Tex Mex Meatballs


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Tex Mex meatballs are simmered in a thick, tangy chipotle sauce and served on a bed of rice with creamy avocado slices. This healthy-ish dinner reheats easily, and is a crowd-friendly weeknight meal that’s filled with sweet-smoky flavor.

meatballs, rice and avocado slices in a black bowls

Tender and juicy homemade Tex Mex meatballs will remind you of the flavor-packed Southwestern dishes at your favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant. Crushed corn chips give these saucy meatballs a unique twist, and once you shape the meatballs, absolutely no browning or baking is required. All of the magic happens in one pan. 

Tex Mex meatballs are simmered in the chili powder and cumin adobo sauce for a spicy and smoky meal that can be served as an appetizer, or made into a standalone dinner and plated with aromatic cilantro lime rice and ripe avocado slices.

What is Adobo Sauce?

Adobo sauce is a flavorful marinade used in Mexican cuisine that is made from dried chilis, vinegar, salt, and pantry herbs. This traditional Mexican sauce is thick like BBQ sauce, and has a tangy, smokey, and slight spiciness to it. The rich, complex flavors in this deeply fragrant sauce can be used to marinate chicken, steak, and pork, or as a topping for rice and beans. 

How to Make Tex Mex Meatballs

  1. Make the meatballs. Combine the onion, crushed tortilla chips, and ½ teaspoon each of kosher salt, garlic powder, dried oregano, and black pepper. Add tomato paste, ground beef, and egg.
  2. Form the meatballs. Create 1.5-inch balls, then place on a baking sheet or clean plate. Refrigerate while you make the sauce.
  3. Make the sauce. Heat the garlic, adobo sauce, chili powder, and ground cumin with olive oil in a large skillet. Cook until fragrant.
  4. Cook the meatballs. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer. Add the meatballs and stir to coat. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Serve and enjoy! Serve while warm over cooked rice, and top with sliced avocado and cilantro.
meatballs in a cast iron skillet



  • White Onion – Grated or minced white onion adds a lovely tender bite.
  • Tortilla Chips – Perfectly salty tortilla chips are used in the place of breadcrumbs to add some Southwestern flair to the meatball recipe. Make sure the chips are finely crushed so they integrate easily into the meat mixture.  
  • Kosher Salt, Garlic Powder, Dried Oregano, Black Pepper – This mixture of salt and spice seasons the meatballs. Be sure to use garlic powder, not garlic salt to prevent the meatballs from becoming too salty.
  • Tomato Paste – The concentrated tomato flavors in tomato paste create a tangy base flavor in the meatballs.
  • Lean Ground Beef – Lean ground beef with 10 to 15% fat content will give you meatballs that are tender without having excess, greasy fat.
  • Large Egg – To bind the ingredients.


  • Olive Oil – Any type of olive oil can be used to coat the pan. You could also use avocado oil or grapeseed oil.
  • Garlic – Fragrant minced garlic cloves add flavor to the rich sauce.
  • Adobo Sauce – Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce come in a small can and can be found in the ethnic food aisle of the most local grocery stores. 
  • Chili Powder, Ground Cumin – Classic Southwestern spices to add warmth and spice to the sauce.
  • Tomato Sauce – For extra saucy meatballs. 
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – For a touch of zippy tang.
  • Sugar, Kosher Salt – Sweet and salty elements to balance the spice in the chili powder and chipotle peppers.
mixing meatloaf in a large white bowl

To serve

  • Cooked Rice – Both cooked white rice or brown rice are perfect with the meatballs.
  • Avocado – An easy accompaniment for a taco-like meal. 
  • Cilantro Leaves – Chopped cilantro adds a fresh, vibrant touch to spicy and smokey meatballs.


  • Meatball mixtures can be a little sticky. If the mixture sticks to your hands, rub cooking oil between your hands.
  • Don’t skip the refrigeration step. This step will help the meatballs hold their shape as they cook. 
  • Use a large enough pan to allow the meatballs and sauce to cook evenly, and to prevent the liquid from overflowing.


  • Change proteins – Replace ground beef with ground turkey or ground chicken for a leaner meatball.
  • Make it spicy – Turn up the Southwestern flavors by adding jalapenos, chili pepper flakes, or Serrano peppers.
  • Top with shredded cheese or other taco toppings – Add your favorite taco toppings like shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, or salsa to make colorful taco bowls or salads.


What to serve with Tex Mex meatballs?

There are so many ways to serve Tex Mex meatballs. Add a dollop of cool and creamy sour cream (which will also cut down on the spiciness if you’re sensitive to spice), or replace sliced avocado with homemade guacamole. Serve with refried beans, black beans, or pinto beans. You can also make “tacos” with the meatballs by placing them in warm corn or flour tortillas, or turn Mexican meatballs into a Southwest-inspired sub sandwich.

How long will these meatballs keep?

Tex Mex meatballs will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge when stored in an airtight container. You can also freeze meatballs for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to serve them, thaw in the fridge overnight, and then reheat in a skillet on the stove.

