Road Trip: Noshing My Way to Big Bend

Categories: Eat This

The scenery was pretty cool too.
According to the cheery student volunteer who gave a short lecture at Big Bend National Park the other day, the desert is delicious: Any resourceful visitor can make a meal of prickly pear pads and pigweed seeds.

While the ranger-in-training assured us the federal government wouldn't mind if we harvested our dinners -- so long as we didn't try to sell them -- I stuck to more conventional edible choices on my trip to Marfa and Big Bend this weekend. Here, a list of my five favorite West Texas food finds.

Since this was my first-ever trip down Big Bend way, I'm quite sure none of the items on this list qualify as actual "discoveries," along the lines of the dome-head dinosaur archaeologists found in the park last summer. But they were the best things I ate, excepting the daily specials that can't be ordered again -- such as the chili at a pizzeria in Sanderson -- and the convenience store Cheez-Its that passed for lunch when a back road that looked so charming on the map turned out to be a barren corridor of culinary nothingness.

1. KC steak, Lowake Steakhouse, Rowena
My server tried to dissuade me from ordering the KC platter for one, saying the cut didn't measure up to the filet. But according to legend (and the eaters who bother to post their steak reflections on websites for discerning carnivores), it was the KC that inspired oilmen and Elvis Presley to make impromptu private jet trips to Rowena. The restaurant's since changed ownership, but I still liked the earthy steak and its garlicky, salty crust.

2. Muscat Canelli, Val Verde Winery, Del Rio
The third-oldest bonded winery in the United States, the 127-old year old Val Verde's built its contemporary reputation on its tawny port. I liked the port, but was very impressed by the winery's Muscat Canelli, a silky floral number with pineapple notes that would make a fine porch-sipper or a decent dessert.

3. Chorizo and egg breakfast taco, Stripes Convenience Stores, all over the place
I got hooked on gas-station food as a reporter in Macon, Mississippi, where the Texaco across from City Hall served the county's best fried chicken. I'm not sure how Stripes' breakfast tacos compare to the tacos I might have found had it not been a holiday weekend, but I don't regret making the store's terrific chorizo and egg -- served on a freshly grilled tortilla -- my first bite of 2011.

4. Bread, Maiya's, Marfa
Many restaurants have ditched bread service, deeming it a costly and unappreciated affectation in recessionary times. Not Maiya's, where every meal begins with warm, thick slices of crusty artisan bread. The homemade pistachio ice cream was pretty remarkable too.

5. Crazy Water, Mineral Wells
Closer to home, I bought my first bottle of Crazy Water -- something I might have accomplished at any Dallas area Albertson's, according to the producer's website, but I liked the idea of drinking the cure-all near its source. I was taken with the funky flavors of Crazy Water No. 4, and haven't had a touch of rheumatism or liver disease all day.

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The scenery was really pretty cool. hope be there.


In the dusty little town of Imperial on the way to Big Bend is Permian Shrimp. They raise the shrimp in ponds with water pumped from the many million years old Permian Sea. The restaurant had good gumbo and boiled shrimp. Outstanding find.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

Favorite big bend meals in no particular order:1. barbecue brisket at La Kiva in Terlingua2. Wraps at Roadrunner Deli in Study Butte juevos rancheros at the hotel cafe Longhorn motel in Study Butte.

I'm not up on current dining in Marfa, but my youngest ate dinner at the Paisano this weekend, and said it was very good.

Also, although I've never eaten there, I've heard the Restaurant at the Gage in Marathon is outstanding.

The very best meal I ever had, however was the Tortilla Soup we defrosted over a camp stove one very frigid November morning camping at KBar Campground in Big Bend. Took the Chill off. Later watched the Perseid meteor shower.

Everyone should head to BB at least once. My favorite spot on the globe.


I have stayed and eaten at the Gage many times. It's astounding.

Hanna- I don't understand how anything in Mineral Wells qualifies as anything "West Texas".

