The small town of Marfa, Texas, artist Donald Judd's minimalist mecca in the Chihuahuan Desert, may no longer be the enigmatic underground scene it once was (during a recent weekend, we met more New Yorkers than Big Bend natives). But amid the sprawling art foundations and avant-garde installations, Marfa's culinary landscape has emerged as its own attraction. The caveat? For a West Texas enclave with a population of 1,819, there's nothing Texan about it.
Marfa's infamous quirk is manifested in its food scene, which features everything from seasonally driven fine dining to a Mexican burrito joint on South Highland Street with no phone, no set menu, and only an “Open” sign to cue hungry patrons to line up. If the latter sounds anxiety-inducing, keep in mind that Marfa is only 1.6 square miles and your first bite of whatever “Ramona the Burrito Lady” (517 S. Highland St.) hands you will almost guarantee that you’ll be back the next day.
The town’s most in-demand reservation, Cochineal (107 W. San Antonio St.; 432-729-3300; cochinealmarfa.com), is owned by a couple whose previous Manhattan restaurant garnered a glowing two stars from The New York Times. The menu is succinct in length, with entrees ranging from New England–style shrimp chowder to bubbling-hot chilaquiles. Ask about the made-to-order Toshi's Date Pudding as soon as you sit down. In warmer months, the string-lit patio is the perfect spot to enjoy their extensive wine list.
A weekend in Marfa isn't complete without a trip to the Food Shark (222 W. San Antonio St.; 432-207-2090; foodsharkmarfa.com), an Airstream that doles out inspired Mediterranean cuisine in a parking lot off Highway 90. Try the Marfalafel, spicy falafel drizzled with house made yogurt sauce in a crisped tortilla. Food Shark even has a creative director, Adam Bork, who might be considered the culinary equivalent of Donald Judd, occupying lots around town to create his own gastronomic utopia. Food Shark also owns the weekend-only Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour & Museum of Electronic Wonders (300 W. San Antonio St.; 432-729-1804). Filled with antique televisions and radios buzzing various levels of static, the dimly lit setting could be plucked from an alternative art show. None of it slows down the diners devouring gooey grilled cheeses, made with artisanal ingredients like slow cooked brisket and pickled jalapenos.
For after dinner drinks, sit in the courtyard at Planet Marfa (200 S. Abbott St.; 432-386-5099), a quirky adult playground with a live-in teepee and light Mexican fare. Planet Marfa only serves beer and wine, but if you’re craving a particular libation, you can bring it yourself for a mere $1 fee.
Easily one of the best meals to be had in Marfa is at Maiya's (103 N. Highland St.; 432-729-4410; maiyasrestaurant.com), an Italian-inspired restaurant in a former jewelry store. Chef Maiya Keck doesn't have a culinary degree (though she does have a B.F.A. in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design), but it doesn't matter. If uprooted to New York, Keck's effervescent cooking and homemade bread would make their reservationist a local celebrity. The night we were there, an appetizer of roasted cauliflower, dates, and marcona almonds, smudged with a smear of orange ricotta, had us greedily eyeing the kitchen for more.
The Capri (603 W. San Antonio St.; 432-729-1984; thunderbirdmarfa.com), an event space owned by the Thunderbird Motel, often plays host to pop-ups and visiting chefs. From Wednesday through Saturday, you can find Chef Mark Scott frying buttermilk-brined chicken at his “work in progress,” The Capri Kitchen. Scott used to be the chef at the other reigning food truck in town, Fat Lyle’s, (721 S. Highland Ave.; 432-295-2377) and if you ask nicely, he may make you his famous Crispy Fried Brussels Sprout Haystack: charred Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and blue cheese splattered with Sriracha and spicy aioli—it’s practically a cruciferous Jackson Pollack.
Look for the lumberyard adjacent to Marfa Book Company (105 S. Highland Ave.; 432-729-3906), where you’ll find Do Your Thing (201 E. Dallas St.; 432-701-0501; doyourthing.us), a “coffee, art, food, and agency” that serves foamy lattes made with Blue Bottle espresso. Swing by on Sunday nights for their new pop-up pizza series.
Photo Credit: Instagram: @thedefineddish