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Texas barbecue restaurant named American Classic by James Beard Foundation

Matthew Odam
A pile of barbacoa from Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que. [CONTRIBUTED]

Barbacoa is getting its deserved moment. Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que, which is renowned for its traditional weekend barbacoa cook, has earned the distinction as an “American Classic” by the James Beard foundation.

The Brownsville restaurant is one of six American restaurants to earn the honor given to “locally-owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.”

Vera’s joins Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor as the only other Texas barbecue restaurant on the American Classics list. Aaron Franklin is the only barbecue cook to win a regional Best Chef award, taking home the honor in 2015.

Here’s what the esteemed foundation had to say about the restaurant located on the city’s famous Southmost Boulevard.

“Armando “Mando” Vera and his family practice a near-lost art in South Texas: barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued cow’s head) buried underground in a brick-lined pit and smoked for up to 12 hours. The tradition stems from the region’s 19th century vaquero-cowboy culture; Vera’s father opened a restaurant serving the specialty in 1955. Barbacoa is for weekend feasts. Customers request meat by the pound or half-pound (cachete, or cheek meat, is a rich and popular cut) and then build their own tacos with tortillas, homemade garnishes, onion, and cilantro that come with each order. Brownsville is a four-hour drive from San Antonio, the closest major Texas city, but the chance to savor this disappearing border-town delicacy merits a pilgrimage.“

Vera’s will be celebrated at he annual James Beard Awards Gala on May 4, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

For more on Brownsville’s taquerias and other great taquerias in the Rio Grande Valley, check out our taco tour of South Texas from 2017.