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Sep 28, 2008 10:08 AM

Marfa TX - Fall 2008 update

We just returned from our honeymoon in the Big Bend area. We ate some darn bad food, particularly in Ft. Davis (and expensive to boot!), but we also had a sublime meal-- better than anything in recent memory back home in San Diego-- at Cochineal in Marfa. So read on for the new Marfa skinny, and be forewarned.

1. Cochineal
After 3 days of the worst TexMex food and hamburgers of my native-Texan life, we stumbled into Cochineal. It was like Alice down the rabbit hole. You enter Cochineal through a French-inspired "alley," a gravel courtyard with parallel rows of small trees. Inside, the adobe, contemporary space is both festive and serene; authentic and yet daring. There is a small dining room, an open kitchen area, and a hallway back to the kitchen garden, out back. The night we dined, the owner sat with his son and the chef for dinner, and we felt like we were in a happy home.
The food? Almost perfect. The menu, as literature, is one of the most satisfying of my (menu-reading) life. It's simple and direct. Anything can be ordered as the diner chooses. No source attributions (Hallelujah!) just simple descriptions.
To start, I had Crusted Sweatbreads sauteed in Champagne, served over Balsamic-dressed Greens; my HusbandChef had an intriguing Morrocan Faroosh Salad dressed with Sumac and Red Chili. Then, we shared Gnocci with Pesto and Red Chili, Rack of Lamb with Garlicky Beans and Spinach, sides of Ratatouille (the absolute BEST I've ever had) and Sauteed Chard-- and the Chef's Special Date Pudding, prepared to order. The pudding was outstanding.
An interesting wine list offers a great range of prices, and there are lots of half bottles -- a sophisticated touch more forward-thinking than the average San Diego restaurant.
The owners have brought NYC style, quality, service, and saavy to the TX hinderland, and the combination is entrancing. Thank you, Tom, Tom's wife, and Toshi, for one of the best memories of our honeymoon. Yes, it was expensive. But it was worth every penny. We would have eaten there again and again, but like all the restaurants in Marfa, they have a weird schedule, and it was closed our last night there when we wanted a Cochineal dessert to wash the taste of Maiya's from our mouths.

2. Alice's
Yes! We went for breakfast to fortify ourselves before the Chinati tour. The chorizo burrito redeemed my faith in highway Tex-mex.

3. Food Shark
This food truck sets up in the middle of town. Diners eat on Judd-inspired tables, a wonderful conceit since everybody eats here: cowboys, truckers, ranchers, smartypants NYers. The food is excellent. My HusbandChef had the Pibil pork with Black Beans and a Guacamole with Pepitas. I just dug into a big bowl of Banana Pudding. I wanted the Egg Salad sandwich but was too full from breakfast.

4. The Get Go
A gourmet grocery for snacking, picnics, and noshing in your room at the TBird. Just watch out for the prices. A small package of Spanish almonds is $10. Great wine selection for the middle of nowhere.

1. Lupitas, Ft Davis TX - It may look like a taco truck but it's really a SYSCO outlet. We ordered 6 items trying to find something to eat. Nothing.
2. Alicia's, Alpine TX - I'd read the hype on CH, but our food was inedible, even for a TexMex roadhouse.
3. Maiya's, Marfa TX - A huge disappointment. We'd been to Maiya's two years ago and loved it. In fact, we planned our honeymoon to go back there to celebrate. But our recent meal was an insult. My entree arrived and looked so unappetizing, I managed only a few bites. It was a grilled chicken breast glopped with some kind of tomato sauce and the presentation resembled a dogmess. My HusbandChef had a big bowl of Penne in (Prago? MamaMia?) Spaghetti Sauce with Walnuts (Walnuts?) tossed in. Thank goodness our server was a handsome, insouciant rancher boy, otherwise we would have been angry at how poor the service was. It's still a pretty place, and I still have my memories (Ah, the Celery Salad with Anchovies!) from two years ago.
4. The Brown Recluse, Marfa TX -- Alas, we had heard they've closed and are looking for buyer.
5. The Drug Store, Ft Davis. Don't bother unless you're starving, as we were. Another SYSCO outlet.

Take it from us. Pack your own coffee maker, buy some fresh-roasted Big Bend coffee at the Get Go, and you'll start your day off right. Breakfast at Alice's. Lunch at the Food Shark. Dinner at Cochineal. That's Marfa! (Check for hours. Everybody but Alice's seems to stagger their opening times around the weekend.)

