46 Reasons to Love Waco

By Cecy Ayala, Haley Davis, Gretchen Eichenberg, Heather Garcia, Jen Naylor Gesick, Michelle Johnson, Robert Johnson, Anna Mitchael, Kathleen Seaman, Abby Tankersley, Kevin Tankersley & Megan Willome

Pictured: Photos by Cecy Ayala, Taylor Nicole Photography & Amy Traweek – additional photos provided by The Backyard, Chuck’s Gourmet Popcorn, Cultivate 7Twelve, Jen Naylor Gesick and Robert Johnson

Waco is a special place. Each month in the magazine I enjoy reading in at least one interview why someone chose to move here or why they decided to stay here when they had the opportunity to move away. We all have our big picture reasons why we are drawn to this city, perhaps the size, location or the people, but there’s also a thousand little reasons that give Waco its unique flavor.
Each year we ask our contributors to tell us what they love about our city, and this year we present to you, in no particular order, 46 reasons to love Waco. To read our lists from previous years, visit lovewaco.com.

1. Blackberry Mojito at Brazos Bar & Bistro

A little minty, a little sweet and the perfect summertime cocktail. — Jen Naylor Gesick

2. Fabled Bookshop & Cafe

As I sat one afternoon at the bar at Fabled with a new book open in one hand, a literary-themed drink in the other and listened to the baristas determine which “Parks & Rec” character they were, I couldn’t help but stop and think, “What more could I want?” For this mom of little ones, I’ve found the perfect environment to get some alone time. — Heather Garcia

I grew up going to the Book Nook, a bookstore located next door to Montgomery Ward in Lake Air Mall. As far as I can remember, that was the last locally owned store selling new books in Waco. So I was excited when Fabled Bookshop & Café opened at 215 South Fourth Street. There’s a wide selection of books in the bright, airy store; plenty of places to sit and read while drinking coffee from the café; and even a secret entrance to the children’s area. — Kevin Tankersley

I’ve always been a sucker for the “kid” drinks. All of the drinks at Fabled have bookish names, and the Frobscottle is my favorite. In the book “The BFG” by Roald Dahl, Frobscottle is a fizzy soda pop drink that causes whizzpoppers (i.e. farts). Luckily this version does NOT cause whizzpoppers or the like, but it’s green, tart and has Pop Rocks in it. I’m here for it. — Kathleen Seaman

3. Concerts at The Backyard

The last one I went to, it was a chilly night, but everyone crowded around the large fire pits. It turned out to be a perfect evening for Texas music and making new friends. — Jen Naylor Gesick

4. Smoked Mac & Cheese at Helberg Barbecue

I like to think of myself as a mac and cheese connoisseur, and I hit the jackpot stumbling across this one. Pair it with some delicious brisket or sausage and thank me later. It’s just the right amount of creamy and cheesy, and the crispy onion topping puts it right over the edge. I’ve even started adding the crispy onion topping to my own mac and cheese. It’s always a crowd favorite. — Brittany Ross

5. The Wise Elephant sculpture

Since having my daughter this past year, my husband and I purchased zoo passes and have spent a lot of time at Cameron Park Zoo. One of my favorite exhibits is the elephants, so when I spotted the elephant sculpture in the Waco Sculpture Zoo series, I was immediately drawn to it. Most of the other sculptures are realistic in nature, but this big guy sitting on the bench pondering life just makes me smile. — Brittany Ross

6. Shuttle buses to the Baylor football games

I remember the days, the years, practically the decades in which seemingly no one cared about Baylor football, except my husband and the players’ mothers. But now there is a citywide excitement. When we come in town for a game, we look forward to parking downtown and riding the shuttle bus to McLane Stadium. Everyone is happy, even the fans from the visiting teams, and we’re all looking at each other like, “Can you believe we’re really here? In Waco?
What a great day to be alive!” — Megan Willome

7. The Baylor Club

After we got a membership at the Baylor Club we started going to a lot of their events. The food is so delicious, and the service is always great. My favorite event so far was a family movie night during Christmastime. We got to wear our pj’s, watch a movie and eat pizza. Plus, the view never gets old! — Cecy Ayala

