Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que

2404 Southmost Rd.
Brownsville, TX 78521

Phone: 956-546-4159
Hours: Sat & Sun 5:30 am till meat runs out

Pitmaster Mando Vera
Method Mesquite and ebony; indirect-heat pit

TMBBQ Rating: 4.75

TMBBQ Buzz

Comments from our joint finder app.
Really enjoyed it. Brisket had great flavor, fresh cut fries were excellent. Tracy is a fantastic waitress.
beau smith @ Cokers, 2015-05-04 17:39:11
Brown's BBQ in Austin. South Lamar. Beef ribs: small but have good flavor. If they were cooked any longer they would have become tough. The brisket had very good taste a little bit of a smoke ring but the fat should've been rendered down unlock more on the moist cut. The lien cut was very good and tender. The sauce had a sweetness to it that was just a bad right but could've used a little pepper. I had two sides the coleslaw and the mac & cheese. The coleslaw was too vinegary but the mac & cheese was quite good but had a Val Vita cheese taste to it. All in all I would give it a 3 1/2 out of five stars for the ribs and for the lean brisket I'd give it a four out of five. For the moist have to give it two out of five just because half of the meat I got was just fat size since they paid $14 a pound for half of what I should've got if you go make sure that they trim the moist before they weigh it
Terry r @ , 2015-05-04 00:43:59
@Rafter J's in Iowa Park. Passed this place for sometime. Curious about a BBQ and Canjun food place. They do not have ribs on the two meat plate. I ordered ribs while my husband ordered sliced brisket and sausage. The ribs had a good texture and were tender. No spice that I could tell were on the ribs. BBQ sauce is tangy and slightly sweet. The ribs do benefit from the sauce. Sausage is an Eckridge type. Brisket did not have much of a smoke ring snd was a little dry. There was not much in the way of spices on the brisket. The brisket did have a little bit of bark but not much and some smoke flavor. Next we will try the Canjun fair.
Mae McKnight @ , 2015-05-03 23:48:13
Wet brisket was great. Pork spare red dry and not cleaned. Good meal over all.
Ted hindes @ Rudy’s Bar-B-Q, 2015-05-02 18:31:18
Had the brisket and pork ribs. Both excellent. Just the right amount of smoke.
scott7 @ Virgie’s Bar-B-Que, 2015-05-02 01:18:59
A heavy chipotle rub on the ribs, a little chewy.
@ Woodshed Smokehouse, 2015-05-01 22:34:51
Caught the very end of lunch service. Good brisket, turkey, and pulled pork, but the bread was the star!
idighorns @ The Granary ’Cue and Brew, 2015-05-01 21:54:36
Brisket nice and moist with lots of smoke. Love that hot sauce! The star of the show is the mutton, though!! Something new for me and can't wait to eat it again!!
Adam Murray @ Southside Market and BBQ, 2015-05-01 18:14:56
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Review

March 26, 2012

I’m not here to tell you that I’m an authority on barbacoa. I know enough about it to be dangerous, and I’ve eaten enough of it to know that what I ate at Vera’s was something special. The funny part is that the best place to get barbacoa in Texas doesn’t have a single Yelp or Urbanspoon review. Take that however you like, but a visit to Vera’s isn’t exactly adventurous.

You can read a much more detailed version of the process that owner Mando Vera goes through to get traditionally smoked barbacoa in Smokestack Lightning, but here is the abbreviated process. Mando washes whole cow heads. These days those whole heads don’t include the brain (sesos). Brains haven’t been available commercially since 2005 due to the mad cow scare. The cleaned heads are then wrapped in foil unseasoned and placed in a brick-lined pit. Mesquite and ebony coals have been cooked down in a deep brick-lined pit where the wrapped heads are then stacked. The pit is covered with a metal lid then with dirt. The whole heads will cook in the pit for around eight hours. Until recently, this process occurred in a small building just behind the restaurant, but a fire forced the operation to move temporarily to an off-site pit until the damage can be repaired. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get to the other pit. Mando was just too tired after a very long day.

Barbacoa taco with salsa verde.

(The taco above is so beautiful that you’ll see it again in this review.)

The whole heads are then brought into the restaurant’s kitchen where they are unwrapped and meticulously cleaned by Mando and his staff. Meat is separated into cheek (cachete), tongue (lengua), and eyes (ojos), and the rest is chopped into mixta. Mando’s wife and daughters then serve it up from steam tables just behind the ordering counter. Orders are generally made by the pound with a half pound being the smallest order. They don’t serve tacos, but rather offer chopped raw onions and cilantro, raw chile pequin, a trio of hot sauces, and warm tortillas by the pack from nearby Capistran Tortilla Factory. The salsa verde with tomatillos, avocado, lime, green chiles, and cilantro was my favorite. Now it’s time to assemble.

