-Town & Country (Exxon) Gas Station(!)
The Reata was a disappointment. It's Alpine's only "fine" dining but I suspect I could have done better at a stainless steel 24-hr diner just a bit east of downtown. Reata falls into the genre of places where more is less. You add "onion marmalade" and a dab of pico de gallo and why not some basil strawberry vinaigrette and a little cilantro jalapeno mayo. Put it all on the *same* plate & call it fine dining. This is not what Reata served exactly (except the marmalade) but you know the drill. Some shrimp starters were OK but rather underbroiled and sashimi-like which I don't think was by design. I knew things were wobbly when the waitress said "we get movie stars in here" hmmm. Never a good sign. Apparently West Texas landscape gets plenty of movie sets. The wine list was rather expensive. My beef (can't go too wrong in Texas ordering a big steak, right?) was flavorful but with far too much inedible gristle around its edges that needed to be trimmed away. One thing I have to give a rave to are the rosemary mashed potatoes. Although not difficult to make good mashed potatoes are so rare to find in the universe that it's a fact worth mentioning.
The culinary highlight of Alpine though was found at the Town & Country gas station. In their hot case along with the standard chicken strips and spring rolls I spotted something topped with lots of onions and entirely "tiled over" with slices of jalapeno. I asked what it was and told "meat loaf" sandwich. This was a masterpiece. The meatloaf (thick) slice is placed on the bun, the top bun is underneath to be placed on top after you open up the plastic wrap. The meatloaf recipe is the secret. Tastes like someone's Mexican mom's recipe honed over the years. A distinct salsa flavor in the meat. It all came together in a burst of meat, salsa, onions, jalapenos. A cold beer to wash it down. Perfect!
Sorry not to be able to recommend the Reata, but it might be the only game in town if you want cocktails + wine type of meal. Not sure on that. Ironically if it tried less hard to be hip and removed about 3 of the 4 items on the plate it would improve 100%. Not awful, just rather overpriced for what it provides.
The meatloaf sandwich by contrast is competitively priced.
Let me refresh this post somewhat, based on my trip to Alpine over New Years 2009.
1. Alicia's continues to be the best Mexican in town -- they do a New Mexico/red chile version of Mexican that will appeal to enthusiasts of El paso Mexican and Chopes. Nice, cozy spot which now has more seating than it used to.
2. La Casita is good, solid, reasonably authentic Tex Mex. There are tons of these places in Texas -- and this is no better or worse. This is where Alpine's residents go for their tex-mex dinners. (Tourists may find the place a bit hard to find)
3. Though Alicia's is more famous for breakfat, Magoo's Place also does a good Mexican breakfast, and it is the place where the police eat.
4. If you want steaks and do not want pretention, get thee to the Buffalo Rose Saloon, which is on US 90 just east of the university. The cooking is far more top notch than the 1972 vintage windowless, wood paneled surroundings would indicate. The cook apparently had been working in El Paso at a fancier place for years, before getting away from the city rat race. Excellent chicken fried steak, and the vegetables were fresh.
Note that, if your are in Alpine on New Year's Day, this is the only place in town that is open -- and it will be mobbed. Other days are more relaxed.
I enjoyed Shotgun's Grill in Alpine for lunch. No burger discussion is complete for that region without visiting Pops in Ft Davis. Bring your appetite because those burgers are HUGE. For Sangria pitchers or a cold beer and live music fun with the locals, it's Railroad Blues in Alpine.
re: 4th Generation
IMO, Alicia's and La Casita have the best tex-mex in town. I like Alicia's a little better... especially a cheeseburger with their sublimely potent chile macho. I think the quality of the Reata is sometimes very high-- I especially like their cream of poblano soup. Talgar's has JUST opened up and I had great fish tacos there.
I post a lot of video of food and stuff from alpine at http://westtexasweekly.com/
As a relatively new Alpine resident (almost 3 years) and former long time Houston resident, I'd like to add my two cents on where to eat in the Big Bend. La Trattoria on Holland is one of my favorites. They know what they're doing with food and is a good place for foodies. It's also a good place to go for coffee, espresso, latte and the like. Another great choice about a half block from there is 6th Street Bakery. They also have an icehouse in back. They make great artisan breads, sandwiches, soups, foccacia, etc. It's sometimes hard to figure out their hours, however. Edelweiss at the Holland Hotel is good if you like German food. If not, they make American fare too. They also make great breakfasts. In Marfa, I can recommend Maiya's for upscale dining and Pizza Foundation for nice thin-crusted pizza. In Fort Davis, I recommend Murphy's Pizza which, despite its name, has a variety of entrees. As for Marathon, I just had Christmas brunch at the Gage. They did a fabulous job with my food and that of my family. And the staff was very accommodating when asked about the artifacts displayed in the restaurant and bar. They entertained us with stories of the relics and how they came to be there.
We enjoyed the food and the microbrewery at Edelweiss, and LOVED the breakfast burritos at Alicia's Burrito Place! And the best fried pies since my grandmother's are at Shirley's Burnt Biscuit Bakery in Marathon.
As another long-time Houston resident who fell in love with Alpine when we visited last spring, I'm envious!
I forgot to mention, I had always heard about the Chisos Mountain Lodge's restaurant in Big Bend Natl Park. Yikes, just shows how your expectations & realities can diverge! Apart from the spectacular scenery this looks like nothing nor something. Uncomfortable kindergarten-art-room tables & straight-backed chairs (like a cafeteria, which it is really) and nothing of note on the menu. I had envisaged an elegant Southwest themed oasis of comfort, fine food and attentive service with fine wines. I don't think so! Not based on the black clouds of "burger grease fumes" coming from the kitchen vent. And the rooms themselves looked like only a scant step up from Bates' Motel. Whoever gets these (surely incredibly lucrative) NP concessions apparently stop trying immediately thereafter. What a glorious location this could have been for a nice meal. The only other food snippet from the trip, the Gage Hotel in Marathon (did not eat there) looks very pleasant with a semi-covered patio area and what looked to be radically drinkable Margaritas. Very peaceful indeed there I can imagine, except when I was there a group of pretty obnoxious biker nit-wits were doing their best to ruin it for everyone.
One of my traditional favorites in Alpine are the breakfast tacos at the Sunday House. I assume they're still the same...I haven't been to Alpine in a few years. If they are the same, they're the best breakfast tacos ever. They're big, with fresh ingredients (bacon, potato, egg, cheese) on a thick homemade tortilla, and plenty of "chile macho" salsa.
You used to get these breakfast tacos at the coffee shop across the street from the Sunday House (I can't believe I can't remember the name), but apparently a few years back the staff got mad, walked out and crossed the street to the Sunday House. I believe the Sunday House's staff then went across the street to the coffee shop.
Other than that, Alpine's not big for fine dining. You can get some good stuff at Alicia's Burritos, I do remember.
I'll be in Alpine in a few weeks...I'll see if the breakfast tacos are still there at the Sunday House. I've also got to try Miss Tracy's down in Study Butte. I've been told it's good so many times that I've got to try it for myself.
I've eaten at the Starlight in Terlingua, which is a fantastic place to eat...not for the food so much as for the location.