8. Margaritas to-go from La Fiesta

Some might argue the few benefits of the COVID-19 situation have been spending more time together as a family, talking to each other through masks, pretending to know what your sixth-grader’s homework means (I have no idea) or achieving Zen through the simplicity of our “new normal.” Hogwash, I tell ya! The one and only byproduct which I will endorse from this whole deal is La Fiesta’s to-go margarita on the rocks. It’s very simple. You get a Styrofoam cup full of their premixed mix, a straw and your own little bottle of tequila. Holy smokes, it’s good. — Robert Johnson

9. Vickie Scott

Ms. Vickie has to be one of the friendliest, most professional mail carriers in town. She serves us in the Lockwood-Arroyo-Meadow Wood neighborhood. Vickie sports her standard-issue U.S. Postal Service sun helmet with pride and always has a smile. She’s very conscientious, observant, and she knows her delivery route — and all its residents — quite well. I feel very confident with our mail in Vickie’s trustworthy hands. Whether we’re on the front porch, taking a walk a few blocks over, or even driving in a nearby neighborhood that is on her route, Vickie always recognizes us and waves. — Gretchen Eichenberg

10. Mamaka Bowl at Mamaka Bowls

If you haven’t had one of these delicious bowls, you are missing out. The combination of fresh fruit and crunchy granola makes for a refreshing and surprisingly filling afternoon snack or even a light lunch. — Brittany Ross

11. Butter My Biscuit

Everything in this family-run restaurant is made from scratch. As you probably guessed, they bake a mean biscuit. But even those who don’t like pitch perfect biscuits (we all have our quirks) can find a satisfying meal from the long list of brunch and lunchtime offerings. It’s my go-to rec for people when they are coming through town and discover the line at Magnolia Table is too long. “Where do we go?” they text me. And I text back, “Up the road just a bit is a little gaming store with some of the best food in town. Sounds weird, but trust me you’ll love it.” And they always do. — Anna Mitchael

12. Brandon Warford at Russ Davis Homes

Building a custom home is a little daunting, especially when you’re not using an interior designer. There are so many decisions to make — from paint colors
and flooring to faucets and doorknobs. Building with Russ Davis Homes was one of the best decisions we ever made. The entire team is amazing, but I do have to give a shoutout to the guy who held our hand every step of the way: Brandon Warford. I am completely aware that I’m high-maintenance and particular, but Brandon never made me feel that way. When it came to the selection process, he was incredibly patient and always helpful with suggestions that showed he understood our aesthetic. He’s also just a super funny guy. — Kathleen Seaman

13. Candy gift boxes from Hey Sugar

My daughter had a birthday party to attend one Saturday, and I had waited until the last minute for a gift. We were downtown; the kids begged to stop by the candy store. I mentioned my predicament to the girl behind the counter, and she enthusiastically helped us put together the cutest gift, and it was the hit of the party. — Jen Naylor Gesick

14. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

Last fall our family moved to the other side of town, changing up all our usual routes to get places. The best surprise has been the drive to downtown, traveling down MLK Jr. Boulevard. Cruising alongside the Brazos River, past the bluffs and the parks and finally seeing downtown with the beautiful Doris Miller Memorial in the foreground makes you appreciate our beautiful city all over again. — Heather Garcia

15. The Rachel at Revival Eastside Eatery

If you like roast beef sandwiches, you have to try the Rachel at Revival Eastside Eatery. They make the roast beef in house, and it’s served with pickled red onions, the restaurant’s own horseradish aioli, locally sourced cheddar and the most delicious rosemary sourdough bread.  — Kathleen Seaman

16. Revival Eastside Eatery

Revival Eastside Eatery was a nice addition to Elm Avenue, which has good barbecue at one end and good coffee, breakfast and lighter lunches at the other. The menu at Revival, 704 Elm Avenue, is heavy on sandwiches and burgers, with specials rotating frequently. A recent burger offering featured bacon-maple jam, cheddar cheese, hash brown and a fried egg atop a generous beef patty. The Prodigal Son sandwich, with steak and caramelized balsamic onions was
also a winner. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

17. Baylor’s Movie Mondays at the Hippodrome

Catch free showings of documentaries you may have heard about, like “A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood” and other thought-provoking indie films you will be delighted to discover thanks to this partnership between Baylor University and the Waco Hippodrome. I could hardly contain my excitement when they showed “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” in September just one week after its release. I’m definitely looking forward to the return of Movie Mondays. — Jen Naylor Gesick

