Editors’ Picks 2020

By Gretchen Eichenberg, Heather Garcia, Jen Naylor Gesick, Robert Johnson, Anna Mitchael, Brittany Ross, Kathleen Seaman, Abby Tankersley and Kevin Tankersley

Pictured: Photos by Amy Traweek, Blackland Photography, and Cecy Ayala, Photography by Cecy

Every year we look forward to tallying the Best of Waco survey results. It’s an exciting time to see what our readers love in our city and even to learn about up-and-coming establishments that get shout-outs from voters. What we also know is true is that some of our long-standing businesses have very loyal fanbases, which can make it difficult for newer, equally deserving restaurants or bars to break through. Waco has a wide variety of offerings, and we’d be remiss to ignore some of these gems that also merit recognition. Thus, for the first time, we present to you our Best of Waco Editors’ Picks.

To make these selections, we first collected submissions from our contributors in 24 categories. Then the editorial team debated and ultimately decided who deserved the Best of Waco honor. On the following pages you will find 24 different restaurants along with a short description from one of our writers describing their favorite dish at each location.

We hope you’ll take this as a list of recommendations and try out a new (or new-to-you) eatery for the first time. As always, during these times when restaurants cannot serve at full capacity, call or check the website beforehand to find out if an establishment has shortened hours, carry-out only or a limited menu.



 

Breakfast

Brown House Cafe
French Toast Plate
Going to breakfast is a big deal in my house. I’m talking every Saturday and sometimes even Sunday kind of big deal. My go-to choice is always French toast, and Brown House Cafe is my favorite. The Texas toast is the perfect thickness with just the right amount of crisp to it, dusted in powdered sugar. Served
with bacon, eggs and a cup of coffee, it’s the best way to begin my weekend. — Brittany Ross
 

 

Breakfast Tacos

Pablo’s Taqueria
#1 Burrito
About a year ago I called a friend on a Saturday morning, and she told me she was on the way to Pablo’s. “To where?” I asked. And when she spoke next I could actually hear the pity in her voice — “You haven’t been to Pablo’s?” The taco stand has a menu of about 20 breakfast burritos, all labeled by number, and even though I’ve now gone there at least 50 times I’ve never gotten past the #1 — egg, bacon, potato and cheese wrapped in a fresh flour tortilla. It’s better than delicious, it’s the start of a really good day. — Anna Mitchael
 

 

Brunch

The Raleigh
Casey’s Stuffed French Toast
What separates brunch from breakfast isn’t so much the time of day but rather the acceptability of booze before noon. At The Raleigh, grab a carafe of mimosas for just $15 (equals about five to six flutes), and pair it with Casey’s Stuffed French Toast. Basically a French toast sandwich, it’s two thick slices of bread filled with a cinnamon cream cheese, candied pecans and fresh berries. — Kathleen Seaman
 

 

Burger

Dubl-R
Cheeseburger
You can get all kinds of fancy burgers in this town, but the best old-fashioned cheeseburger is, hands down, found at Dubl-R. Nothing beats a seasoned meat patty topped with cheese on a toasted bun, hot off the griddle. Make it a basket, with fries and a real Coca-Cola — and try to grab a spot at the counter because that’s where all the action is! — Gretchen Eichenberg
 

 

Coffeehouse

Pinewood
Latte with House Syrup
One of the bestselling drinks at Pinewood is the latte with a squirt of house syrup. The syrup cuts into the typical coffee bitterness and adds a touch of sweetness, and the drink is a great midmorning pick-me-up. And Pinewood offers plenty of indoor and outdoor seating for these socially distanced times. Across the lovely, tree-covered courtyard from the coffee shop is the Pinewood Public House, open in the afternoon and evening and serving a variety of beer and wine. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley
 

Dessert

DiamondBack’s
Bananas Foster
Decadent, yet simple, this bananas foster is worth every calorie. Banana slices are sautéed in a sauce of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon — and then doused in dark rum and ignited, tableside, of course. After the flames subside, the syrupy concoction is served over vanilla bean ice cream. You’ll be scraping every drop from the bottom of the dish, wishing there were more. — Gretchen Eichenberg
 

Chicken-Fried Steak

Tradinghouse Bar & Grill
Chicken-Fried Steak
When the craving for chicken-fried steak hits, we usually head to Tradinghouse Bar & Grill, on Lake Felton Parkway in Hallsburg. It’s a bit of a drive, but oh, so worth it. There aren’t any frills in this place, but that’s not why we’re there. It’s the tender, breaded steak, hot from the fryer, with cream gravy poured over that we’re after. The steak is served with a pretty basic salad, bread, and fries or baked potato, and the small order — there’s a bigger one on the menu that we’ve never ventured to try — is plenty. Add in a cold beer, and it’s a perfect meal out in the country. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley
 