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3.43 from 7 votes

Tex Mex Meatballs Recipe

Tex Mex meatballs are simmered in a thick, tangy chipotle sauce and served on a bed of rice with creamy avocado slices. This healthy-ish dinner reheats easily, and is a crowd-friendly weeknight meal that’s filled with sweet-smoky flavor.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 4


  • Mixing Bowl
  • Saute Pan



  • 1/4 cup white onion, grated or minced
  • 1 cup very finely crushed tortilla chips (make sure these are very finely crushed so you don't have large pieces in your meatballs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (do not use garlic salt or the meatballs will be too salty)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 large egg


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce (from a small can of Chipotle peppers in adobo)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

To serve:

  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves


  • To make the meatballs, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the minced onion, crushed tortilla chips, and 1/2 teaspoon each of kosher salt, garlic powder, dried oregano, and black pepper. Add tomato paste, ground beef, and egg.
  • Gently combine everything with a spoon or clean hands. Form mixture into 1.5-inch balls, placing then on a baking sheet or clean plate as you make them. (Tip: If the mixture sticks to your hands, rub some cooking oil between your hands first.)
  • Refrigerate the meatballs while you make the sauce (this will help them to hold their shape).
  • Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. (Note: be sure to use a large enough pan to hold both the sauce and the meatballs.) Add the garlic, adobo sauce, chili powder, and ground cumin and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add all of the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. When the sauce is simmering, gently add the meatballs to the sauce. Stir to coat.
  • Cover the lid with a pan or foil and reduce the heat to low-medium. Simmer the meatballs in sauce until cooked through, about 15 minutes.
  • Serve the meatballs immediately over rice with avocado slices and cilantro leaves.


Calories: 623kcal | Carbohydrates: 73g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.4g | Cholesterol: 117mg | Sodium: 1277mg | Potassium: 906mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 498IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 94mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef
Cost: $10.00
Calories: 623
Keyword: easy dinner, family friendly, gluten free, Mexican
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cilantro lime rice in a brown bowl
4 from 1 vote

Cilantro Lime Rice

Rice tossed with cilantro and lime – a great addition to mexican or southwestern dishes.
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 18 minutes
Total: 23 minutes
Servings: 4


  • Stockpot or Large Saucepan


  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup medium-grain white rice, rinsed
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • juice squeezed from 1 large lime


  • In a medium pan with a tight-fitting lid, bring combine the salt and water. Bring the water to a boil. Add the rice and bring to a gentle simmer. Put the lid on the pan, reduce the heat to low, and allow the rice to cook for 18 minutes. Remove the lid and check to see if the water has evaporated. If not, continue cooking the rice, covered, for a few minutes more.
  • When all of the water has evaporated, remove the pan from the heat and let rest, covered, until ready to serve.
  • Just before serving, add the cilantro and lime juice and fluff with a fork until evenly combined.


Calories: 169kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 0.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 590mg | Potassium: 59mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 0.1g | Vitamin A: 67IU | Vitamin C: 0.3mg | Calcium: 18mg | Iron: 0.4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef
Cost: $3.00
Calories: 169
Keyword: easy recipe, easy rice recipe, herb rice
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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at InquiringChef.com. She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

3.43 from 7 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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  1. My family loves this recipe. I have made it several times & have used ground turkey in place of the ground beef. I’ve also made it with the beef. After my granddaughter was born I made several freezer meals for my daughter. This recipe was on of their favorites & requested most!!

    1. When I made this as a freezer meal, I cooked the meatballs & froze with the sauce. I did divide it into 2 quart freezer bags.

    1. Ah! Hi hi hi Rachel! Freeze the meatballs before you cook them. I put them on a baking sheet and freeze them for an hour and then pop them off and put them in a freezer bag. Freeze the sauce separately. When I want to cook them, I put them in a baking dish and leave them at room temp just while the oven is heating up. They take a couple minutes extra to cook, but works great every time. Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks! I love your recipes. Just made the sweet chili chicken for dinner while stuck at home for the last four days with the blizzard.

  2. So fun to see you cooking up this recipe from Stephanie’s site! I’ve been meaning to try it, too. I love that girl and her sense of taste and style. Gorgeous, Jess!

    1. It’s spicy and a bit smoky, Tracy – a few of those chilis in adobo go a long way, but the flavor is so unique. Hope you like it!

  3. What fun little bowls! I love the sauce! I actually just love everything about this, Jess!

  4. snooze on a monday morning feels so good. 😉 I love making meatballs. And it’s been forever since I made them. I go for turkey meatballs when I make them (don’t eat much beef), so I’d love to give these a try one time! Beautiful pictures, as always my friend.

    1. Yum, Sally – I usually make turkey meatballs too, but there’s not an ounce of turkey to be had in this country. Boo. I would venture to guess that you could make these meatballs with turkey too – they’ve got so much moisture that it seems like it might work really well!

  5. I love this. I always make regular meatballs (with spaghetti) but this sounds so good! With all that spice and then over rice and with avocado??

    1. I’m not sure I’ve ever made meatballs with spaghetti, Ashley – I’m thinking that needs to be added to the rotation! These were so different than any others I’ve had, but I think that’s why they caught my eye!

  6. My Monday had an episode of Mad Men too Jess! We started watching season one last week and I’m intrigued. I love a good meatball. How interesting that they use tortilla chips. I wouldn’t have judged if you’d eaten them all straight out of the fridge.

    1. It was only about a year ago that I started with Season 1, Claire. I got totally hooked, although the current season is pretty different than the first couple, it’s still really good!