The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Best of Waco Then & Now

A look at 20 Years of Waco Winners

2 years ago

By Chris Klimkowski

Twenty years ago, March, 2003. That was the month and year that you could walk into one of several businesses in Waco and see it there. Waiting rooms, mom-and-pop shops and anywhere with a magazine rack held the first Wacoan magazine edition featuring Best of Waco winners. The cover had three owners of the original winners on it: Randy Lormand of Captain Billy Whizzbang’s (now known as Whizzbang’s Hamburgers), Bryan Taylor of Brazos Braces and Camille Johnson, Realtor. They beamed in victory in front of the big “WACOAN” letters.

The intro to the section was short, sweet and full of excitement. “The Wacoan is proud to announce the winners of its first annual Best of Waco contest,” it said. The first item on the list, written in bold, capitalized letters, was “Hamburgers.” That was the category won by Whizzbang’s, and they’re still going strong today winning Best Hamburger in 2022. The list continued to the winner for best “Chicken Fried Steak,” a title secured by George’s. Their chicken fried steak has gone undefeated in this category ever since and they continue to bring in wins in many other categories.

Proudly, this first edition of Best of Waco declared that the businesses featured on this list are “what make Waco Waco,” instead of a town “forced into a mass-market Wal-Mart sameness.” It is with so much pride that the Wacoan can boast the same 20 years later. Though Waco has developed and changed over the past couple of decades, our beloved local businesses are still what make Waco Waco and keep us from being merely a city of “Wal-Mart sameness.”

Those same racks that once held the 2003 magazine now hold our most recent release, the October 2022 edition. The cover celebrates 20 years of Best of Waco featuring Pinewood, a recent winner of Best Coffeehouse. Cracking open the magazine leads readers to the list of winners, a whopping 99 categories the city voted on to determine the best. A stark contrast from the 44 categories in the 2003 edition.

In fact, the 99 categories of this year only cover food and entertainment. Back in the day, Best of Waco covered it all in one edition; not just food and entertainment, but services and professionals as well. All in just 44 categories. As a testament to Waco’s own growth, each year new categories are added to showcase the growing and increasingly diverse city we live in.

If you were to pick up a May 2014 edition of the magazine, the first thing you’d notice was just how thick and heavy it was. For good reason, too. That was the month the Best of Waco vote covered a total of 212 categories! Flipping through the pages was like flipping through a guidebook to how Waco had changed: while there were six twelve-time winners announced (Bryan Taylor, who appeared on the March 2003 edition cover, was still Waco’s Best Orthodontist), there were now categories like Best Shaved Ice (Coco’s), Best Place to Impress a Visitor (DiamondBack’s) and Best Loft Apartments (LL Sams). There was even an explicit Best New Restaurant category, which for 2014 was Smashburger.

After the 2014 edition, we decided that maybe 212 categories were a bit too much at once and decided to give our voters a breather. Going forward, Food and Entertainment would be in one edition, and then half a year later, Professionals along with Products and Services in a different edition. It gave the magazine more room to highlight winners, and include fun little sections like the Q&A with the model.

Best of Waco has become like a catalogue for where to go for various services. If you asked your crush on a date, you could pick up a copy in 2016 and flip to the “date night” category to see that the people of Waco agreed 135 Prime was the perfect place for a romantic dinner (and had been for several years in a row). Or maybe your car brakes were starting to give out? Why sift through online reviews of different car repair businesses when so many people voted for Kish’s Complete Car Care Center? You can still check out our website to see which businesses have earned a title in the past.

The vote also became an incentive to try new places on top of supporting local businesses. As different businesses got into the competitive spirit of the vote, it opened new ways to advertise themselves in order to sway voters to their favor. Some categories (like the previously mentioned Best New Restaurant) encouraged voters to get out there and explore, while old categories sometimes resulted in an unexpected new winner. Rosa’s Café, for instance, pulled ahead as the new champion of Best Tacos in 2010, kept it until 2015 and won again in 2018 and 2020. Each year motivates new customers to try it out. After all, why not trust your fellow Wacoans?

But the Best of Waco also acts as a memorial for those businesses which Waco has had to bid farewell. Terry & Jo’s Food for Thought is gone, but their popularity is immortalized in the Best Healthy Eating category (2014). Muddle might be gone too, but no one will forget their great cocktails, for which they won Best of Waco for several years in a row (2014-2016). Souper Salad may have left Waco years ago, but it won’t be forgotten as a winner in 2003 for none other than Best Soup and Salad.

Best of Waco is not just a celebration of Waco’s local businesses, but a tribute to them as well. And it will continue to be in the coming years. As Waco changes, so will the vote. But no matter how much it changes, it will also represent the undying charm that makes Waco Waco.