One of Waco’s gastronomic specialties is chicken-fried steak, and several spots in town serve up some of the best Texas has to offer, along with regular ol’ steak and continental fare. However, a few recently opened restaurants cater to a more refined palate, so fine dining is an option for those seeking a quality meal in Waco.
If you’re only eating one meal in Waco, make sure it’s at the Elite Circle Grille (2132 S. Valley Mills Dr., 254/754-4941, www.elitecirclegrille.com, $8–23). Formerly known as the Waco Elite Café, this truly distinctive restaurant has been a favorite place to dine since 1919. It’s nearly as famous for its former clientele—in the late 1950s, Private Elvis Presley frequently ate at The Elite while stationed at nearby Fort Hood—as its upscale take on Southern food. Not surprisingly, the chicken-fried steak is legendary, but diners also return often for the catfish, salmon, steaks, and ribs. The Elite draws a fairly eclectic mix of customers (for Waco), with Baylor students, blue-collar workers, and hob-nobbers sharing space in the restaurant’s comfortable yet refined environment.
Another popular upscale yet casual eatery is 1424 (1424 Washington Ave., 254/752-7385, $9–22), one of the few places in town where there can be a long wait (due in part to the demand, but also to the limited seating area). Specializing in seafood and Italian dishes, 1424 is an ideal place for a quality meal in a pleasant setting. Nightly seasonal specials are prepared using only natural ingredients, and the head chef often makes the rounds to discuss dishes with the diners.
Waco may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of quality seafood, but Siete Mares (1915 Dutton Ave., 254/714-1297, www.elsietemares.net, $8–18) does the ocean justice. Specializing in coastal Mexican seafood, Siete Mares (seven seas in Spanish) offers a tasty blend of flavors that’s drawn raves in Waco and was the favorite restaurant of the national press corps covering George W. Bush at his presidential ranch in nearby Crawford. From the delightfully tangy yellow salsa that first arrives at the table, it’s evident Siete Mares isn’t a traditional (a.k.a. boring) Mexican seafood restaurant. Popular dishes include the crab-based nachos, chipotle-seasoned oysters, coconut mango tilapia, and specially seasoned entrées with frog legs and octopus. It’s well worth the voyage.
Though not technically a college town, Waco does have a fair share of Baylor University students regularly in search of cheap yet decent eats. One of the busiest hangouts for pub grub is Cricket’s Grill and Draft House (211 Mary Ave., 254/754-4677, www.cricketsgrill.com, $4–12). The emphasis is on the draft, but the pizza and fried food items are worthy companions.
Burgers are also a must, and Waco’s legendary locale is the not-so-aptly named Health Camp (2601 Circle Rd., 254/752-2081, $4–8). A classic ’50s burger joint next to the Elite Café downtown, Health Camp offers greasy yet immensely satisfying burgers and perfectly prepared onion rings. Not to be overlooked is Double-R Burger (1810 Herring Ave., 254/753-1603, $4–8). Another ’50s-style joint, Double-R serves up delicious, meaty handmade patties on soft, sweet buns.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition