While I’m not a beginner when it comes to visiting Las Vegas, I made a rookie mistake. I decided to go somewhere in the summer.
That “somewhere” was the newly formed Arts District north of the Strip and south of the actual city center. I’d heard of some interesting restaurants and breweries there, and figured I could do the hour of walking from my hotel on the Strip just to burn off a few calories from the epic meals we’ve had since arriving.
Even for this Houstonian, the 106 degree heat and 20 percent humidity combined with the shadowless sidewalks of upper Las Vegas Boulevard made me look for a cool respite.
Fortunately, just as I was approaching the Arts District, I spotted a “BBQ” sign on a shop front. I got in and ordered an ice cold Topo Chico. I looked around the dining room and noticed that the place was called Braeswood Tex Mex BBQ. I talked to Gerald Casas, the clerk at the counter, who is also the owner.
“I’m from Houston and we have a neighborhood called Braeswood,” I said.
“I know,” replied Casas. “That’s where I come from and this place is named after it.”
I’ve stumbled upon some interesting BBQ spots all over the world but this was a fluke for the ages.
1504 S. Main, Las Vegas
Casas grew up in Braeswood and graduated from nearby Houston Baptist University with a degree in mass communication. But his passion has always been cooking, inspired by family tradition. He helped his paternal grandfather, Guadalupe Casas, grill in his garden. His maternal grandfather, Reynaldo Jasso, owned Camilo’s Mexican restaurant in Bacliff, where Casas worked and earned his Tex-Mex-Bona-Fides.
In 2010 he decided to follow his passion and move to Las Vegas where there were many restaurant jobs. During his cooking school training, he worked at some of the largest casinos on the Strip.
Then, in 2018, he suffered the same burnout as many chefs after working 18-hour days for years. He decided that if he worked that hard, he wanted to work for himself. But what kind of restaurant?
“I chose what originally inspired me – Tex-Mex and barbecue.”
He started making pop-ups in Las Vegas breweries. These were so successful that he was able to open his shop front in the Arts District in May 2021.
There are several counter seats inside with a couple of tables on a sidewalk terrace outside. The entire front of the store is a retractable garage door so that the kitchen, dining room and terrace can be converted into one large open space in cooler weather.
A larger rear deck has a 500 gallon offset barrel smoker made by Cen-Tex Smokers in Luling as the centerpiece.
Unsurprisingly, Casas creates all grilled dishes, side dishes and sauces from scratch. For his desserts, he works with a nearby bakery, Fatty’s. He gets his real, nixtamalized corn tortillas from a local tortilla manufacturer.
Despite having an ambitious plan to visit several restaurants and breweries in the neighborhood, I decided to hang out with Casas and ordered a tray of his excellent brisket tacos with charro beans and Mexican rice. I washed it down with another ice cold Topo Chico.
Revived from the earlier inadvisable hike north, I called an Uber to take me back to my hotel on the Strip and told Casas to see me next time in Houston.