Armando Vera’s stoic face lights up with a smile when customers mention how far they’ve traveled to eat at his restaurant, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que. Patrons make sojourns from Dallas, Austin, and even El Paso to order pounds of his barbacoa de cabeza de res a la leña en pozo—beef-head barbacoa slow-cooked over mesquite in an in-ground pit that’s 7 feet long and lined by bricks. The restaurant was established by his father in 1955 on Southmost Boulevard in Brownsville. Vera is tall and blocky with a mustache that has yet to sprout gray hairs. He’s an imposing figure—even when he’s sitting at a table, readers perched on the bridge of his nose beneath the brim of his mesh ball cap, reviewing receipts. He’ll scan the dining room filled with out-of-towners (locals tend to get barbacoa to go) sitting gleefully over clumped threads of smoke-kissed meat. And they know the best way to eat barbacoa is in a taco: wrapped in an aromatic corn tortilla and sprinkled with chopped white onion and cilantro and a splash of red or green salsa.
Vera’s is reason enough to travel to this corner of Brownsville locals call “La Southmost.” The actual name of the nearly 4-mile road near the Rio Grande is Southmost Boulevard. Here, dozens of Mexican restaurants, tortillerias, and taquerias are wedged between grocery stores, dentist offices, ice cream shops, churches, and a hodgepodge of other businesses. It’s where you’ll find some of the best tacos in the state of Texas. “It’s a source of pride for us,” Vera says.
I don’t make this claim lightly. I started writing about tacos professionally 10 years ago. First at the Dallas Observer, and then for my own website, thetacotrail.com. In the last two years, I have traveled to 38 cities across the country in the process of writing my book, American Tacos: A History of the Taco Trail North of the Border (out in early 2020 by The University of Texas Press). From my experience, no single geographical area in the Lone Star State has tacos as uniformly excellent as La Southmost—and that includes Oak Cliff in Dallas, Airline Drive in Houston, the East Side of Austin, and South Jackson Road in Pharr.
The tacos you’ll find on Southmost come in three varieties: breakfast tacos, fried tacos, and beef tacos. Trying them all is essential. Breakfast tacos go by the name tortillas de harina because of the 10-inch flour tortillas they’re served in. They’re typically filled with ingredients as familiar as chorizo and eggs, or as regionally specific as weenies (sliced Vienna sausages or hot dogs) and eggs. Fried tacos, like tacos dorados (deep-fried folded corn tortillas) and flautas (rolled and fried), are also popular—some are drowned in salsa, earning the moniker ahogados. Most prevalent are the beef preparations like barbacoa, bistek (thinly sliced), fajita, and mollejas (sweetbreads). They’re generally smaller in size and served in orders of three to six—closer to what most Americans would recognize as “street tacos.”
So start your fast: You’re going to need as much room and time as possible to get a true taste of Southmost. These seven taquerias—vetted from many days of repeat visits—are great places to start your grand tour of this South Texas taco haven.
Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que
2404 Southmost Blvd, 956-546-4159