This week, the James Beard Foundation has been slowly revealing its picks for this year’s America’s Classic Awards. Every year, the culinary organization—the very one that bequeaths chefs and restaurants with some of the most prestigious food awards—recognizes “regional establishments, often family-owned, that are cherished for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal.” Hence, the “classic.”
Five other classic restaurants, from a tucked-away Filipino counter in Seattle to a century-old comfort spot in New Hampshire, were announced this week. But it’s a long-loved Texas barbecue institution that we’re especially celebrating. While we acknowledge that it’s not a Dallas eatery getting the national nod, we can appreciate the stateside outfit. At the southernmost tip of Texas, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que in Brownsville (2404 Southmost Boulevard), pit master Armando Vera and his family have been cooking, nay making culinary art, since 1955.
On weekends, Vera specializes in barbacoa de cabeza (barbecued cow’s head), which is first buried underground in a brick-lined pit and then smoked for up to 12 hours. Diners can nab meat by the pound or half-pound (if they’re lucky enough to get some before the day’s cache runs out), then build their own tacos with housemade garnishes. “The tradition stems from the region’s 19th century vaquero-cowboy culture,” says a release from JBF. Vera’s is also on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list of best barbecue restaurants, but it’s nice to see the Brownsville mainstay get some much-deserved national love.
All of the America’s Classic Award winners will be honored at the James Beard Award Gala alongside some of the country’s most prominent chefs in Chicago on May 4.
Now, who’s ready for a barbecue road trip?