Whenever I make it out to Marfa—formerly known as a tiny West Texas ranching town—I marvel anew at the New Yorkers and Europeans and other hip non-Texans who alight on this cultural capital in well-dressed flocks. Someone has to feed all these worldly people, of course, and Maiya Keck, a 2013 James Beard semifinalist, has long been one of those someones. Her high-ceilinged Italian restaurant, which occupies the bottom floor of the 1931 Brite Building on the main drag, was the first fine-dining establishment in town when she opened it in 2002, after a stint managing artist Donald Judd’s estate.
A recent Yelp reviewer thanked Keck for being “a Trans-Pecos gastro-pioneer,” and after enjoying one of her well-executed meals myself, I’d like to extend my gratitude as well. My companion and I stuck to the classics: an exquisitely seasoned beef tenderloin with chipotle mashed potatoes and snappy stalks of grilled asparagus, and homemade basil-pesto penne dusted with just the right amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano and pepper and pine nuts. Our appetizers—prosciutto and melon and a caprese salad—did seem a bit slapdash; the cocktails, on the other hand, were anything but. And if I had another one, I’d raise my crisp Venetian Spritz to the simplicity and consistency that seem to be the key to Maiya’s longevity. Salute! —Jordan Breal
Eat: Dinner Wed–Sat. Entrées $21–$35. Reservations recommended. 103 Highland, 432-729-4410.
Stay: One block north of Maiya’s, the thirties-era Hotel Paisano and its pillow-top beds await. Though they’ve been updated, the 41 rooms and suites still have a throwback vibe (floral bedspreads, carpeted floors, James Dean posters). An extensive gift shop takes up an entire wing across the courtyard from Jett’s Grill. Make a reservation several weeks in advance ($99–$289, 432-729-3669).
Play: In addition to tours of Donald Judd’s work, residence, and studios, there are several galleries worth viewing (Ballroom Marfa, Marfa Contemporary, Exhibition 2D) and a number of fascinating retailers hawking all kinds of goods (handmade boots at Cobra Rock, cheeky art and amusements at Wrong Marfa, novel utilitarian objects at Mirth).