For true fans of Anthony Bourdain, season 12 of Parts Unknown is heartbreaking to watch. Over the course of the shortened season, we see Tony slip away; by the time of his “West Texas” episode, there is no voiceover – it’s just Bourdain in the place, and lacks that special touch his final narration always brings to the destination on-screen. (Anthony Bourdain visited West Texas to film season 12 (episode 5) of Parts Unknown.)
I say this not to discourage you from watching – or visiting – West Texas, but instead to manage expectations. If you’re excited to see where Tony goes in this part of Texas, it’s a very different experience than elsewhere (He had visited other parts of Texas, including Austin, Houston, and several border towns.)
Nevertheless, the goal here on Eat Like Bourdain is to highlight everywhere Tony ate – and that includes listing the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in West Texas. Traveling to one of the most rugged and remote destinations in the United States, Bourdain finds out that in West Texas, you ain’t the king of anything… although the food is pretty damn good. Let me show you where he discovered that.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Jumanos, Mescalero Apache, and Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Means Family Ranch (Valentine)
Stopping first in livestock country, Bourdain discusses the platonic ideal of the American hero, the lone rider on the horse across big empty spaces, with a soundtrack of Mexican music. A traditional working ranch of 70,000 acres, there are only horses to aid in getting around, no 4x4s or helicopters.
The food sets a precedent for the hospitality of folk in this part of the country. A freshly slaughtered goat to make fresh cabrito on metal discs, which is served alongside jalapeno and cheese grits, deep-fried chiles, and buttermilk biscuits baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven.
Lost Horse Saloon (Marfa) (CLOSED)
Anthony travels next to the town of Marfa, which with only a population of 1800 still has a reputation for, dare we say, a distinct hipster vibe kicking in as the music on the radio changes abruptly from ranchera to electronic indie pop.
The Lost Horse Saloon is an iconic venue in these parts, and Tony shares a few drinks with owner Ty Mitchell as he explains how at some point, every cowboy wants to own a saloon.
Unfortunately, the Saloon closed in 2020 during the pandemic, reopened post-pandemic, and closed again in early 2023 among financial issues.
The  Gage Hotel (Marathon)
East along I90, the town of Marathon is home to the 12 Gage Hotel – today just called the Gage Hotel –, a surprisingly upmarket restaurant given the largely uninhabited part of the country it finds itself in.
Here, Bourdain meets with Roger D. Hodge, deputy editor at The Intercept and author of the book Texas Blood to discuss the romantic view of the early days, though perhaps through a slightly darker prism, as they enjoy steak and margaritas.
Laredo Taco Company
Usually, the idea of ‘gas station taco’ is something that would cause anyone’s stomach to give a preemptive gurgle of fear, but the ones served at Laredo Taco (yes, found inside of a gas station) are something different.
Freshly cooked and made with the best local ingredients, Bourdain kicks back with local DJs David Beebe and Primo Carrasco on their tailgates in the parking lot to enjoy a meal that, under any other circumstances, wouldn’t likely taste as good.
Marfa Burrito (Marfa)
There are more dishes with Mexican influences as the trip rumbles on, as Tony meets with local activist Sandro Canovas of the Adobe Alliance.
As they discuss the push for low-income housing in the area, the two visit the legendary local eatery Marfa Burrito. It’s a simple place, whose menu is just seven items, most of which involve egg.
Of course, Bourdain is here to try the namesake, and so orders a serious looking burrito asada, with fried beans but no rice, which is lovingly hand-rolled by owner Ramona, the tortillas forming perfect circles, then grilled to a crispy brown.
Big Bend National Park
For his final stop, Bourdain travels to the spectacular Big Bend National Park. Deep amongst the limestone cliffs through which the Rio Grande winds its way, he enjoys a camping-style meal on a sandbank in the river, together with the park rangers.
The dinner is a seemingly perfect amalgamation of everything experienced on the trip so far: fried blue corn nachos, grilled vegetable skewers, yet more carne asada, fajitas, and, of course, a few glugs of tequila for good measure.
Sitting on the bank of the United States, staring at the rock wall of Mexico opposite, Bourdain muses on his connection to empty spaces, to his uncomfortableness of being utterly powerless and alone in the world, amidst the beauty that is known as the Big Empty.
Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in West Texas, or the foods he tried there? Let me know in the comments below!