Tex Mex sloppy joe DSC3332

Tex-Mex sloppy Joe sandwich

The other day, I was in a taqueria eating a sandwich stuffed with a spicy, saucy picadillo that was rich with tomatoes and chiles. It was delicious, but it was also a bit of a mess as the meat kept sliding out of the bun every time I took a bite. Finally, I gave up on using my hands and grabbed a knife and a fork. While I was tucking into the sandwich, it reminded me of something but I couldn’t figure it out. Then it occurred to me: this was a Tex-Mex sloppy Joe.

Ah, the sloppy Joe—that much loved sandwich often found at tailgates, school cafeterias, and the homes of busy families. Despite its popularity, it’s not a sandwich I indulge in very often, though when I was a kid mom used to make them for Saturday lunches. I asked her why we ate them every Saturday and she said because they were quick yet good.

And it’s true—they’re are a snap to make, but their sweet and savory flavor belies their simplicity. Plus there’s also an adventure in every bite—will the meat stay in the bun or land in your shirt? This sandwich definitely lives up to its name.

Tex-Mex sloppy Joe | Homesick Texan

That said, while the sandwich isn’t very neat, some say actually it was named after a Havana bar popular in the 1940s and not its less-than-tidy appearance. The bar was called Sloppy Joe’s, and as the story goes, its cook took some leftover picadillo and tossed it with a spicy tomato sauce. He then placed the meat between in a bun and called it a Sloppy Joe in a nod to his employer.

Of course, while this is all speculation and its true origins are a bit murky, you can’t dispute that this sandwich has been a classic for almost 70 years. Typically, a sloppy Joe is loose ground beef that’s been cooked in a simple sauce made up of ketchup, Worcestershire and aromatics. From there, however, you can doll them up anyway you like.

For my Tex-Mex sloppy Joes, I throw in a chipotle chile for heat. I also cut back on the ketchup to tone down the sweetness, add smoked paprika for its earthiness, simmer the meat with beer for depth, and finish it with a splash of lime juice to make it bright. To serve, I pile it onto a bun along with chopped cilantro, onions, a sprinkle of Cotija cheese, and a generous spoonful of creamy guacamole.

Tex-Mex sloppy Joe | Homesick Texan

While my family only ate sloppy Joes on Saturdays, I find they are terrific any day of the week. But no matter when you enjoy them, know this: a knife and a fork along with a pile of napkins are a must. It’s delicious, yes, but it’s also very messy. Though I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5 from 3 votes

Tex-Mex sloppy Joe sandwich

Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 6
Author Lisa Fain


  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 chipotle chile en adobo
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15 ounces canned tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 12 ounces beer, such as Mexican lager
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, divided
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 4 to 6 warm buns for serving
  • Guacamole, for serving
  • Cilantro, for serving
  • Onions, for serving
  • Sliced jalepeños, for serving
  • Cotija cheese, for serving


  • In a large skillet, on medium-low heat, while stirring occasionally, cook the meat until browned, about 10 minutes. (If you like, you can drain the extra fat once the meat is browned.) Add the onions and diced bell pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
  • Meanwhile, in a blender mix the tomato sauce, chipotle chile, oregano, ground cumin, smoked paprika, allspice, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce. Pour tomato salsa into the skillet along with the beer, ketchup and half of the cilantro. Stir until well combined.
  • Cook on medium-low heat uncovered for 15 minutes and then stir in the remaining cilantro and lime juice. Adjust seasonings and add salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Serve on warm buns with guacamole, cilantro, onion, jalapeño slices and Cotija cheese.

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5 from 3 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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  1. The Fierros says:

    Made these last night….SO good. Even my husband, my macho Mexicano, liked them and he hates Sloppy Joes. So spicy, so delicious! Thank you so much for this riff – the family voted it into the "keeper folder"! Wish I had brought some to work to have for lunch…could use a little spice today! 🙂 Thanks again for your complete and utter awesomeness!

  2. I made these last night, and they were a big hit. I can't find Cotija cheese in Australia, so I subbed crumbled Greek feta. I also used homemade pickled onions. Great recipe!

  3. I stumbled upon your recipe while looking for a sloppy joe with egg recipe for my college son who had loved a similar dish at a Mexican restaurant near his school. I made them tonight for the family and they were a hit. Definitely keeping the recipe handy for future meals.

  4. Like Shoreacres, I grew up in Iowa (outside of the Air Force years in Texas in the middle 50s) and although my mom sometimes made sloppy joes, I mostly remember them from the school cafeteria which never served patty hamburgers. Mom used canned tomato soup for the sloppy part and always included plenty of sauteed diced onion–my dad didn’t care for them, so it wasn’t often on our dinner table. Canned Manwich sauce showed up in 1969 when my kids were tiny, and I used that a few times. I probably haven’t cooked a sloppy joe since 1980. During a visit to Iowa in the late 90s, DH and I sought out a Maid-Rite, advertised as THE iconic Iowa sandwich (it was a pork “loin” during my growing up years because I never saw a Maid-Rite in East Central Iowa during my youth). YUCK! Your more sophisticated recipe, however, does sound interesting enough to try again. Chipotles, ground beef, and guac–what could go amiss?

    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Janet–Little known fact but I lived in Iowa City briefly in the early 1990s. Hope you enjoy this recipe–I’m certain it’s an improvement on Midwestern loose meat sandwiches!

      1. I did later live in Austin from 1986 through 2000 and have always been a Texan in my heart.

  5. Patrick T. Soltis says:

    Ms. Fain,

    If I’m not mistaken, Sloppy Joe’s was a bar in Key West, Florida, and a favorite hang-out of Ernest Hemingway at one time. It may still exist. I don’t know whether the bar had any relationship to the sandwich.

    We used to get them in junior- and high-school cafeterias in the 1960s. Your version looks good. Need to try it one of these days!



    1. Lisa Fain says:

      Patrick–I’ve never been to Key West but will look up that bar when I visit. What an interesting history!