18. Ronda and Julie at Waco Vision Source

The entire staff was amazing, but these two ladies in the glasses shop are so sweet, fun to talk to and genuinely helpful. I’m tragically indecisive and sometimes take several days to pick out a new pair of frames,
but with their expert guidance I quickly found a new pair of eyeglasses and sunglasses. Even months later, after the novelty should’ve worn off, I still get excited about wearing them. — Jen Naylor Gesick

19. Pretty in Pink Flamingo Boutique

Pretty in Pink has a great selection of styles. I can find a cute outfit to wear to work as well as something fun to wear on the weekends. Every time I wear an item I bought there I get so many compliments. Savannah is friendly and helpful when shopping, and I always leave with items I love. — Haley Davis

20. Bananas Fosters Waffles at Brazos Bar & Bistro

If you’re one of those people who believes things can be too rich, you should just move right along. If you’re into sweet indulgences, this is for you. My husband and I go to breakfast with my in-laws every Saturday morning. It’s our thing. One time, while trying to find something new, we decided to go try out the Brazos Bar & Bistro inside Hotel Indigo. Y’all. These waffles are everything! They’re mini waffles that come with a side of bacon and then bananas fosters sauce poured over the top. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. — Brittany Ross

21. Christi’s Hamburgers

Great old-fashioned hamburgers in Bellmead. Be sure to try the special Frisco topping. — Jen Naylor Gesick

22. Cowboy Coffee at Common Grounds

For a refreshing and energizing afternoon delight, a Common Grounds Cowboy Coffee is a go-to for my daughter and me. It’s the house coffee over ice with half-and-half and what they call “secret sauce.” The secret sauce definitely kicks it up a notch in sweetness and maybe a hint of cinnamon. They won’t tell us! Whether we’re out shopping or taking a break from whatever we’re doing, it’s great to zip into the drive-thru — either at Baylor or off Highway 84 — and grab this drink. — Gretchen Eichenberg

23. Stephanie McGee

Before this whole COVID-19 pandemic, I was one of those oddball people who actually enjoyed grocery shopping. It was my “me time.” It’s a whole process. I put together a list of meals for the week, make my grocery list (obviously in order of the flow of the store: produce, meats, inside aisles, deli, dairy, frozen), and then head to the check out. If I’m lucky, Stephanie McGee will be working at the Woodway H-E-B, and I get to have a friendly little conversation while checking out. She is always so chipper and happy, and you can tell she really enjoys her job. She makes the whole grocery shopping experience that much better. — Brittany Ross

24. Sopa de Tortilla y Pollo at Hecho en Waco

The broth is perfect with simple, fresh, quality ingredients. It’s the best bowl of tortilla soup I have ever tasted. — Jen Naylor Gesick

25. Cultivate 7Twelve

When you’re not quite ready for date night to end, a stroll through the gallery at Cultivate 7Twelve downtown is the perfect cap for the night. If you’re lucky, you might even stumble upon jazz night, getting a treat for the ears and the eyes. — Heather Garcia

26. Koko Ramen In Union Hall

When Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn visited Koko Ramen inside Union Hall at 720 Franklin Avenue, he tried two varieties of ramen: tonkotsu and shoyu. “I can’t comment on the flavor of the shoyu since I made the mistake of ordering spice level nine, which is their most punishing,” he wrote at TexasMonthly.com. “I can attest that it’s rough to power through the bowl of level nine ramen because the spiciness is dispersed throughout the fatty broth, which is served at an elevated temperature that heightens the burn.” The level three heat was plenty for us, but, like Vaughn, we powered through because the combination of pork belly, noodles, ginger and other ingredients was Just. So. Good. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

27. Klayton Warner at Waco Carpet Company

When we were making selections for our custom home, we probably spent the most time looking at flooring, tile and kitchen backsplashes. Klayton at Waco Carpet Company was awesome to work with. When so many homes right now are farmhouse or rustic, Klayton totally got our more modern aesthetic. He was great about giving us ideas and showing us unexpected options. From the beginning, I knew I wanted a really funky tile in my laundry room, but everything I found was too ornate and floral. As soon as I mentioned it to Klayton, he turned our attention to the perfect black, gray and white geometric tile. It’s one of my favorite things about our house, and our guests always rave about it. — Kathleen Seaman