 

Hole-In-The-Wall

Rufi’s Cocina
In a quaint little white, ranch-style structure at 25th Street and Lasker Avenue — a residential neighborhood — is Rufi’s Cocina. Well, residential, except for an auto body shop and some killer street tacos and blue corn cheese tamales served with a selection of salsas made with all homegrown ingredients. Everything is prepared fresh by Rufi herself, a native of the Mexican state of Michoacán, who cooks authentic recipes from her homeland, along with her son Eric, who is the face of the restaurant. Their establishment is a modest one, and their business outlook is one of service and gratitude. — Gretchen Eichenberg
 

 

Healthy Eating

Harvest on 25th
Pulled Pork Taco
With words like vegan and gluten-free sprinkled throughout the menu, if you’re a meat-eating carbivore, you may think that Harvest on 25th isn’t for you. Hold that thought. As the restaurant’s website will tell you, it’s “good food, made for everyone,” so while the menu reflects a passion for sourcing local ingredients and clean eating, that doesn’t necessarily mean no meat. A perfect example of this is the Pulled Pork Taco. Perfect for a light and refreshing lunch, it’s an organic corn tortilla filled with citrus-chili braised pork and topped with avocado chimichurri, cabbage slaw and pickled onions. — Kathleen Seaman
 

 

Pizza

Moroso Wood Fired Pizzeria
Classico Pizze
There’s nothing classic about this Classico pizza from Moroso. From the Italian sausage to the caramelized onions and fresh, smoked mozzarella, the flavors meld perfectly together to create a very one-of-a-kind pizza. As if the pizza alone didn’t have your mouth watering, dip it in the balsamic reduction for even more flavor. Moroso has been one of our favorite date-night spots for a long time. The charming atmosphere, delicious food, good music and friendly staff keep us coming back every time. — Brittany Ross
 

 

Margaritas

Hecho En Waco
Jalapeño Margarita
It’s flavorful, not too sweet and definitely has a kick to it — everything you want in a spicy version of the classic margarita. Crafted with fresh jalapeno, Patron Silver tequila, Grand Mariner, agave nectar and fresh lime and lemon juice, this is the perfect after-work refresher. One thing that makes Hecho’s margaritas stand out is that most are hand-mixed with freshly squeezed juices and ingredients, rather than pre-mixed. Enjoy it on one of the two outdoor patios for an al fresco experience. — Gretchen Eichenberg
 

 

Tacos

Trujillo’s
When I was younger and could metabolize my way out of poor food decisions with ease, I’d order the Carne a La Tampiquena plate at Trujillo’s with a crispy beef taco on the side. I ate every bit of that meal (skirt steak, beef enchilada, charro beans) with a Modelo Negra (strictly for hydration purposes).
And then I’d usually take a nap. I was a college boy and could get away with that. Boy, was it good. The tacos are excellent. Not too fancy and always consistent. Getting hungry just writing this. When you go in, ask for Jose; he’s the man. — Robert Johnson
 

Seafood

Cajun Craft
Crawfish Etouffee
There’s something about the combination of creole spices and crawfish tails in a warm, thick sauce that feels like comfort food with a little kick. At Cajun Craft, you can order a traditional version, served over white rice and topped with chives, or if you want to branch out, choose the Crawfish Poutin appetizer, which is Cajun fries covered in crawfish etouffee with sour cream, chives and Creole sauce. Either way, I’m here for it. — Heather Garcia
 

 

Chips & Salsa

El Charro Cafe
At first glance, the chips and salsa at El Charro Cafe seem pretty similar to what you might get at any other Mexican restaurant: a red plastic basket with a paper liner, topped with tortilla chips. But the chips at El Charro are always warm and crisp; there’s never a limp dud in the batch. And you’re also served two varieties of salsa in plastic squeeze bottles, with diners receiving their own small bowl, so double-dipping from the community dish is never an issue. The red salsa has hints of onion and cilantro; the green salsa tastes of jalapeno and lime. Both are excellent. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley
 

 

Barbecue

Helberg Barbecue
Trinity Family Pack with Street Corn Salad and Smoked Mac and Cheese
By the time it’s my turn to order at Helberg I always feel a little rattled. It might be the drive to Speegleville that causes the nerves, where I spend the whole time worrying that I’ll arrive only to find a SOLD OUT sign on the door. Or it’s watching the people in line before me order, wondering if one of them is going to get the last rib. Luckily, I have yet to be so shaken that I can’t squeak out the words: “One Trinity, with corn salad and mac and cheese for the sides.” And then there is enough barbecue to last me a couple of days. And then there is peace. — Anna Mitchael
 

