Where to eat if you’re new to Baylor/Waco (and what to order)
A few years ago, we shared our list of “25 epic dishes every Baylor Bear knows (or should know)” — the restaurants and menu items that every student and alum knows and remembers.
That’s still a good list — but this time around, we’re taking a different approach. As Waco has grown, so have the options. Thus, we present a new list: Waco’s 35 most iconic dishes:
- Vitek’s — The move? Gut Pak. There’s a reason this was named America’s top college dish in a national competition. Get it with sausage and peppers (if you dare), and enjoy a concoction of barbecue, beans, cheese and corn chips that could only be born in Texas. If you’re not as hungry as an ACTUAL bear, they do offer a Mini Gut Pak.
- Guess Family Barbecue — The move? Beef rib. Offered only on weekends, the Fred Flintstone-esque beef rib is enough to feed two, but after you sample what Texas Monthly has called some of the best barbecue in Texas, you may not want to share.
- George’s — The move? Crazy wings. While the birth of the “crazy wing” owes itself to a storied place in Central Texas, George’s perfects the flavor bomb that is chicken, wrapped around jalapeno and cheese, then wrapped in bacon and deep fried. Served with ranch for dipping, this is how one fuels up for game day in Waco.
- Slow Rise Slice House — The move? A slice of margherita pizza. Slow Rise gets its name from the slow fermentation that enriches the ultimate taste and texture of their dough. To mess too much with that perfection is tempting fate, so adorning this masterpiece with the time-honored basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella is the right way to enjoy.
- Pinewood — The move? A cup of Rover. Carefully curated by local owners who go to great lengths to source their coffee beans, Pinewood’s Rover balances Ethiopian and Colombian coffee flavors in their signature roast (all done by Pinewood) to elevate a drip coffee to art form.
- Harvest on 25th — The move? Toby’s Breakfast Special. This combines all of the things one enjoys about breakfast. Morning starch? Check; the sweet potatoes or veggie saute are sublime. Bread and butter? Got it; sourdough toast is so divine. Eggs and protein? Oh yeah; that sausage is made in-house and brings it all to the party.
- Lula Jane’s — The move? Baked oatmeal. This is not the oatmeal you make out of a packet. This is curated oats, a blend of nuts and grains that tastes like they were made for one another, and the slow delicious work of angels, adding the right amount of fruit and sweet to get anyone’s day off to the right start.
- Milo All Day — The move? Sic ’em on a Chicken. This is the combination that started it all: a biscuit, piled with fried chicken, slaw, sorghum glaze, and just the right amount of pickles. If southern cooking had one dish to convince you to stay forever, this is the dish.
- Magnolia Table — The move? Pimento cheese. The company best known for renovating spaces made a “fixer upper” of a Southern classic by updating the standard pimento cheese with… Well, we don’t know, and we suspect it’s a guarded secret. Suffice it to say, the standard issue pimento cheese was never this good.
- Mac House — The move? The Power Couple (Notorious P.I.G. & Wacoan). Despite being called “Mac House,” cheese is king here. The dual forms of grilled cheese and mac and cheese (which is adorned with smoked sausage, pear, and sage) will make your cheese dreams come true.
- Club Sandwich — The move? Trash Can Rice Bowl. This is the Cadillac of build-your-own rice bowls, allowing for two Asian fusion proteins to top your rice, alongside fresh garnishes and a choice of sauces that add a strong punch of flavor to an already flavorful dish. It can be as trashy as you want it to be, with a fried egg or caramelized kimchi available to add to the mix.
- Common Grounds — The move? Cowboy Coffee. For years, Baylor students have known this secret to getting a little extra studying in: Common Grounds’ secret mix. It’s a spiced and sugared concoction that is rumored to increase the efficacy of studying ten-fold. Combined with drip coffee and half and half, this is the ultimate college hack.
- Shorty’s — The move? Pizza pillows. Imagine everything that you loved as a child about pizza rolls: the cheese and tomato mix, with just a hint of pepperoni, heated molten-hot and surrounded by a doughy exterior. Now, mature that concept and expand it to sate a grown-up’s appetite, and you’ll have the puffy goodness that is Shorty’s pizza pillows.
- Hecho En Waco — The move? DF enchiladas. Shorthand for “Distrito Federal,” or more accurately, Mexico City, the DF that introduces this traditional Mexican dish signals that these are going to be inspired by the interior cuisine of Mexico. With fresh tomatillo sauce and queso fresco, these enchiladas pack bright flavors into every bite.
- Revival Eastside Eatery — The move? Technicolor Dreamcoat. In a short time, this East Waco destination has earned high praise for its burgers — but we’re going with a vegetarian sandwich here. With sweet potatoes, shredded and pickled beets, and lemon garlic aioli, there’s no need for beef in this creation. For the vegetarians among your party, there’s hardly a better option.
- Clay Pot — The move? The Clay Pot. If they name the restaurant after the dish, it has to be good, right? Protein and broccoli, matched with an herb sauce that can being as much or as little heat as you desire, all atop rice and contained in — what else? — a clay pot, this is a great warm-up on a cold day. Further, for vegetarians and vegans, there are meatless options.
- Café Cappuccino — The move? Chocolate-chip pancakes. It’s not possible to be a Waco breakfast mainstay without having a signature dish beloved by all. Whether as a child or a college student or a fully grown adult, the chocolate chip pancake at Café Cap has magical properties, able to comfort hurts and warm up the coldest days.
- Bangkok Royal — The move? Pad Thai. Coupled with some of the kindest service in Texas, this Thai standard can bring either the comfort or the heat, depending on your preference. Rice noodles are balanced by the peanut crumble crunch and your choice of protein and spice level, mixed with generous veggies. This is how Waco does Thai.
