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Dec 28, 2009 10:46 AM

Headed to Waco for 3 months

I'll be in Waco from February through April, and welcome suggestions on places to eat, including restaurants in smaller cities and towns that are worth a day or weekend trip. I am armed with the Texas Monthly 50 Best Barbecue issue and much, much more information about the Austin, Houston, D-FW and San Antonio areas than I know what to do with. I'm also interested in good local markets within easy reach of Waco.

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  1. I think it makes a big difference to know where you're coming from. My personal recommendations would be much different for someone coming from, say, a small town in the middle of Iowa than it would somebody from San Francisco, for example.

    And also, what types of foods/restaurants/etc. most interest you? Upscale? Asian? Mexican? Steak and potatoes and home cookin'?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Jaymes

      Good question. I'm coming from the Washington DC area, which is strong on upscale restaurants. I enjoy almost all types of food, and care much more about taste than presentation. As a rule, I like to eat local specialties. In the South I tend to eat at meat-and-three and barbecue places, and in Texas I've gravitated toward Mexican and barbecue (and Vietnamese in Houston). I've been disappointed by the limited number of chicken fried steaks I've had, but I'm game to try again. I'd be very interested in places opened by New Orleans refugees. I love very fresh seafood.

      1. re: dcbbq

        First, welcome to Texas. The greatest state in the USA!
        Second, unless someone can say differently, fresh fish is definitely, OUT OF THE QUESTION! But, your only an hour (or less) away from the Central Texas towns that are noted for the best BBQ in the state of Texas.
        There are enough blogs on "Texas Chowhound" that will discuss them all. You should search them out.
        I'm not familiar enough with Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Waco to advise you. Other than say, stay away from the chains if you can.
        I'm sure some Waco residents and travelers will comment here on their favorite Mexican places.
        The best of luck and, enjoy yourself in our great state where, our people are our greatest resource!

        1. re: twinwillow

          Thanks! I'm looking forward to my time in Texas.

          1. re: dcbbq

            Although, not on the level of the bbq joints in Central Texas, the Rusty Star, on Highway 6 across the lake, serves some very good bbq and is only about 15-20 minutes from downtown Waco. This place was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations where he visited Ted Nugent. FYI, this place is not open on weekends. While in Waco, try the Dr Pepper made with pure cane sugar. However, you need to make a Saturday trek to Snow's bbq (#1 by Texas monthly). Truly a unique small town Texas experience. Make sure you get up early. And no stay in Waco is complete without a eating a hamburger and shake at Health Camp on the circle.

        2. re: dcbbq

          If you have been dissapointed by the lack of chicken fried steaks you have had, there is a great place just north of Waco in Elm Mott called Heitmiller's. Now this is normally just a great steak house, but they also have great CFS. Also about 30 miles to the south in Temple, there are two really GREAT CFS spots on S 1st street Jody's Family Restaurant (Old Jody's) and Jody's Restaurant (New Jody's). They are both on the east side of the street, and both have great CFS but the Old Jody's is just slightly better. Great food you will love it, Hope you enjoy!

          1. re: iam1bigtxan

            Just to clear something up about the two Jodys The original one is "Old" Jody's while the newer one is Jodys Restaurant. The food is great at the "Old" Jody's. Joey is the best cook around. Anything you try will be good. To many things to mention.

            "Old" Jodys
            1219 So 1st St, Temple, TX 76504

          2. re: dcbbq

            Just got off the phone with a friend that lives in Waco. Asked him specifically about seafood. He says he goes to D&J Restaurant for seafood. Says that they specialize in dishes made with fresh, never-frozen, seafood.

            He likes it. Might be worth a try.

        3. You definitely must go to Taylor for Louie Mueller's BBQ. One of the legendary Texas 'cue joints. Go early - for lunch. These places are not dinner restaurants. Another interesting spot for a road trip is over to Fredericksburg. See the LBJ Ranch - well worth the visit. In Fredericksburg, I like the Hill Top Cafe, but there are several restaurants there that get good reviews. You can plan to spend a weekend in Bandera at a real working ranch, or at a famous dude ranch. Good fun and great country cooking. San Antonio is always a hoot. And for another experience you won't get in DC, take a weekend and go to Del Rio. It's not that far - about 5 hours or so over good roads. You can plan to duck out of work a couple hours early on a Friday and head for the border around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, you're in Cuidad Acuna in time for dinner at the famous Ma Crosby's, and then drinks at the equally famous Corona Club. On Sunday, head for home around noon or so, and you'll be back home in time for dinner.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jaymes

            James, vu_man --

            Many thanks. These look like great suggestions

          2. I really enjoyed the Elite Circle Grille, and recommend their meaty and delicious french dip. I searched to see how other 'hounds felt about it, and found a recommendation for their CFS:

            1. There's at least 1 other thread on Waco ... maybe more

              I've met friends @ Buzzard Billy's ... and was not displeased.