 

Asian

Koko Ramen
Bao Buns and Brisket Rangoons
I love getting a big, comforting bowl of soup from Koko Ramen’s offerings, where spicy lovers can really push their limits. Since my taste buds don’t handle heat well, I decided to mix it up on a recent trip to Union Hall and tried the Bao Buns (one brisket, one pork belly) and Brisket Rangoons. And boy, they did not disappoint! The soft buns are toasted for just the right amount of crispiness, and the combination in both dishes created by the mix of smoky Texas barbecued meats with sweet and zesty Asian flavors was like a little party on my palate. — Jen Naylor Gesick
 

Brewery

Brotherwell Brewing
Bridge Street Wit
It’s hard to pick just one of the many of Brotherwell Brewing’s fantastic beers, but the Bridge Street Wit wheat beer is probably my favorite. It’s light yet full of flavor and feels just like the perfect fall beer with notes of orange citrus and a little clove and coriander. My husband and I love trying as many local and craft beers as we can, and this is one of the few we both completely agree on. — Jen Naylor Gesick
 

 

Fajitas

Abuelita’s Mexican Restaurant
Abuelita’s owner, Noel Jaimes Sr., always greets you with a smile and friendly words. “Buenos dias” is often my greeting (as I’ve aged and have adjusted my lunch schedule accordingly). The beef fajitas are outstanding, very tender and consistent. You didn’t ask, but this is how I order: “Beef fajitas, charro beans, flour.” Yes, yes, I know. I should ask for corn tortillas, but I’m a gringo with a soft side. That dish never disappoints. — Robert Johnson
 

 

Pasta

Di Campli’s Italian Ristorante
Linguini
With pesto, people usually either love it or they hate it. But I have to believe Di Campli’s linguini is the kind of thing that changes pesto opinions so that it’s love it or “OK, I see what you people have been talking about.” You can add meat to the linguine, but I prefer it straight — pesto, pistachios, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan. It’s simple, yet not boring at all. — Anna Mitchael
 

 

Food Truck

Club Sandwich
Lemongrass Pork Rice Bowl
One of Waco’s OG food trucks, Club Sandwich still stands out as one of my favorites. There’s really only one menu item — a rice bowl — but there a few ways to customize it and make it your own. You have a few choices of protein, sauces and veggies or no veggies. My go-to order is a lemongrass pork rice bowl with half-rice, half-cabbage and a drizzle of Sriracha ranch. — Kathleen Seaman
 

 

Sandwiches

Revival Eastside Eatery
8th Day
Like a word search for preschoolers, my eyes always immediately find any menu item featuring avocado. Then you go and add bacon and fresh bread too? You can’t go wrong with the 8th Day. It’s a classic combo of chicken, bacon and avocado served on slices of Revival’s multigrain with locally sourced lettuce and cheddar cheese. — Kathleen Seaman
 

 

Enchiladas

La Fiesta
Cheese Enchiladas
Wednesday is technically enchilada day at La Fiesta. But in my heart, every day there is enchilada day. I have actually tried to order something other than cheese enchiladas, but my body wouldn’t physically let me speak the words. Now in these days of needing to pull up a menu on your phone, it sure does make life easy to know what I want. “Cheese enchiladas, chili gravy with onions, refried beans and rice.” You know you’re in Tex-Mex country when the person across from you says, “Make it two.” — Anna Mitchael
 

Steak

One Thirty Five Prime
Filet of Tenderloin
Perfect steaks are a lot like unicorns — hard to find. I’ll usually order the small, 6-ounce filet cooked medium, with either the baked potato (loaded, because that’s how I roll) or the au gratin potatoes (Dan Quayle, eat your heart out). Ask for Thomas and ask about the book he’s written. — Robert Johnson
 

 

Cocktail Bar

Z’s at the Curry
The Verdict
One evening at Z’s at the Curry, I couldn’t decide what to order. I was feeling adventurous, so I asked the bartender, Rey, to make me something good. After a few questions on my taste, I was presented with The Verdict. It’s a tart (but not too tart) and sweet (but not too sweet) mix of vodka, pomegranate liqueur, grapefruit juice and ginger syrup. I couldn’t wait to go back and order it again, and I wanted to try the other drinks, like the Attorney Client Privilege. If it was a crime to love this place, I’d plead guilty. — Jen Naylor Gesick

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