped corn tortillas in pumpkin seeds, rolled them around a chopped hard-boiled egg, and covered them in a tomato sauce. However, the Aztecs were the first to eat something most closely resembling the modern version of the dish. They would grind up chili pepper to create a paste, dip tortillas in the paste, and then fill them with beans, squash, fish, game, or eggs. Taco expert José R. Ralat notes in Texas Monthly that the word “enchilada” is likely derived from the Nahuatl word chīllapīzzali, which means “chile flute.”
When I want a small and satisfying little something with a crispy crunch, I’ll reach for a taquito. When I want something smothered and saucy, my eyes zoom toward the enchiladas on the menu. Depending on how they are prepared, flautas can provide the best of both worlds, with a crispy tortilla but all the right toppings to soften it. It’s not about picking favorites. What really matters is that you make sure to try them all.