The T cell antigen receptor (TCR)-peptide-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) interface is composed of conserved and diverse regions, yet the relative contribution of each in shaping recognition by T cells remains unclear. Here we isolated cross-reactive peptides with limited homology, which allowed us to compare the structural properties of nine peptides for a single TCR-MHC pair. The TCR's cross-reactivity was rooted in highly similar recognition of an apical 'hot-spot' position in the peptide with tolerance of sequence variation at ancillary positions. Furthermore, we found a striking structural convergence onto a germline-mediated interaction between the TCR CDR1α region and the MHC α2 helix in twelve TCR-peptide-MHC complexes. Our studies suggest that TCR-MHC germline-mediated constraints, together with a focus on a small peptide hot spot, might place limits on peptide antigen cross-reactivity.