Sunday, January 6, 2019

Food Near Big Bend NP in Texas: Marfa, Marathon and Terlingua

We recently had a number of meals in the vicinity of Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas - places in Terlingua, Marfa and Marathon. I have to say I was surprised at the poor quality of the food and Marfa and Marathon. Those meals reflected a lack of fresh vegetables and fruit and a reliance on pre-made items. The food was better in Terlingua, perhaps because of the larger reliance on tourism there.

Marfa Burritos - Marfa
Marfa Burritos gets four stars on Yelp with 103 reviews. It gets a rating of 4.5 on Trip Advisor with 111 reviews and is rated no. 4 of 21 restaurants in Marfa. It is featured in an article on, dated May 16, 2017, titled "The Burrito Queen of Texas Deserves a Stop on Your Next Road Trip." From that article, "Ramona Tejada has turned her home into one of the best burrito spots we've ever visited. handmade. From the salsas to the tortillas, you can watch everything happen right in front of you...You can peer over the counter to watch as Ramona hand-rolls the tortillas into perfect circles, grills them to a perfectly crispy brown, then slathers them in beans and other fillings." 

I was pretty excited to try this place. Hand made signs are in front of the house on a wood fence and a line was out the door. You order at a window with a view into the kitchen. Next to the window is a hand made neon-pink cardboard sign with seven burritos listed: (i) egg + chorizo; (ii) egg + potato; (iii) egg + cheese; (iv) primo = beans + potatoes + onions + tomatoes + salsa + cheese; (v) bean + cheese; (vi) asado; and (vii) carne. After you order, three people, including Ramona Tejada, make the burritos while you wait. When completed, they bring the burritos to you, you pay in cash, and the next person in line steps to the window. 

Ordering at the window. Menu on the right. 
Ramona Tejada in the kitchen.
Home-made green salsa is in a large bowl near the window and there is a water cooler and free help-yourself coffee. There are a couple of tables in the room where you order, several tables in an adjoining room, and tables outside, both front and back. 

Celebrity photos are on the wall - two of Anthony Bordain with Ramona, Kevin Bacon, Matthew McConaughey and others I didn't recognize. 
Anthony Bourdain with Ramona Tejada.
The tortillas are huge, but the filling inside them is meager. I ordered the egg + cheese and it was almost all tortilla. The egg and cheese were bland, so I loaded up with the green salsa which is very hot. I ended up ripping off big strips of tortilla to reduce the ratio of tortilla to filling and finally just ripped off a piece of tortilla and aggregated all the filling into one spot and ate it that way. I probably tossed half the tortilla. Judy and Sam each got the primo and had the same complaint. Sam mentioned that the beauty of a burrito is you stuff it full of good things. These burritos are not stuffed - they are mostly flat and the majority of the volume is tortilla. If you want to eat large flour tortillas and not much else, this is the place. 
The burrito with the end bit off.
The filling aggregated into a piece of the tortilla, slathered with green salsa. 
Texas Monthly has an article titled "Marfa Burrito," dated April 16, 2018. Their article spoke the reality we found. They mentioned the celebrities on the wall, the place being mobbed, and their potato + egg + cheese burritos which they ordered. Their conclusion: "Though hungry we couldn't finish the giant roll, and didn't really want to: the potatoes were underdone, the cheese not melted at all, and the whole thing lacking in seasoning. Too bad the place does not live up to the hype." Amen. 

Jett's Grill in the Hotel Paisano - Marfa:
The Hotel Paisano is where James Dean and Liz Taylor stayed when they were filming the movie "Giant" in 1956. Dean was nominated for an Academy Award for the film and was killed in a car accident before the film was released. We stopped here for breakfast and found it was buffet only, and the only items were different types of burritos. Given our burritos only Marfa Burritos visit, it felt like we were entering the Twilight Zone. On the positive side, the burritos were already made and sitting in the metal open-up buffet cannisters. They were about a third of the size of the Marfa Burritos, but had about the same amount of filling. The eggs in my burrito were moister and tastier and it had a long green chile which had some spice. However, using Sam's criteria, these burritos were not stuffed, by any standard (except perhaps the Marfa Burritos standard). I liked the tortilla more - it was more moist. Jett's Grill had a smooth red and a smooth green salsa which were pretty good, but they were running out. I asked for more, but by the time it was replenished I was finished. The setting was much nicer and the lack of a wait was nice, but the lack of choice and poor service detracted. Not a great burrito, but twice as good as the other burrito I had in Marfa. 