28. Funny socks at South River Street in Spice Village

I’m a big fan of fun socks. They make me smile, put a little pep in my step and are an easy, universal gift. So when I found this booth, I knew I was set. The brand they carry, Blue Q, has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered their funny, irreverent (and sometimes R-rated) products at the famed Paper Bear gift shop in San Marcos. — Jen Naylor Gesick

29. Plowman’s Platter at Barnett’s Public House

Next time you stop in to have a drink at Barnett’s, be sure to order the Plowman’s Platter to complement whatever craft cocktail you choose.  It’s a plentiful selection of cured meats, like prosciutto, spicy soppressata and salami, regional cheeses, pickled veggies, toasted artisan breads, mustard and fig jam. The jam is so delicious, I usually get an extra serving to take home for toast the next morning. The Plowman’s Platter is a must-have on any visit to Barnett’s. — Gretchen Eichenberg

30. Greek Feta Fries at Alpha Omega

I love Alpha Omega’s Greek Feta Fries. The food there is always so fresh and delicious. During shelter in place, their delivery and to-go services have been a lifesaver. — Haley Davis

31. Laura Schmeltekopf & Carly Porter

We’ve had two kids go through Midway Middle School, and we could not have been happier with the folks who led them through what can be very difficult years. Two particular teachers stand out. History teacher Laura Schmeltekopf has a genuine love for history and for her students. She goes above and beyond in making history fun and interesting. Carly Porter loves science and passing along information in a way that is both interactive and engaging for her students. What both of these teachers have done for our son, Brazos, goes well above science and history. They’ve encouraged and listened to the music he creates on his iPad. When he gets in the car at the end of the day, he’ll say, “Mrs. Porter liked my new song” or “Mrs. Schmeltekopf liked my music.” The fact that they take time out of their extremely busy days to listen to his music and even ask if he has new songs means so much to him and us. — Abby Tankersley

32. Twin Bridges

The best view of the Twin Bridges is from below, when you’re outrunning the summer heat on a boat, speeding across Lake Waco. But second-best is the way most of us take in the bridge, by vehicle, on the stretch of Highway 6 that runs to Speegleville, and beyond, to the boondocks. As a former boondocks resident, I still hold that same affection for the Twin Bridges — it feels like an official welcome to Waco. The nitty gritty of life is on the other side of the bridge, but the drive across is a reminder of the big picture. There’s a body of water that’s big, a sky that’s even bigger, pretty houses on the hill, and it’s all good. For an uninterrupted minute of drive time it’s that simple: life is good. — Anna Mitchael

33. Power Bowl at The Olive Branch

One of the most delicious things that has ever passed my lips. So many of my favorite foods in one delicious concoction — eggs, avocado, bacon, zucchini, shaved Brussels sprouts, tomato, onion, potato and basil pesto. — Jen Naylor Gesick

34. Kettle Corn from Chuck’s Gourmet Popcorn

The right blend of salty and sweet, Chuck’s Kettle Corn is light, airy and the perfect treat. With its home base at the Magnolia Silos, Chuck’s main venue for sales was disrupted due to the pandemic, but it quickly pivoted to offer pick-up and home delivery, which is free with a purchase of $20 or more. We had our favorite kettle corn delivered several times as a pick-me-up while sheltering in place. Chuck’s is also available on Saturdays at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. This delectable snack also comes in cinnamon toast, salted caramel and homestyle flavors. — Gretchen Eichenberg

35. Waco Running Company

My husband and I started walking around our neighborhood, and my feet were hurting even though I had fairly new shoes. I thought I knew my feet and what I needed, but I was completely wrong. Even though I’m not a runner, it was still really helpful for me to go into the store and talk to a fit expert. Now when we’re just going around our neighborhood or when we take trips that require a lot walking — like our trip to Iceland last summer — my feet don’t hurt! — Kathleen Seaman

36. Valley Mills Vineyards

When we drove to Valley Mills Vineyards new location last year, we felt like we were in Napa Valley. (I know — but, seriously!) Just outside of Waco, the vineyard sits beautifully between several hills. The newly opened tasting room and event venue sits atop a hill with stunning views of the vineyard and gorgeous sunsets. We’ve gone to several private events there, and the hospitality the Bagnasco family has put into this place shows. The wine has won several international awards as well. Open to the public, go enjoy! — Michelle Johnson