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  1. Thanks! I'm planning a trip and this is very helpful!

    1. I'm so glad we saw your post before our trip to Big Bend last week. We had the good fortune to dine twice at Cochineal-both ocasions being truly great. The clientele seemed to be all out-of-towners (maybe because it was a Chinati open house weekend). I'd venture to say this is the best dining experience between San Antonio and Santa Fe. Call (432)729-3300 for hours/reservations.
      The Cenizo (at the Gage in Marathon) was also recomendable (elk medallions, bison ribeye-a delightful outdoor patio). Other than those two, not much else worth mentioning in the area. Alice's (marfa) and Penny's diner (alpine) are good for breakfast.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Sam Spade

        My pleasure, SS. Only thing I'd add is that we don't have any place in San Diego I like as much as I enjoyed Cochineal, so I might expand that "best dining experience" range. . .

        1. re: pickypicky

          Glad to hear about this place. Another great spot in Marfa is the Pizza Foundation.

          1. re: bhoward

            We were dying to try the PF. It was closed on our first visit and on our second. Those Marfa open-hours are dastardly when you're only there a few days!

            1. re: pickypicky

              Not food realted but I have to ask...what is the gallery scene in Marfa? My husand heard that there's a real surge in Marfa in the art scene and before we drive that very long way (from Dallas) I would love confirmation on that.

              1. re: sandih

                We weren't interested in gallerys, so I can't say. I'd make some phone calls to places like the Thunderbird and just ask folks. The Chinati might help, too. (Or even the Get Go grocery. very gossippy there.) There was a gallery opening when we were there: I heard a nY artist talking at the next table at dinner. . .

                1. re: pickypicky

                  Chinati tours are by appointment/reservation only. There are a handful of galleries scattered around the "downtown area" . I would heartily reccomend the Paisano as a lodging option (for a splurge request the Rock Hudson or Liz Taylor rooms) and a nice place for afternoon cocktails on the patio. Their restaurant (Jetts Grill) looked interesting but we had no regrets as Cochineal was marvelous.

                  1. re: Sam Spade

                    You should have gone to the Gage Hotel in Marathon. Great, old hotel, super bar with many tequilias and awecome restaurant.

                    1. re: Sam Spade

                      Hi Sam, actually Chinati tours are not by appointment or reservation. They are 10AM and 2PM daily, Wed-Sunday. Judd Foundation tours are by appt/reservation. All the best.

                      1. re: MarfaGuy

                        "The Chinati Foundation is accessible by guided tour only."

                        "In order to accommodate all requests to join tours of our collection, we prefer that you make reservations at least three days in advance of your visit..."


                  2. re: sandih

                    The gallery scene is diverse with something for everyone. We own inde/jacobs and are constructing a new space designed by We invite you to visit any time but especially when the new bulding is done (sigh...some time in 2009...). Also, Exhibition2d is terrific. Other galleries do different things--ours carries works on paper by Chinati artists (Judd, Flavin, etc.) and like Ex.2d, we have contemporary minimalist artists.

          2. The Brown Recluse Cafe up and running- open Friday thru Monday 8am - noon.

            1. Thanks for your review pickypicky! My one small correction is that Tom has no wife ("Tom's wife"). He has an ex-wife and for 15 years a wonderful parnter, Toshi, with whom he ran Manhattan's Etats-Unis, a Michelin-star-rated restaurant that when they owned it won NYC's best wine list as well.

              Please come to Marfa again and consider staying at any of these housekeeping apartments: :-)

              2 Replies
              1. re: MarfaGuy

                Thanks, MarfaGuy. Wish we'd known about your apartments before the honeymoon. I could have sworn that Tom introduced the woman with him in the garden as his "wife" when he gave us a tour of it. He did introduce Toshi as his "partner." So I surmised that Toshi was simply his business partner. But you are a lucky man. I would trade San Diego for Marfa (even with the gossip) any day.

                1. re: pickypicky

                  Sometimes I am not too impressed by Maiya's... sometimes I think the more expensive ingredients are not as fresh as they need to be. I am a big fan of food shark. They are doing a little more tex-mex now (had some very good chicken tacos there). Adobe moon just shut down, hadn't tried the food there. I'm not sure if Blue Javelina is re-opening. Pizza Foundation is good and good value; get the bread salad, fresh croutons from homemade bread and fresh tomatoes. VERY GOOD.
                  I have a lot of video of local eateries at my site. Check it out: