Portraits from the Big Bend: Line Thai food truck

Woody Pipatchaisiri, owner of Marfa’s Line Thai food truck, is cooking up authentic Thai dishes for citizens of the Big Bend, an area with few Asian eateries. Photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — Five days a week, spicy, savory scents drift from the open window of the Line Thai food truck, greeting hungry customers who wait in line for their taste of authentic Asian cuisine. 

The 16-by-8-foot restaurant has been cooking up signature Thai eats — yellow chicken curry, cashew tofu, omelettes, pad thai — since August 2021. Founders Woody Pipatchaisiri and his wife Pat were partially inspired to launch the venture during a trip to their home country of Thailand. The longtime Marfa residents began contemplating dishes they could share with West Texas residents and visitors. 

“We went back to Thailand to visit our family after COVID — the whole year we didn’t see them,” said Pipatchaisiri. “We took that chance to take a look at menu items and see what we can do and then adjust or adapt to the people over here, but basically we make everything authentic.” 

Line Thai food truck is parked just off of Marfa’s main thoroughfare, San Antonio Street, in the Truckland Marfa lot, which also frequents as a movie screening venue. Informal picnic tables and umbrellas act as the restaurant-on-wheels’ dining room.

Pipatchaisiri first came to Marfa with his family in 2010 and was working as a tomato grower at Village Farms before he and his wife decided to become business owners. They had positive reception whenever they brought Thai food to friends’ parties, so thought they’d up the ante, and provide something the town lacked: an Asian eatery. 

In 2020, during the pandemic, the duo started small by advertising local home deliveries, which proved to be a success but didn’t allow for much customer interaction, said Pipatchaisiri. The intimate space of the food truck has allowed for Pipatchaisiri to meet and develop relationships with more of his patrons, as opposed to just dropping food off at an anonymous front door, he said. 

Line Thai offers as much variety as possible, including many vegan and vegetarian options, but a major limiting factor in what dishes they can create is the availability of fresh food, said Pipatchaisiri. They hope to expand the menu soon to offer noodle soup, salad bowls, and more grab and go options. 

“We try to make more options for the people — I don’t want them to come in [and think] ‘Okay, same thing again, same thing again,’ said Pipatchaisiri. “At least they have options and they can choose.” 

Staffing has also been a challenge for the food truck, limiting the hours the business can operate. Pipatchaisiri said they’d like to be open for dinner, but for now mostly operate from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for the week of January 17, where they remained open until 7 p.m. He said while it is ideal to have all types of customers, they want to focus on repeat customers and their local audience. 

“In the end, we need to go by the local people, because this is the best customer for us. We cannot go by the traveler,” said Pipatchaisiri. 

The name “Line Thai” is a nod to the artful patterns and skillful lettering of the Thai language. Customers perched at picnic tables can also take in a bit of light reading from one of the many books on Thai culture Pipatchaisiri has set out. He said while Thailand may be across the world, the books offer a window into their home country, and visuals alone can act as a learning tool.

“I would like to introduce our country to the people,” said Pipatchaisiri. “The book might be the thing the customer can access the easiest for now, when you’re eating or while you’re waiting for the food.”

Pipatchaisiri has been dreaming of further decking out the food truck by hanging decorations from Thailand, but concern over the harsh West Texas weather has hampered that development. The wind and cold can be a major challenge when working in a food truck, said Pipatchaisiri, because the window needs to be open constantly to allow for the flow of receiving and fulfilling orders. 

Pipatchaisiri said customers’ reactions to Line Thai’s food are varied, and while most people like it right away, there are some who might be trying the cuisine for the first time and need more time to acclimate to the new flavors. He’s tried to value people’s tastes without compromising their mission to serve authentic Thai food. Spices are present but not overwhelming. Customers wanting to turn up the heat just need to ask. 

“If you would like to request more heat, we can do it, no problem,” said Pipatchaisiri. 

Line Thai’s ultimate goals are to have a family-friendly location where kids can be with their parents and play. They also aspire to operate a true farm-to-table restaurant, where they could source ingredients from their own greenhouse and allow customers to pick their own vegetables from the garden to take home. 

“The biggest obstacle we have is the fresh ingredients. So that might be the answer — you can grow your own,” said Pipatchaisiri.