Tecopa, California

Named after Paiute-Shoshone Indian chief Tecopa was a hard-rock mining camp in the late 1800s, though today, it is best known for its hot springs. Natural hot water is contained in separate bath houses for men and women, operated by a concessionaire with RV sites and a small store.  A surprising sight in this desert is Grimshaw Lake, a favorite of water skiers.  Nearby marshes attract migratory birds and were a stopping point along the Old Spanish Trail, a National Historic Trail that passes through Tecopa.  A treat five miles south of Tecopa is China Ranch where you can buy all kinds of treats made from dates… date shakes, date baked goods and take your date on a hike beside the federally recognized Wild and Scenic Armargosa River.  At Dumont Dunes, 4-wheelers, dune buggies and dirt bikes get airborne in the dunes and take more terrestrial tours through scenic canyons.

Unique Dining Options in Tiny Tecopa

The tiny town of Tecopa, on the southeastern edge of Death Valley National Park, may possibly be home to more restaurants per capita than any city in the US. With four restaurants and an official population of 150, Tecopa beats by more than half the average of larger cities that make this claim. Front runner Durango, Colorado, calculated its average in 2018 as one restaurant per every 88 residents. In Tecopa, it’s one per every 37. Two of those four establishments also include onsite brew pubs, likely to be the highest number of pubs per capita compared to any city in the country at one per every 75 inhabitants.

Of course, the Tecopa restaurateurs depend on more than local residents to keep their kitchens busy and they employ a variety of creative strategies to attract visitors to their tables. Using as many locally grown ingredients as possible, relying on family recipes and the genius of visiting chefs, playing live music or brewing “weird beer” these eateries offer an eclectic array of choices.

Steaks and Beer, located in the “downtown” area of Tecopa, is a popular hole in the wall with a tiny dining room and spacious patio seating area built over a fish pond. Owner and chef Eric Scott learned his craft on the Las Vegas Strip and has a gift for preparing steak, as well as a humble charm that makes eating at his restaurant like stopping by the house of a friend. He’s been cooking here for over three years, most of the time as a one-man operation, though he sometimes hires an assistant when things are especially busy.

Scott’s menu includes steak, of course, and options such as a five course meal for two, gluten free vegetarian pasta and a miso bone broth with seafood and udon noodles. For the beer end of things, Scott relies on the Death Valley Brewing Company next door.

Death Valley Brewing is entering its sixth year as a brew pub with an ever changing and always inventive beer menu. Owner Jon Zellhoefer and manager Dan Leesburg are both passionate about the craft of brewing and, while they will keep a few regular favorites on tap, they are always excited to try the next new recipe. The pub recently expanded its kitchen and serves pizza with a variety of topping options for its patrons, as well as soft pretzels.

Death Valley Brewing also offers unusual premiums to their loyal customers, such as the crystal skull mugs sold the first year the pub was in business. This year, they are offering steins as a premium for membership in the brew club, which includes discounts on beer purchases, t-shirts and more. The pub also has a large recreation room with a billiards table, an unusual desert disc golf course out back, and they recently began selling California lottery tickets for visitors who are feeling lucky.

On the other end of town is the Tecopa Brewing Company and BBQ restaurant, on the grounds of Delight’s Hot Springs Resort. Going into its fourth season, the restaurant caters to the resort’s overnight guests, as well as travelers passing through. It’s open seven days a week and offers breakfast (weekends only) and lunch as well as the traditional BBQ dinners. This year, the restaurant hired a new chef trained in classical French cuisine, said owner Courtney McNeal, and they’ll be offering weekend specials paired with one of their craft beers. With the new chef of board, brewer Wes McNeal will have time to focus on crafting new lager and ale recipes for the pub.

The Tecopa Brewing Company also often hosts live music and other events on weekends.

In between the two pubs, in the heart of Tecopa Hot Springs, is the Tecopa Bistro, the longest running of all the local eateries, opening its doors on the grounds of the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort over ten years ago. The Bistro changed ownership since then and underwent renovations to upgrade its kitchen to industry standards. This cozy, quirky eatery offers American fusion fare and is focusing on Food as Art in the 2019-2020 season, said owner Ryan Thomas. “It’s the equivalent of an art gallery for people who cook.” The Bistro invites guest chefs who have a specialty dish to share. On the regular menu Thomas uses herbs, veggies and even meat grown on his own small farm in Tecopa.

Thomas and his business partner Paul Barnes are both musicians and play live with their house band every weekend on an outdoor stage next door to the restaurant. With lots of patio seating, the Bistro patrons can enjoy the music and the fresh desert air.