              Also tried the ClayPot (VietNamese) ... ... it was also decent food if not fancy. (Nothing like Mai Que in Houston ... VietNamese/French royal family level of cooking ... too bad they moved to Florida!


              Louis Mueller's IS good BBQ ... more pepper than most BBQs in Central Tx. The Taylor Cafe also has decent Q but it's not on the top of my list of best BBQs.

              Head N of Waco to Greater Metropolitan West, Tx & try the Czech Stop for pastries ... there's also a Czech butcher next door for your sausage needs ... both right off the freeway. IF you go E about 1-2 mi into West TX, (across the RR tracks) there's another, better bakery on the Lt (N) side of the street. Great Poppy Seed Kolaches.

              Try hitting the Tx Wine Trail (google it) ... take some good BBQ & cheese w/ you ... picnic w/ a bottle of wine @ each place

              3 Replies
              1. re: EdLagniappe

                West is a good suggestion, although personally, I very much prefer the kolaches and sausage wraps at Gerik’s Ole Czech Bakery over the Czech Stop (which mainly has the great location going for it, in my view). And a block or two into town, over the railroad tracks and then turn north, is Nemecek Bros Czech butcher shop. Great old-fashioned ring baloney.

                Also good for a fun afternoon (even if it is a little cutsie and girly) is Salado. There are interesting art galleries and antique "shoppes" and tchotchke joints and one restaurant that's supposed to be pretty grand (although I can't say personally as I haven't tried it), The Range Restaurant.

                A few other interesting ways to wile away a Waco afternoon are the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the Dr. Pepper Museum, and the Mayborn Museum (part of Baylor University complex).

                As far as barbecue goes, after sampling Louie Mueller's, one of the consensus best in the state (although there's been some gossip to the effect that it hasn't been as good since Lance left), you can head the other direction, west to Llano for Cooper's. Again, plan to get there early. It seems to appear and disappear from the Texas Monthly "Best BBQ" lists, but it's equally famous as Louie Mueller's, and if it's late April, there's a chance that the bluebonnets might be in bloom. If so, it's an especially pretty drive.

                Austin has several good "meat & three" restaurants, and several excellent New Orleans-themed restaurants, too. There's excellent sushi at Uchi, and wonderful Italian at Vespaio.

                All in all, you shouldn't be bored if you're willing to do a little homework. And drive, drive, drive - just like the Texans do.

                1. re: Jaymes

                  I concur with "Jaymes" on Gerik's in West. Much better than the "touristy" Czech Stop.
                  I've also heard some frightening reports about Louie Mueller's BBQ in Taylor. And it's always been my supreme favorite! Too bad. I've heard Lance is opening his own place somewhere nearby.
                  I also concur with Vespaio (Italian) in Austin. And, lot's of really good (authentic) Mexican places in Austin, too.
                  And, there is a First Chinese BBQ in the Chinatown shopping center. A branch of the wildly popular (authentic Cantonese) First Chinese BBQ from Dallas, the food is just as good and, they take credit cards unlike the Dallas branches which are cash only. They're BYOB as well. Also, really good in Austin is T & S Seafood for fantastic Hong Kong style dim sum.
                  No trip to Texas would be complete without a visit (or two) to Austin.

                  1. re: twinwillow

                    Yeah T&S is the place to go for dim sum in Austin.
                    Musashino's also has very good sushi.

                    I prefer the more casual Enoteca Vespaio, it's fun to kick back on their patio while enjoying some mussels and fries as well as the prosciutto pizza - the one topped with egg! I haven't gotten to try the salumi there, but it looks good too.

              2. It looks like I'll have my work cut out for me! I may have to conduct a kolache survey in addition to the barbecue survey.

