John and Veronica Avila had been searching for a new home for their barbecue joint, Burro & Bull, for nearly two years. Originally housed in the Conservatory food hall in downtown Houston, it closed in late 2019, and the couple soon after announced plans for a restaurant in a historic building near the EaDo neighborhood. As the construction estimates continued to rise, the couple switched gears and headed to the suburb of Cypress, where the new Burro & Bull opened last November.
John had been doing consulting work for a new restaurant, Acadian Coast, and the owners were the same franchisees who attempted the ill-fated expansion of Memphis-style Corky’s BBQ into Houston. One of their Corky’s locations in Cypress was sitting empty. It didn’t have many miles on it, and it had the pit room, bar, and large dining room the Avilas had been hoping for. John and Veronica got to work and made it their own, with artwork like a large “BBQ” sign made from wood and colorful crepe paper that makes it look like a two-dimensional piñata.
Fans of the Conservatory location will recognize menu items like tacos, smoked brisket, ribs, and sausage, but the restaurant has been able to get more creative with a larger kitchen and staff at the new place. The dessert options alone are an upgrade. There’s the rich cocoa-hazelnut tart and a lighter key lime tart, but I couldn’t pick a favorite. Burro & Bull also serves local beer, wine, and signature cocktails: The Bull is on the sweet side, with whiskey and peach schnapps, while El Burro is a more-bracing combination of tequila and ginger beer. I enjoyed them both, but would reach for the Texas Honey Sour again when pairing with barbecue.
The philosophy behind the Avilas’ “smoked Texana” tagline is to celebrate the cuisines of multiple Texas regions. They honor South Texas with sides like fideo and sautéed calabacitas alongside smoked and grilled skirt steak fajitas. The smoky strips of beef are served with bell peppers and onions in a tiny cast-iron skillet. They come with beef-fat flour tortillas, and I suggest adding a cup of the seasoned, smoked beef tallow for dipping. The sliced smoked pork steak is rubbed with an al pastor–inspired marinade before being smoked, and it’s also a good choice for wrapping in a tortilla.
Central Texas is well represented, with smoked brisket out of a Klose offset smoker fueled with oak and pecan. Smoked sausages made by Aaron Lazo Sr., a veteran of the late Burt’s Meat Market, show a master’s touch when it comes to consistency, seasoning, and snap. The gamy boudin and fried boudin balls are welcome nods to southeast Texas.
If the Avilas show favoritism to any area, it’s Veronica’s native El Paso. The restaurant’s brisket enchiladas are topped with shredded lettuce, cotija, crema, and a deep red enchilada sauce made from dried chiles. Veronica calls the dish an homage to her hometown. So are side offerings like chiles toreados, which are charred and marinated whole jalapeños. The Avilas will add smoked bratwurst soon. John said he’s seen it served in many El Paso restaurants and reminded me that German settlers are a part of El Paso’s history.
If you’re worried about Henderson & Kane, the Avilas’ Sixth Ward barbecue joint/coffee shop/general store, fear not: it’s still going strong, and the owners are planning an outpost at the Houston Farmers Market soon. I stopped in recently for a cortado and a satisfying bowl of Texas red chili (no beans) garnished with shredded cheese, sour cream, and chives. It’s also available at Burro & Bull.
There’s something to be said for a barbecue joint where you can get a great meal without ordering a tray of barbecue. The many options available at Burro & Bull can be dizzying, but try choosing one region at a time during your visits. “Texas is like any country where you go to the east, the south, and the west and it’s all different,” John explained. At Burro & Bull you can get a little of all of them with one stop in Cypress.
Burro & Bull
25618 Northwest Freeway, #3B, Cypress
Hours: Monday–Saturday 11–9, Sunday 11–8
Pitmaster: John Avila
Method: Oak and pecan in an offset smoker and gas-fired rotisserie
Year opened: 2021