After our killer lunch in Marfa, we drove south to Persido and hung a left at the Rio Grande. As we made our way east, we were often close enough to see the river and there were quite a few Border Patrol trucks along the way. As we continued east, the topography became more and more rugged with more mountains visible, particularly on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. We hit Lajitas (La HE tas) about mid-afternoon and decided to rest for a couple of hours as it was fairly hot out. A couple of drinks and air conditioning will put us right for dinner that evening.
The terrain around Lajitas
My wife had hit a wall with regards to Mexican food and declared that she was going to have a steak for dinner regardless of where we went. There were two establishments for food at the place we stayed – and very little else in town.
The Honorable Clay Henry
The Thirsty Goat Salloon is a bar that serves pretty good appetizers. The name of the place is in reference to a beer drinking goat that was the long time town mascot some years a ago. His name was Clay Henry and he was known as the Mayor of Lajitas. His pen was next to a beer joint where you could buy long neck bottles of beer. When you offered one to the goat, he would take the open bottle in his mouth, kick his head back and guzzle that sucker. Upon your return to where ever you came from and you could tell all your friends you had a beer with the Mayor of Lajitas. Of course, with the number people coming by to see this oddity thoughout the day, Clay Henry would probably also qualify as the town drunk.
The Mayor met with an unsavory demise but there is a display in his honor in the Terlingua Ghost Town at a place called the Front Porch next to the Starlight Theater.
Our other choice for dinner was one I’d found on the internet called the Candelilla Café, and get this – the sign says “Where Tex-Mex was Born”. Oh boy, I’m going to have fun with this!
First of all, the somewhat modern decor of the interior did not look anything like the birth place of Tex-Mex and in scanning the menu, there was barely anything Mexican there. For appetizers there was stuff like Hot n Crunchy Shrimp, Fried Green Tomatoes and Buffalo Sliders – the Chips & Salsa was four bucks. The chips were excellent but the salsa was too mild. The main menu included lots of steak, shrimp and pasta dishes. I razzed the young waiter mercilessly and told him that I came from the birthplace of Tex-Mex and this was no where close.
I lightened up a bit after his disclosure that he was a native of India (named Tarun) and was on an internship for the restaurant and hospitality industry. He explained that a new chef had come in and was in the process of changing the entire menu. I told him they should take the Tex-Mex sign down if they were going that direction. I can’t imagine how an intern would wind up in this part of the world and in talking about the area, he said he thought there’d be more people in Texas. We laughed and told him there were many more people in other parts of Texas and recommended Austin as a good place to be.
As predicted BJ and her mom ordered steak while I went with the Lajitas Fajitas with the Hot n Crunchy shrimp as a starter. The shrimp were beautiful and there were two sauces decorating the plate. The green sauce was called avamole and the other was a chipotle aioli. No, it certainly wasn’t very mexican, but it was darn good, especially the two sauces.
The fajitas arrived with a mix of flour and corn tortillas – as ordered – and they were quite good. The meat was very tender and seasoned well with an ample supply of grilled mild red peppers mixed in. The meal was very good but was not even close to Tex-Mex which is a bit surprising considering where we are. You’d think being in Texas so near the Rio Grande that Tex-Mex would be all you could find.
Oh well, tomorrow is another day and I still have another restaurant on my list.
DAY 3 – This morning we headed into the park and immediately noticed how green everything is. This is probably the greenest I’ve ever seen this place. The Big Bend area has an extremely rugged beauty that includes the Chisos (CHEE-sos) mountains with pine trees as well as desert plains with cactus and very scruffy growth. Shortly after entering the park, we headed south to Castolon and west to the Santa Elena Canyon.
This canyon runs along the Terlingua Fault and was cut by the once mighty Rio Grande river long, long ago. These days, the river is just a fraction of it’s original size and volume but gazing at the canyon opening it’s easy to realize the magnitude of the river’s original state. There is some good hiking that takes you into the canyon, but with the steep elevations to navigate, we decided not to push things too much with mom along.
