Barbacoa, Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que


Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 5
Price: $3 for 1/4 pound (makes 3 to 4 tacos)
Fans from far and near know that humble Vera’s is the only place in the state, maybe the country, that still does traditional “barbacoa en pozo con leña de mezquite,” or cow’s head smoked in an earthen pit over mesquite coals. While modern health codes don’t allow new restaurants to cook in the ground, the Vera family has been doing it since 1955 and is grandfathered in (don’t worry, the heads are wrapped in extra-heavy-duty aluminum foil before being smoked). The menu, handwritten on poster board, offers standards like lengua or cachete. Buy a package of corn tortillas, fresh from the tortilleria down the street, to make your tacos. The dark shredded meat is wonderfully silky and tender; just add a little salt and a hit of the fiery salsa. Next time, an ojo! 2404 Southmost Rd, Brownsville, 956-546-4159. Sat & Sun 4:30 a.m.–2 p.m.

Pho-nomenal, Snowbite


Type: Specialty
Price: $7/plate
The savvy folks at this Vietnamese joint noticed that pho happens to contain the requisite ingredients for a terrific fusion taco: marinated eye of round, bean sprouts, jalapeño, cilantro, basil, and onion. They load them onto three corn tortillas; you customize with a squeeze of lime and a squirt of sriracha. 2405 W. University Dr, Edinburg, 956-867-4167. Mon–Sat 11–10.

Big Taco, Nana’s Taqueria

Interior decorations at Nana’s in Weslaco, Texas.

Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $5/plate
Narco violence has curtailed a time-honored Texas border tradition: driving into Mexico for shopping and a bite to eat. But it has also prompted Mexican restaurants to migrate north, and the Valley is the beneficiary. In an old house, tiny Nana’s, from the city of Nuevo Progreso, keeps it authentic with its renowned Big Taco, bursting with well-seasoned chopped bistek, creamy mozzarella, and avocado, all on a homemade flour tortilla. 1802 S. International Blvd, Weslaco, 956-447-2798. Mon–Sat 11–9, Sun 11–5.

Chicken Guisado, El Pato

Type: Modern American
Rating: 4.5
Price: $1.94
El Pato serves your typical array of Tex-Mex plates, but the fourteen locations of the Valley-wide chain are best loved for their “patos”—tacos made with fluffy tortillas filled with any of sixteen ingredients. The shredded roasted chicken with beans and cheese is one of the most basic and satisfying combos, especially when dabbed with the homemade tomato salsa. 3019 N. Tenth, McAllen, 956-682-1576 (multiple locations). Mon–Sat 6:30–10, Sun 8–10.

Puffy Taco, Caro’s Restaurant

Type: Puffy
Rating: 4
Price: $1.50
Yes, the beef is well seasoned, the lettuce and tomato fresh. But the point of visiting this decades-old spot beloved of ranchers, local pols, and law officers is to have these ingredients in a puffy taco, a culinary treasure that’s alive and well here. 607 W. Second, Rio Grande City, 956-487-2255. Mon–Thur 11–3 & 5–9, Fri & Sat 11–3 & 5–10, Sun 11–3.

Quail, The Centennial Club

Type: Puffy
Rating: 4.5
Price: $27/platter
The quail tacos at this speakeasy-style bistro are perfectly cross-cultural. The kitchen stuffs each wee bird’s breast with sliced jalapeños and queso fresco, wraps it in bacon, and grills it fireside, just like local hunters do—then, in a genius touch, chops everything into one glorious mess and folds it into a puffy taco. This is border cuisine at its finest. 1410 Austin Ave, McAllen, 956-627-6257. Tue–Thur 6 p.m.–midnight, Fri & Sat 6 p.m.–1 a.m.

Con Todo, Manuel’s

Type: Modern American
Rating: 4
Price: $8.99
We peeked in the kitchen and saw a woman rolling out what looked like pizzas. They were actually giant tortillas, each destined to become a Con Todo—“With Everything.” What ingredients to choose for ours? A fajita-bean-cheese-lettuce-and-tomato combo hit the spot. On any given day, you might run into vacationing families, sunburned fishermen, or partied-out teenagers, all sharing Con Todos at their respective tables. It’s been an area ritual for decades. 313 E. Maxan, Port Isabel, 956-943-1655. Tue–Sun 7–2.

Chilaquiles, Anita’s Cafe

Type: Breakfast
Rating: 4.25
Price: $1.79
Watching the tortilla lady at work in this little place, with its cheery rooster-themed decor, you feel like a guest in someone’s home. Best of a good lot: the taco de chilaquiles, with slow-roasted chicken, white cheese, and crunchy tortilla strips. 2102 N. McColl Rd, Edinburg, 956-318-0730. Daily 6:30–3.

Chopped Brisket, Rio Grande Grill

Type: Modern American
Rating: 4.25
Price: $10/plate
Eclectic, arty Rio Grande Grill doesn’t just slap mediocre meat in a tortilla and call it a taco. No, this is moist, mesquite-smoked brisket with a bright-red smoke ring and well-rendered fat. Barbecue meets Tex-Mex in divine deliciousness. 417 W. Van Buren, Harlingen, 956-423-1817. Mon–Wed 11–3, Thur & Fri 11–3 & 5–9, Sat 11–3.