Also, it seems that you missed all the really good places. You missed Shirley's Burnt Biscuit in Marathon. You missed the Hotel Limpia in Fort Davis. You missed the cafe in Lajitas. You missed the Star Light Theater and La Kiva in Terlingua..... Pizza Pro in Fort Stockton (my aunt and uncle own and run it, so I'm biased)

I'm glad you enjoyed the scenic vistas, but please, oh please, let me take you to Big Bend next time. I have some property there, we could camp out, just outside the park.

PS- I think your "ranger-in-training needs to go back to ranger school 101 since it is illegal to take (and that means consuming) ANYTHING on Federal property including your dinner of lechugilla, javelina hocks and cactus fruit.

Hanna Raskin
Hanna Raskin

I know, I know. I'm already planning a return trip (although I think my husband would prefer if it didn't involve me camping out with a stranger. Thanks for the offer though.)

Sadly, the vast majority of the spots you mentioned were shut down for the holiday. And while I didn't make it to the Starlight, I did get to see Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock at Padre's in Marfa. Great show.

As for locating Mineral Wells in West Texas, I've been repeatedly told by folks in Fort Worth that their town's where the west begins. I've also been told by Dallasites not to listen to what folks in Fort Worth say, which is advice I probably should have taken. I still like the Crazy Water though.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

Nice chatting up Big Bend with you. Look me up on FB. I'll be your friend.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

so, cp, do you have property in Terlingua Ranch? I've been going to Big Bend for years. Both of my boys (now 22 and 19) camped there annually from about a year old until their teens.

Favorite memory at the Starlight, was going to hear Butch Hancock play. He was really friendly too.

Scariest memory, was getting caught in a flash flood on the River Road.

I've never eaten at the Limpia, but I have at the old Drug Store across the Street and it's outstanding for breakfast. Also, Reata in Alpine is terrific.

I've also never been to the Cibola Ranch, but its a little pricey for me.


You haven't asked folks in Alpine what they think about where the west begins. We people from *real* West Texas laugh at people from Abilene who think they live in west Texas.

Before you go again, check around- there are lot of Big Bend devotees in Dallas who can tell you things like the best times to go if you like crowded parks fulls of college-aged kyakers on Spring Break, or if you like crowded parks full of drunken hillibillies at a chilie cook-off, or if you'd prefer (as I do) the quieter times.

Also, June Naylor in Fort Worth (Texas Toast) did a Big Bend foodie road trip last year and it was wonderful. She knows lots of the restaurant people out that way.


Bill Holsten, why aren't we at least Facebook friends???

You're making ME homesick! My family is from Pecos County!

Did you ever get to Santa Elena? Not as touristy-trappy as Boquillas, but the food was the BEST EVER, especially at Ma Elene's cafe! I would stay over in their guest room for days at a time and go horseback riding in the crystal mountains with my amigos. I brought them all kinds of business. The chicken was always fresh. I have yet to find beans and rice, tostadas, mole, and homemade flautas and all the barbecued stuff like that anywhere in Dallas, and I am including neighbors kitchens. It seems not many folks from Santa Elena (or Boquillas, for that matter) immigrate to Dallas. It's sad too, because part of the best reasons for going to Big Bend was the boat-ride over to Mexico to eat!

I've tried to find it in Presidio and Ojinaga- it's come close, but not quite the same. *sigh* I do miss those little cabbage tacos in Boquillas......

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

by far my favorite trip, was taking the row boats over to Boquillas, hiring a guide at Falcon's and driving up to the old Puerto Rico Mine in the Sierra del Carmen's. We hiked back out. We saw no one for 3 days. It was beautiful country.

Next favorite was hiking to the south Rim, than down Blue Creek Canyon and out through the smokey creek drainage. Beautiful desert country, filled with springs in the canyons. Ironically much more water out in the desert.

You're making my homesick for the desert. Might have to walk at lunch today.


HOW could I forget Reata?!?!??? Isn't that where Grady Spears got his start?

And the Drug Store in Fort Davis makes THE BEST cucumber sandwiches and iced coffee!

No, I don't have property at Terlingua Ranch, I have a mere 10 acres just off the dirt road leading to Cigar Mountain, outside of the "ghost town".

I would have to say that getting caught in a flash flood on the River Road would be quite scary. I did get snowed in once backpacking in the basin.

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