                I really appreciate the day/weekend trip suggestions. They are a big part of the fun of a lengthy visit to a new city.

                I'm kind of surprised I'm not hearing much about Mexican restaurants

                4 Replies
                1. re: dcbbq

                  It is interesting that you haven't heard all that much about Mexican restaurants in this thread. That's probably because there are so many and everybody seems to kind of have several favorites - oftentimes different favorite restaurants for different dishes. And I don't know about anyone else, but personally, I don't usually recommend TexMex restaurants because, second only to barbecue, that's a great way to start an argument. Actually, I shouldn't say 'second only to barbecue.' Trying to determine which Mexican restaurants are "the best" is undoubtedly even more difficult than reaching some sort of consensus about barbecue. But Austin has its own forum on Chowhound, and they'll go into considerably more detail over there.

                  I will say that two Austin Mexican-themed dishes with which you should become intimately aquainted are migas, and breakfast tacos.

                  However, you should know that regardless as to which Mexican restaurants get recommended, and whichever ones you wind up trying, the one "do not miss" in Austin is Fonda San Miguel. But it's not some cheap Mexican dive. It's an expensive, beautiful, upscale restaurant featuring interior Mexican food. They've got a cookbook out that you can drool over.

                  For your New Orleans-style restaurant, try Gene's

                  There's also Gumbo's (which I haven't tried, but it's gotten good reviews). And Nubian Queen Lola's.

                  Meat & three - the "granddaddy" is Threadgill's. If you go, be sure to go to the one on North Lamar - it's the original. And I should add that a lot of people think it's gone severely downhill over the last ten years or so, but it's still a good time and kind of fun to go there and imagine how it was back in the 60's and 70's when Janis Joplin was a fixture at "Open Mic Night."

                  However most Austinites will tell you that Hoover's has better food.

                  Not sure if this is helpful, but my favorite "home cookin" place in Austin was Dot's. It burned down a while back, but somebody told me that she has rebuilt. I don't know for sure (I don't live there anymore), but I'd strongly suggest you make an effort to find out. In my view, home cookin' didn't get any better than what Dot was slinging out.

                  And since you're going to be in Central Texas for three months and you say you've already done some homework, you've undoubtedly heard the name "Lockhart" - the small town with the big nickname - Barbecue Capital of the World. You should know that it's only about a half-hour or so south of Austin. And you absolutely should not miss it. There are three places there that get a lot of buzz, and are continually the subject of the most heated arguments in Texas when it comes to who turns out the best 'cue: Smitty's Market, Kreuz Market, and Black's. The most common thing to do on the "Barbecue Trail" is to go to each one and get about a half-pound or so of the brisket to share (exactly how much depends upon how many tasters are traveling with you), a rib or two per person, and a hot link. You can also get whatever other kinds of meats you'd like to try - pork chops, prime rib, sirloin, etc. And you taste a bit at each place. The trick is not to fill up at any one place. Then, if you're up for it, and you want to complete the tour, drive another half-hour down to Luling for their City Market.

                  Lexington (which was recommended above) has also recently vaulted itself into the "don't miss on the Barbecue Trail" list. But it's more east, and Lockhart and Luling are south of Austin. And Snow's, in Lexington, is only open on Saturday mornings and you have to get there early. If you're a sausage (and in Texas, we call them "hot links") fan, you can combine a trip to Lexington with a visit to Elgin and a stop at the two famous sausage places: Meyer's and Southside. They do sell brisket, etc., but most folks consider it to be pretty average stuff and not the reason to go to Elgin.

                  And what the hell -- while you're rambling around Central Texas noshing on 'cue and hot links, stop in at Shiner and take a tour of the brewery.

                  I mean, why not? Yee haw, pardner.

                  After all, yur in Texas now.

                  1. re: Jaymes

                    Ditto, Hoovers! Have the smothered pork chops. But, call and ask when they have them on the menu.

                  2. re: dcbbq

                    30 minutes to the south is Temple, Tx. If you go west on HWY 53 about 15-18 miles, you'll be in Zabcikville, home of Greene's sausage. I think the kolaches and sausages are better than anything you can get in West, and they also have an attached restaurant serving same smoked treats. You will not be disappointed.

                    1. re: LeroyT

                      Greene's is go EAST out of Temple on Hwy 53 to get to Zabcikville.