Oasis Cafe - Marathon:
Oasis Cafe gets 4.5 stars on Yelp out of 27 reviews and a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor, making it the number 3 restaurant in Marathon out of 8. This particular comment on Trip Advisor, from November 2018, was the reason I decided to stop here: "We stopped at this place on our drive out to Big Bend. Had huevos rancheros and they were delicious! They were so delicious we made it a point to stop there again on the trip back thru. Ordered the same thing - they were that good!! My husband & I both agreed they were the best we’ve ever had. Living in South Texas that’s a big statement to make since we’ve eaten huevos rancheros many, many times at many different places." Huevos rancheros is fried eggs served on fried or charred tortillas topped with a salsa fresca of tomatoes, chili peppers, onion and cilantro. Refried beans, Mexican style rice and avocado slices or guacamole are common accompaniments. 
Oasis drips attitude. A representative sign on the wall behind the cash register reads something to the effect of, "Everyone is entitled to a bad day - well today is mine." They were busy, which I understand, but the waitress was loud and freely expressed her annoyances about people coming up to the cash register to try to get service when they weren't being waited on. While ordering huevos rancheros I requested a side of salsa, and she looked at me and said, why are you ordering something it already comes with? My son suggested I order a side of pica de gallo instead and she abruptly left us during this exchange to wait on some people at the cash register and clear a couple of tables. She did not return for five minutes. So I ordered a side of pico de gallo for $1.75. 

The huevos rancheros came with canned refried beans, a warmed up pre-packaged disk of "hash browns," a couple of eggs on a corn tortilla covered with a meager portion of pretty thin salsa and a side flour tortilla. Oh, and my $1.75 pica de gallo which was a small plastic container filled half-full with a few chunks of onion, carrot and jalapeno. The added pica de gallo made a huge difference, but it needed about three times that amount and did not want to spend another $3.50 or $5.25 to get it. I don't know what kind of huevos rancheros the South Texas couple quoted above has been eating, but this is probably the worst huevos rancheros I've ever had.
My $1.75 pica da gallo is top right. 
High Sierra Bar & Grill - Terlingua:
Our food took a jump in quality closer to Big Bend NP in Terlingua. At High Sierra Bar & Grill we got some very good guacamole with chunks of tomato, onion and green pepper in it which was also seasoned nicely. When the guacamole was gone and we still had chips, we ordered some queso, a liquidy white cheese to finish them off with. The guacamole was much better than the queso. Both Sam and I got a plate with two poblano rellenos, full of white cheese. The coating is more spare than what we typically get in Southern California, but it was good. The green salsa had a nice kick to it and I asked for more without additional charge. The beans even had some cheese on them. Judy got a plate with a poblano relleno and two tacos which she enjoyed. The food here eclipsed the three restaurants above by a mile. 
Poblano relleno and beans.
Poblano relleno, tacos and beans. 
Chili Pepper Cafe - Terlingua:
My favorite of all the restaurants near Big Bend NP was the Chili Pepper Cafe. The proprietor of a local shop suggested it to us. She said, "If they don't have it on the menu, just ask them for it. They'll try to accommodate you." That sealed it for me. I love restaurants that will make an effort to fulfill a wish. We got guacamole as an appetizer and it was even a little bit better than the guac at the High Sierra. We got a large and I liked the seasoning a little more. Some of the best guacamole we've eaten. When we ate the guac, we requested queso for the balance of the chips. Their queso was not as good as High Sierra, less spicy. They had fajitas on the menu, but only with meat, chicken or beef. I asked if they would do vegetable fajitas. She said they would try. The order came back with a plate full of hot cauliflower, broccoli, onions, carrots and squash. I also asked for three different types of salsa and then extra of the green salsa I liked best, all provided without additional charge. I liked the service so much that I provided better than a 30% tip, a thing I have done on only a few occasions. 

We planned to go to Big Bend very close to the time we left and the hotels near the park were all full. Not even taking into consideration the driving distance, the food alone is a reason to try to get nearer the park. 

1 comment:

  1. I think I am most surprised by the lack of good food in Marfa, which has become a destination for the artistic types. You would think the food would rise to a new level with so many high-brows around. I liked the guacamole in Terlingua, but the rest was just okay. It didn't even come close to what we had in El Paso.