37. Aly Oltmann at Salons by JC

Aly has worked miracles while helping me grow out my pixie haircut. The usually awkward process was made so much better with her expertise at the chair. Plus, she is a genius at color. She is definitely an artist. — Jen Naylor Gesick

38. Linda Ward

Full disclosure, I was buying new bras. I’ve lost 30 pounds, and I had no idea what size I needed anymore, and all measurement tips I was finding online were giving conflicting advice. I could not do this online. I was going to have to go into a store. Linda Ward is the manager of the intimates department at our local Dillard’s, and she was beyond helpful. I was by myself, and this woman spent over an hour with me — measured me, brought me different sizes and options, explained why a certain brand might be better for my body type, and explained what I needed to look for in the future to ensure a proper fit. — Kathleen Seaman

39. El Pollo Palenque Taqueria

When we were all encouraged to stay at home as much as possible recently, we didn’t order out food often. On those few occasions we did, we made the trek to El Pollo Palenque Taqueria, a food truck at 1400 LaSalle Avenue. And our order was always the same: the taco special, which consisted of three tacos, rice and beans, for $5.75. Sliced limes and small containers of hot (hot!) sauce were provided as well. There are several choices of meat available, but we stuck to beef and marinated pork. And no matter how many times we eat those tacos, conversation at the dinner table always centers around how very good they are. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

40. Kinetic wind sculptures

The proliferation of public art in Waco has changed the entire city, making it feel much more vibrant and unique. One of my favorites is the set of three metal kinetic sculptures on Austin Avenue across from the Alico building that were unveiled last March. They dance in the wind and are a beautiful yet sobering memorial to the 1953 Waco tornado and the power of mother nature. — Jen Naylor Gesick

41. Breakfast at El Charro

The first meal we ate out when restaurants were able to open on a limited basis was breakfast at El Charro Café at 2303 LaSalle Avenue. I had been craving that meal since a friend on Facebook — who is at El Charro most weekday mornings — posted a photo of breakfast shortly after it opened. The Huevos con Papas hit the spot, eggs with onion, jalapeno and big chunks of potatoes served with a side of freshly made tortillas. Aside from the big “Table Closed” sign at every other booth, it was almost like life was back to normal. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

42. Fried Pickles at Big’s Mayberry Tavern

The perfect ratio of crispy batter to pickle. And then there’s the ranch dressing — so, so good! — Jen Naylor Gesick

43. Mr. Oso Burrito Co.

This hidden gem in Lacy Lakeview is a place my dad suggested. He has been coming to this spot for the huge burritos, fresh ingredients and homemade tortillas since the ’80s. Even better, you can grab one for under $5. — Jen Naylor Gesick

44. Chevy DuBose at The Blasian Asian

My co-workers and I often grab The Blasian Asian for lunch. It’s always delicious, but we get a little extra excited when we see one of the co-owners, Chevy, cooking in the back. She’s Cambodian-born, and all of the dishes are her recipes. Unsurprisingly, she’s the best of the cooks. You can always tell the difference when she’s cooking! — Kathleen Seaman

45. National Humane Alliance fountain

I happened upon this historic fountain in front of Waco City Hall, and I knew they were quite rare because I once wrote about a similar one in Rapid City, South Dakota. An organization dedicated to animal welfare designed the fountains in the early 1900s to provide water for horses and mules on the top level and dogs and cats at the ground level. The Waco fountain was erected in 1909 in honor of Kate Harrison Friend, a fierce activist for animal and human rights and co-founder of Waco’s first animal shelter. It was actually lost for 50 years before it was discovered, restored and placed at its current location. — Jen Naylor Gesick

46. Fajitas at Taqueria Mexicano Grill 15

Confession: I’ve never eaten at this restaurant. However, since our first to-go order during shelter in place, we’ve returned again and again to a local Mexican restaurant in China Spring to pick up dinner and eat at home. The staff is always friendly. The combination fajitas are a favorite, and the leftovers make for tasty toppings on a homemade pizza the next night. — Heather Garcia