Dinner Is Served
For a long time the best meal I remembered eating on a trip to Big Bend was reconstituted freeze-dried tuna noodle casserole with a side of gorp. Oh, my, how the chow has changed.
Austin Street Cafe, Marfa
This renovated adobe house, on a quiet corner a few blocks off Marfa’s main drags, is as dapper and welcoming as a fifties-era fantasy housewife in heels and starched apron holding a plate of warm cookies. The floors are glossy white, abundant windows open to the breeze, and a screened porch overlooks a garden beset with lavender and butterflies. But maybe you came hungry? There’s a lovely tomato-basil soup, inventive egg dishes, citrus-dressed greens picked from the garden, lemon bars, and fruit smoothies (“No ice! No weird syrups!”). It’s worth planning your trip around its limited hours. 405 North Austin, 432-729-4653. Open Sat & Sun 8–3. Inexpensive.
Blue Javelina, Marfa
Are whimsy and class mutually exclusive? Not at this forties-era gas-station-cum-restaurant. The hydraulic truck lift has been transformed into an acrylic-topped table for eighteen, and the word “Lubrication” marks the bar area, but the food, a marriage of local ingredients and global influences from Moorish to Mexican, is seriously refined: The fries are made from chickpea flour; organic greens are splashed with white-balsamic vinaigrette; and the green-red gazpacho is the freshest I’ve ever eaten. 1300 San Antonio, 432-729-1919. Open Tue–Sat 6–10 (reservations required). Moderate to expensive.
Cafe Cenizo, Marathon
I popped in here just after the restaurant had closed for the evening, missing out on luscious-sounding but time-intensive entrées like grilled lamb kebab, pan-roasted scallops, and roasted-beet tarts. But without a flicker of hesitation, the gracious waitstaff took pity on me and rustled up a bowl of gazpacho with poached shellfish and pesto. I wouldn’t have been happier with a three-course meal. Gage Hotel, 102 U.S. 90W, 432-386-4437. Open Sun–Thur 6–9, Fri & Sat 6–10. Expensive.
Eating here is a challenge of the best sort. You’ll want to fill up on the crusty artisan bread, but you need to save room, not only for prosciutto-wrapped melon, a Caesar salad large enough to feed a rabbit family reunion, or roast chicken with tomatoes and black olives but also for desserts like the blueberry crostata with homemade vanilla bean ice cream, which is as memorable as Proust’s madeleines. 103 North Highland, 432-729-4410. Open Wed–Sat 5–10. Moderate to expensive.
Phat Cafe, Terlingua
The prayer flags flapping in the courtyard of the Phat Café, secreted away down a hill around the corner from a landscape supply yard, should have been my first indication that this diner would be blessedly low stress. As soon as I sat down in the tiny restaurant, owner-chef Nathan Stevens, who trained in San Antonio with Bruce Auden, of Biga fame, and then honed his Asian fusion skills during seven seasons of leading treks through the Himalayas, began bringing on the four-course feast, no nerve-racking decisions to make: steaming phyllo-wrapped chicken satay with a side of sweet-sour cucumber, a watercress salad made from greens grown onsite, a pad thai laced with scrambled egg, and ice cream with cherries. Ommmm . . . Off Texas Highway 170 at the end of Allen Lane, 432-371-2520. Lunch Tue– Sat 11–2. Dinner Wed–Sat at 7 (one seating only; reservations required). Moderate to expensive.