La Cruda Brand BBQ serves Mexican brisket at Manuel’s

by admin

There’s a reason Houston is sometimes referred to as “Hustle Town.” The people in this city are strong, resilient and determined to achieve greatness. We hear it in our music, see it in our art scene, and taste it in our food. We are powerful on our own, but united we become extraordinary. The recent partnership between La Cruda Brand BBQ and Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant is one such collaboration that is providing greatness in far northeast Houston.

I met Isaac Macal almost 10 years ago, back when the Houston-born, Jacinto City-raised pitmaster was attempting to make it in the music business and I was a part-time photographer. Both of our lives have changed tremendously since then. In July 2020, Macal decided to turn his passion for food and cooking into a business, and that’s how La Cruda Brand BBQ was born. He started with a small smoker in his backyard, selling one or two whole briskets at a time for around $70 a piece, and barbecue plates and smoked ribs to family and friends.

Don’t miss the brisket breakfast tacos at Manuel’s, in collaboration with La Cruda Brand BBQ.

Marco Torres

Macal now operates a food truck, equipped with a 250-gallon smoker on a 20-foot-long trailer. La Cruda pops up at several local breweries, food truck parks and festivals around the city, serving crowd favorites like brisket quesadillas, BBQ baked potatoes, and beef and pork loaded fries. Macal loves to experiment, and offers specials like smoked barbacoa, pozole, different combinations of brisket tacos, and multiple flavors of smoked sausage. One time at a food festival in Austin, Macal won over the crowd with an invention he called a “piggyback,” which was a pulled pork grilled cheese sandwich on a croissant.

Macal met Jose Guadalupe Reyes, owner of Manuel’s in Summerwood, one fateful day at Ingenious Brewing in nearby Humble, where La Cruda Brand BBQ was on hand as the brewery’s food vendor. Reyes bought several of the truck’s items for himself and his staff back at the restaurant.

Reyes and his family are from Durango, a large and proud state in northwest Mexico. His father, Jose Ramon Reyes, immigrated to Houston as a teenager, working his way up in the restaurant business from dishwasher to line cook, eventually becoming general manager of La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant in Cypress.

Manuel's Mexican Restaurant has been open in Summerwood in northeast Houston since 1987.

Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant has been open in Summerwood in northeast Houston since 1987.

Marco Torres

In 1987, Reyes Senior and his brother opened their own restaurant, the original Manuel’s on FM 1960 in Spring, named after their father Jose Manuel Reyes. A second location followed in Atascocita in 1993, then one in Summerwood in 2004. At one point, there were a total of eight Manuel’s restaurants, although only one has survived throughout the years, offering a delicious mix of authentic Mexican food as well as many Tex-Mex favorites.

Jose Guadalupe Reyes invited Macal to his restaurant shortly after they met, and he soon became a regular. He loved the food, and had a brilliant idea to incorporate his brisket with the BBQ baked potatoes that Manuel’s served for lunch. Reyes was reluctant at first, but decided to take a chance and source the brisket from La Cruda, offering it not only for his potatoes, but on every and any menu item.

This combination of Texas-style smoked brisket and Mexican food is the type of delicious food invention that excites me. So on a recent hot summer afternoon, I visited Manuel’s on a mission to check out what Macal had been hyping up to me for almost a year now.

As I entered the restaurant, I immediately felt at home: Loud Tejano music was playing in the kitchen, everything from Little Joe, Mazz, Jay Perez and Ramon Ayala. The salsa that accompanied the chips was spicy with good flavor, not that bland tomato water served at some Tex-Mex spots and taquerias.

The chile relleno at Manuel's is filled with La Cruda Brand BBQ's brisket.

The chile relleno at Manuel’s is filled with La Cruda Brand BBQ’s brisket.

Marco Torres

Macal recommended that I order the queso with brisket as an appetizer, “but ask for the one with melted white cheese instead of the yellow cheese,” he said with a wide grin on his face. Reyes was testing a new menu item, an amazing brisket y papas breakfast taco with beans and cheese on a handmade flour tortilla. It was easily one of the best tacos I’ve eaten all year.

The brisket enchiladas and the brisket chile relleno mains caught my eye and my stomach—the idea of eating two of my favorite things filled with La Cruda brisket made my mouth water in anticipation. When they arrived, I was mesmerized by the generous amounts of melted cheese that sizzled over the enchiladas, and by the robust size of the chile relleno. As I opened up each item with my fork, I did so slowly and seductively, basking in the glory of the treasure I was about to devour.

And there it was… tucked inside that poblano pepper and that enchilada sat the perfectly smoked chopped brisket, the salt-and-pepper bark encapsulating the tender meat, tempting me to take that first bite. It was everything I dreamed of: hot, cheesy, and an explosion of flavor. The Tex-Mex enchiladas were some of the best I’ve ever had, and the chile relleno was an absolute delight. Even weeks later, I still dream about those brisket-filled enchiladas, and luckily for me, my brother David lives in the area, so I can eat at Manuel’s when I visit him.

Isaac Macal (left) and Jose Guadalupe Reyes have partnered to ally Texas-style barbecue with Mexican food.

Isaac Macal (left) and Jose Guadalupe Reyes have partnered to ally Texas-style barbecue with Mexican food.

Marco Torres

Manuel’s offers these special brisket-filled menu items only on the weekends, Friday through Sunday. Reyes says that regulars he has served for 20 years love the new menu, and the restaurant has also gained a new following of customers who come in specifically for the brisket.

His father Jose Ramon Reyes passed away recently due to complications related to COVID-19. His legacy lives on through his family and his restaurant, which is a classic definition of a hidden gem. Reyes says his father wanted the restaurant to feel like “your personal kitchen away from home,” with a friendly, family atmosphere at all times.

“A good meal can change somebody’s day for the better,” Reyes told me before I washed down my lunch with a michelada. “Making people happy is all my dad ever wanted.”



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