Bufé escandinavo.

Vera’s is unique in Texas. Due to health codes, there is not another place in the state where you can get barbacoa like this from a commercial vendor. For the most traditional backyard barbacoa, cooking with wood in a pit in the ground is the only way to do it, but the health department frowns on this sort of cooking. As long as Vera’s remains operational they will be grandfathered in and allowed to continue to cook in the old way. With no exaggeration, if this place closes it will mean the end of traditional barbacoa available commercially in Texas.

Vera’s is also a unique business model in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Most every place that serves barbacoa is either a tortilla factory or a meat market. Like Vera’s, these places usually serve it on Saturdays and Sundays only, but it’s a smaller part of a large operation. On the weekends, Vera’s is all cow head, all the time (except a sad brisket that we’ll get to later). The careful selection of another shop’s tortillas spoke of their focus rather than any sort of corner-cutting. The small building has a few tables inside, but the business (other than Nick and I) was strictly take-out. We sat for over an hour on a Saturday morning watching the crowds chat with Mando and leave with plastic bags filled with steaming meat—all of this happening while he was assembling taco after taco.

Cachete.

Smoked brisket was on the menu, so I had to order it, but it’s not really worth a mention here. I’ll just say, order the barbacoa.

Smoked brisket.

I felt like too much of a gringo if I had just ordered the cachete, so I got a half pound of the mixta as well. The mixta was so fatty and gamey that I must admit it was hard to enjoy without the tortilla and plenty of salsa verde. I later learned that cachete is what just about everyone orders unless its gone, then you’re left with mixta. I’ll be getting cachete from now on.

Mando cleaning a head.

I was so full on the initial visit that Saturday morning after days of eating that I was force-feeding myself. I knew Vera’s was a special place, and against my normal pattern we returned the next day with a hungry stomach. Another reason for returning was a promise from the owner, Mando. When I inquired about ojos, he said that indeed the eyes were a delicacy and that the cost is no matter to those that come in requesting them. He showed me a cooked eye, which weighed in at around a one-fourth pound each, and I asked him if he liked them. He paused with a pondering look and confessed that he’d never tried one. We then agreed that I’d return the next day, and we’d each eat our first eye together.

Mando holding a cow eye. (Photograph by Nick McWhirter)

The next morning Nick and I sat for about an hour eating and waiting for the right moment when Mando could steal a few minutes. After a few tacos of cachete and salsa verde, we were ready for the eye. Mando brought out a small paper boat of chopped meat. I had envisioned dangling the eye over my mouth and taking a large bite, but Mando said this was only going to happen if a tortilla and some salsa was involved. We quickly wrapped the gooey meat into a tortilla, feigned a tortilla toast, and chowed down. Eyes are a muscle, so it tasted about like a gamier version of the mixta, but it was hard to get over the unstable texture that offered no resistance. I think Mando and I were both glad we split the eye, but it was an incredible experience nonetheless. We had only a minute or two to laugh about it before Mando went back to deal with the unceasing line of hungry Texans.

The “eyes” have it!

After two days of eating this barbacoa and a couple of hours of watching Mando’s daughters enjoy it at one of the dining room tables, I came up with my preferred method for eating it. The cachete is rich like any fatty cut of beef would be but a hint of the smoke has kissed the meat as well. Unlike the usual barbacoa that is steamed, this meat is a bit firmer and not as wet, but it wouldn’t in any way be considered dry. It’s also cooked without seasoning, so the sprinkling of a little salt is a normal and helpful addition. Place a bit of the salted meat in a warm tortilla along with some of their excellent salsa verde and enjoy, over and over and over.

Take me back to Brownsville.

It might not be the kind of Texas barbecue that you’re used to, but this sort of smoked meat has been around far longer than the smoked brisket that I love so much. It is Texas’s real native barbecue, and Vera’s is a Texas historical treasure. It’s worth a pilgrimage.

(This review originally appeared on Full Custom Gospel BBQ.)

Comments

1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    Very nice review! I’ve always wanted to try traditional cows head barbacoa. I’ve had some excellent lengua tacos that were a lot like a falling apart pot roast. I’ve even had very good tripas, in this case piggy small inestines. I can’t say I’ve ever had ojos (eyes) and it sounds like pretty deep end of the pool stuff but I’d give them a shot after a couple of pre-beers.

    The Homesick Texan has a really great post on cows head barbacoa..
    http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/2009/07/cow-head-barbacoa.html

    It’s sad to think that Vera’s is the last restaurant in Texas to carry on this BBQ tradition.

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