West Texas is wild, y’all. My buddy from Texas and I made several different stops on our recent trip to Big Bend, including a night in Marfa, a night in White Sands and one in Alpine, Texas—a small city of about 6,000 that’s 80 miles north of Big Bend. We got into Alpine late in the day and, after finding a motel and showering off all the camping dirt, went looking for something to eat. I don’t know what sort of late night dining I was expecting to find in Alpine, but I certainly wasn’t expecting FishCat Cafe.
Driving along the main drag of bars, we saw some string lights hanging over a long metal table in an empty lot and decided to stop and investigate. There were several people still sitting around the table, drinking and talking, while one man cleaned. At the back of the lot was a converted Airstream food truck, and off to one corner was a small one-horse trailer that also had string lights inside. A small sandwich board standing on the sidewalk announced that this was FishCat Cafe, a Japanese fusion food truck.
I asked the man who was cleaning off tables what the horse trailer was. “It’s a sake bar,” he said. “Naturally,” I replied.
We didn’t have enough cash for anything on the menu and the place didn’t take cards, unfortunately, but the owner, Michael, waved off our attempts to go find an ATM. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “It’s just a little Southern hospitality.” He brought us each a Lone Star beer while the kitchen—which, we found out later, had already been closed for 20 minutes—cooked up our meal. Cue the awkward dance of three Texans trying to out-polite each other: the two of us attempting to refuse his continued kindness as he brought us different sakes to taste and waved off our offers to go get cash. I’m sure it was pretty funny from the outside.
The food came out remarkably fast—chilled avocado cucumber soup with cheesy toast and a big plate of fried flat noodles with veggies. Although cold soups aren’t usually my favorite, this one was really suited for the warm Southern evening: creamy from the avocado and coconut milk blended in and cool and vegetal from the cucumber. The noodles had toasted sesame seeds and peanuts on top for some added crunch factor, and it all came in a light sweet and spicy sauce. Starving and grateful, we inhaled it all.
Michael sat at the table across from us as the few remaining other customers left. He was clearly done working for the night and looking for an audience to tell stories to, and we seemed to fit the bill pretty well. He told us that he was from New York originally, and that he moved out to Alpine 11 years ago after his father died. He was originally visiting Marfa (which is very close to Alpine) on a sort of mourning pilgrimage, but wound up falling in love with the small town just to the east. He opened FishCat Cafe with his wife, who’s from Kyoto and does all the cooking, two years ago. They only operate the food truck on weekend evenings, and the menu and hours change depending on their whims.
As we ate and listened to Michael talk about his travels, I got one of those “I want to be this guy when I grow up” feelings. He’s intelligent, kind, well-traveled and charismatic. He’s living a slow and intentional life he loves. Although not from Texas, he had thoroughly adopted the speech patterns and the friendly demeanor that’s endemic to that part of the country which, of course, endeared him to me even more. He chooses to express that friendliness by serving food and sake to cash-poor tourists out of two little trailers in Alpine, and I think that’s pretty wonderful.