Marfa feels like an outpost of Austin more than six hours from our closest suburb. Which is another way of saying: Don’t be surprised if you run into someone you know at Marfa Book Company, on the patio of the Hotel Paisano or in the communal kitchen or dining space at El Cosmico, which is where I was staying two weekends ago when I ran into fellow Austin food writer Veronica Meewes, who was there on assignment for the Statesman. We quickly discovered on our first night there that the place to be at midnight on a Friday in Marfa — after too many rounds of beer-fueled ping pong at the bar — is the Food Shark Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour, a mouthful of a name for a late-night grilled cheese wonderland on Highway 90 west of the main intersection in town. (Yes, when speaking geographically in Marfa, there’s "the square" and "the main intersection" of the only highways out of town.)
On Friday and Saturday nights, owner Adam Bork and a cook churn out dozens of buttery gooey sandwiches to patrons spilling out of neighboring bars Planet Marfa, home of the ping pong table, and Padre’s. Last call is at midnight Friday (1 a.m. Saturday/Sunday), much to the disappointment of every big city denizen who passes through for nuptials or a cross-country road trip.
El Cosmico is all the fun you’ve heard it is, with some guests staying in fancy RVs or tepees just a few feet from regular old tent campers. I stayed in the mid-priced safari tents, which were just the right level of "glamping" for this solo traveler. Electricity for the stereo, an overhead light, an iPhone charger and bed warmer (it got down into the 40s at night), but no air conditioning or television, which forced me to spend a lazy, dusty afternoon reading, doing yoga and napping in the shade with the tent doors flapping in the West Texas wind.
Food trucks cover weekend brunch and maybe a lunch or two during the week. Boyz 2 Men, located across the street from the late-night grilled cheese place, will hand you the weirdest hand-written, hand-typed menu (filled with laminated, sometimes reused pages) you’ve ever flipped through, from which you will order a dish without knowing 100 percent what you’re getting. I got the La Bois cheese grit taco and "shawty" potatoes, the mildly offensive change of name that happens when women order the dish as opposed to men, who get "homefries" that cost $1 more.
Word on the street is that they only play Boyz 2 Men music at night, and they don’t take any payment except for cash and definitely, absolutely don’t give recommendations. ("You could call Fat Lyle’s [the other food truck in Marfa] for recommendations," was the response I got when I asked for the guy’s thoughts on what I should order.)
And we thought Austin food trucks were weird.
On my first visit to Marfa, we ate at the Food Shark trailer, which for many years was one of the only dining options during the daytime hours. On this trip, I had Food Shark grilled cheese on Friday night and again at my friend’s wedding on Saturday at the Thunderbird Hotel’s Capri Lounge, a renovated former Army Hanger whose landscape was designed by Austinite Christy Ten Eyck, when they deftly switched gears from a drunk bar menu to serve a very fine catered menu with grouper mole and sweet potato tamales.
I still haven’t visited Cochineal, which I hear is the best restaurant in Marfa, because I didn’t think to make reservations ahead of time. (For other excellent tips on visiting Marfa for the first time, check out this story from Statesman travel editor Kristin Finan.)
And lastly, don’t skip a dip in the springs at Balmorea State Park on your way back to town. I hit the legendary San Solomon Springs on my way to Marfa, diving off the high board and crossing one of my most anticipated items off my Texas bucket list.