We drove around exploring the western portion of the park stopping at the various ‘exhibits’ you find along the way. We made it to the basin and had a burger at the restaurant there, then checked into our rooms. The rooms were nice and there was no television provided – fine by me.
We explored the immediate vicinity including the scenic over-look called ‘The Window’ which is a stunning break in the mountains facing west-northwest and opening up to a large vista of plains with more mountain ranges in the background. You can see for miles and this is a great place to view those stunning Texas sunsets.
We decide on a late dinner and headed out of the park at around 6:45. The final Mexican restaurant on my list was located on the road to Alpine about 13 miles north of Study Butte (duty with an ST and beaut as in beauty). With the drive out of the park, the trip would be 35 to 45 minutes. I was stopped by the sheriff in Study Butte for going 54 in a 45 zone. Seeing my 81-year-old mother-in-law in the back seat, he must’ve figured we weren’t drug smugglers or hiding illegals and let me off with a warning.
Tivo’s Mexican Restaurant is next to a ‘motor lodge’ but otherwise is in the middle of nowhere. We walked in to find we were the only customers. Off to the left you could see most of the kitchen area and the dinning room located on the right seemed a bit dark. We picked a table and took in the surroundings which were different – not especially a Mexican feel.
A woman brought out chips and salsa and took our drink order. The chips were homemade and still warm – the hot sauce was a dark brownish color and together made a terrific start to a fine meal. The waitress returned with our drinks and went back to work on the guacamole we’d also asked for. When she returned, I asked a few questions about various items on the menu and finally decided on the beef enchiladas – she said the sauce was spicy. BJ and her mom decided to split an order of tacos which included 6 mini-tacos.
Looking at the guacamole, there were huge chunks of green which I thought might be jalapeno – wow! I figured this was going to be hot, but instead it was bell pepper mixed in with the avocado. Not a bad idea but that fact is as I ate more of it, I felt there was too much bell pepper in the mix to the point that it altered the taste a bit too much.
The main course arrived looking scrumptious. The girls’ tacos were not those crunchy taco shells but instead were homemade corn tortillas which were just slightly fried making them pliant and more chewy – almost like a puffy taco. I haven’t seen puffy tacos in years and these were close to that. They were very good and the girls both said they were satisfied.
The first thing I noticed about my enchiladas is that they were layered – not rolled up into tubes but layered like you would layer lasagna. I thought about my job-club friend, Mike who also loves this kind of enchilada – he’s always said that Mexican food was one of the 3 main food groups (Italian and Barbeque being the others).
Layered Enchiladas with Spicy Ranchero Sauce
The last time I had enchiladas like this was about 12 years ago just across the border from Lajitas. They were some of the best enchiladas I’ve ever tasted and these rivaled them in every way. The woman was right about the red sauce and my mouth was feeling the effect of this very spicy gravy.
The rice was a little clumped up but was extremely tasty and I used the corn tortillas I’d ordered for the refried beans and the rice mixed with the gravy. This was a very authentic Mexican/Tex-Mex meal and I would love to try the other items on the menu. If you’re ever in the Big Bend area and you like Mexican food, you must dine here – you’ll thank me later.
We had one more day of exploring and that evening we ate at the Starlight in the Ghost Town of Terlingua where I had a chipolte glazed pork tenderloin. My meal was delicious and the glaze was a little sweet and fairly spicy. As an appetizer, I tried a cup of their chili with cheese which was the only Mexican type dish on the menu. The chili was not spicy or hot but had a delicious beefy taste.
DAY 4 – The next morning we headed back home but stopped in Marathon in the hope of one more big meal at the Gage Hotel. As it turns out, that particular restaurant only serves dinner so we found a pretty good breakfast burrito at one of the two other places in town to tide us over ‘till we got home.
My wife and her mom probably won’t eat Mexican for a week or so. Because of the weight I’m gaining I probably should lay off for a while too, but uncovering the best Mexican food is a job someone has to do and it might as well be me.