By Andrea Bearce
Photography by Alex Marks
Driving into extreme West Texas is a bit like traveling through time—both forward and backward. Run-down gas stations and spinning dust devils suck passersby into a bygone world, while whooshing wind turbines and twinkling mystery lights speak to a futuristic lunar landscape. This is a piece of Lone Star geography with an identity unto itself. It keeps visitors guessing with surprises at every turn—especially the turn into Marfa.
With just under 2,000 inhabitants, Marfa could easily mirror any of the multitudes of small towns nearby. Instead, it lives an anomalous existence as a minimalist art hub, a cinema-buff hotspot and a retreat for the creative types of all feather that fill the town with culture, education and restaurants of surprising quality.
Upon arrival, travelers may be tempted to search for a seemingly apropos barbecue joint, but don’t be surprised when locals suggest the Pizza Foundation, instead. Located in a defunct gas station, this eatery is no-frills, but in the best way. Order by the slice or fill a one-size-fits-all pie with toppings like locally grown tomatoes and fresh-snipped herbs, then grab a cold one from the fridge and kick back on the patio while the pros whip up the ultimate in New York-style pizzas. They don’t import the water from Brooklyn, and they don’t have a fancy wood-burning Italian oven, but somehow they pull off a thin crust that both supports its ingredients and maintains a satisfying chew. It’s okay to be skeptical about the UFOs rumored to hover in the area, but go ahead and believe that good pizza exists in the desert.
And while you’re at it, extend the belief that Southern comfort fare and Indian street food might make good bedfellows because the Miniature Rooster proves that’s true as well. Helmed by Rocky Barnette and Uday Huja—both alums of The Inn at Little Washington—Marfa’s new kid on the block is winning hearts and appetites with small plates such as roasted acorn squash with lime and Hawaiian black sea salt, and yeast-leavened Belgian waffles. Try the chole puri for a hearty mélange of tamarind-chickpea curry, potatoes and whole-wheat fry bread, or stay down-home with the namesake low-country miniature rooster: a whole roasted game hen accessorized with asparagus vinaigrette and gravy.
If sophistication is the goal of the evening, slip into the subdued dining room of Cochineal to sample an ever-changing menu of American cuisine with distinct French influences. Watch chefs bustle between the open kitchen and the garden outside, turning freshly picked produce into dishes that are refined but never pretentious. Begin with a dish of handmade spaghetti tossed with roasted garlic and garden basil, then sample the roasted chicken with freshly made mole—or go classic with the oven-roasted barramundi with white wine and butter. No matter your choice, be sure to request a wine pairing from the list of over 250 bottles from around the world.
Fresh-picked produce from J Farms in Alpine and small-batch goat cheeses from Marfa Maid saddle up to craft beers, imported cheeses and other gourmet goodies at The Get Go, the tiny but carefully appointed shop—possibly the most surprising independent grocery store in Texas, and a must for the snack-addicted, the health-conscious and the food-obsessed. Load your knapsack with Topo Chico Agua Mineral, black-bean chips and local hummus from Food Shark before heading out to the refreshing waters of Balmorhea; or piece together an impromptu picnic of French cheeses, smoked oysters and chilled wine to be enjoyed at Austinite Liz Lambert’s El Cosmico, the self-proclaimed vintage trailer-yurt-and-teepee hotel and campground that’s part creative lab, part greenhouse and part amphitheater.
While the landscape may be desolate, the food scene in Marfa is a burgeoning oasis of creativity, originality and local inspiration. Farmers coax edibles from sandy soil, artisans seemingly churn out products from thin air and chefs transform the goods into bountiful feasts for locals and travelers alike. Here, resourcefulness is not just a virtue, but a culinary challenge that’s met and happily accepted.
NOTABLES IN MARFA
107 W. San Antonio St.
802 S. Highland Ave.
1300 W. San Antonio St.