- Helados La Azteca — The move? Mangonada Loca. Do you know how mango (or any kind of fruit, really) can be made even better? Make it into a smoothie, then top it with chunks of mango and chili-lime spice, and drink it through a tamarind-spice straw. Sip, savor and repeat until you want another one. You won’t have to wait for long.
- Moroso Wood Fired Pizzeria — The move? Lobster ravioli. The wood-fired pizzas at Moroso are wonderful. But for a taste offered nowhere else in Waco, it has to be the combination of Maine lobster, bathed in a pink sauce, topped with fresh herbs and a dash of Italian cheese. No need to travel to the North Atlantic or to the Italian Coast; they both come to Waco in this dish.
- Baris — The move? Tortellini (in pink sauce). Merge the herbaceous flavor of a good marinara with the creamy luxury of an alfredo, and you’ll understand what sets Baris’ tortellini apart. Add cheese-filled rings of pasta (cooked al dente) to the mix, and you’ve got a great “off the menu” order that’ll make you look like a VIP.
- Taqueria El Crucero — The move? Literally any burrito. Standard Crucero burrito? Absolutely. Love the enchilada sauce atop the delicacy. Supreme? Totes. Add guac and sour cream on top of that, and it’s almost too good. The Bear? Can chile verde be beaten? We don’t think so, either.
- La Fiesta — The move? Avocado fries. The world can’t seem to get enough avocado; on toast, in tacos, in poke bowls, the avocado is still having a moment. And at La Fiesta, its moment is: always. Flash fried and served like mozzarella sticks, this is the healthy substitute that provides a warm contrast to the cold, basic presentation our this fruit has been commonly given.
- Oh My Juice — The move? Acai bowl. As food trends go, few have the antioxidant punch of the hard-to-pronounce acai berry (it’s ah-sigh-eee). Mixed into bananas and coconut water, then paired with any number of toppings, including an indulgent chocolate addition, it’s the best way to being health to your morning routine.
- Nightlight Donuts — The move? Croissant donut. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a cross between a croissant and a donut, frying the layered pastry and glazing it with sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon. It can be breakfast or dessert, and comes in chocolate, cinnamon, even pumpkin — but we are more than happy to go for their original offering.
- Taqueria Zacatecas — The move? Al Pastor taco. A staple of Mexican cooking, the combination of pork, spice and hints of pineapple and caramelized onion finds its ultimate Waco expression at the hole in the wall that students refer to simply as “Taco Z.” Suggest Taco Z to almost any Baylor student, and hungry or not, it’s a safe bet they’ll say “let’s go.”
- Schmaltz’s Sandwich Shoppe — The move? The Schmaltz. Layering cheese, a variety of cold cuts, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and the olives that make a muffaletta, this sandwich would already be impressive without toasting the bread in garlic butter — a move which makes The Schmaltz second to none.
- D’s Mediterranean Grill — The move? Spicy chicken tenders. Yes, D’s Greek dishes are well worth the price of admission, but we suggest you opt for the best chicken tenders in Central Texas. Piping hot, with a highlight of spice that won’t have you clamoring for a glass of milk, these tenders define what a chef means when they say “golden brown.”
- Kitok — The move? Oriental fries. If we’re talking about iconic dishes in Waco, this is the monument. Thinly sliced potatoes (and, we often suspect, some thinly sliced onions and carrots) are dipped in tempura batter and then deep fried to pair with your burger at Kitok’s. The result is a blend of batter and starch that has yet to be duplicated.
- Health Camp — The move? Any malt. We’re pretty certain the menu has not changed since 1948, when Health Camp was established. When was the last time you had a malt? A nutritional supplement that adds depth and richness to the standard milkshake, it’s hard to say where one can get a malt… unless you go to the ultimate Waco throwback and visit Health Camp.
- Cajun Craft — The move? Pho. Pioneering the Viet-Cajun fusion that took Houston by storm, this dish has become a weekly regimen for BU students and Waco residents alike. Offered Wednesday through Saturday, this Vietnamese broth, filled with noodles, a protein (chicken, shrimp or beef), veggies and garnishes, will warm the coldest day and knock out the strongest cold.
- Poppa Rollo’s — The move? Rollo’s Special. Having entertained decades of Waco diners, Rollo’s packs its version of a supreme pizza so full of toppings that the cheese simply gets eclipsed. Take a walk through the phone booth in the back of the eatery and enjoy your pizza in the sports bar/speakeasy, or watch the Three Stooges in in the family-friendly dining room up front.
- Harold Waite’s Pancake and Steak House — The move? Pigs in a Blanket. Sometimes, the simplest move is best. Take a tried-and-true pancake recipe so good it’s part of the restaurant’s name, then wrap that around a breakfast sausage link. Cover in syrup and repeat. Whether you’re 10 or 100, the satisfaction of a good diner cannot be overstated.
- Katie’s Frozen Custard — The move? Cyclone. Take a drive down Waco’s main drag, Valley Mills Drive, on any Friday or Saturday night, and you’ll see a line at Katie’s. Serving up the creamiest frozen custard this side of Coney Island, Katie’s takes the egg-and-cream concoction for a spin, mixing in a topping of your choice from an exhaustive list of candy confections.
- Captain Billy Whizzbang’s — The move? The Whizz-Pig. Many burgers offer bacon to top their combination of meat, cheese and condiments. At Captain Billy’s, they take it further by adding bacon into the grind for the burger patty. The result is a savory indulgence that has no parallel: half bacon, half beef, and all amazing.
Are we missing something from this list? Let us know — click here to submit your point of pride!
Sic ’em, Waco eateries!