Waco is known for being the home of many things—Dr. Pepper, the world’s largest Baptist university (Baylor), HGTV’s supercouple Chip and Joanna Gaines—and yet the food scene there is often overlooked. Which is a shame because, for such a relatively small Texan city, culinary gems abound. Whether you’re craving Vietnamese, Indian, Tex-Mex, Italian, or some of the best barbecue in the state, Waco has a well-rounded palate and several standout eateries.
Waco’s only Vietnamese restaurant is also one of its all-around best restaurants. This cozy, intimate spot boasts delicious pho, spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, and other Vietnamese delicacies, but you'd be missing out if you didn't order one of their namesake clay pot dishes—a concoction of meats, mixed with broccoli, carrots, rice, and a sweet herb sauce. Plus, a meal at Clay Pot is as much of a visual feast as it is a culinary adventure. The tranquil patio space is anchored by a giant, dragon-shaped white marble fountain, and a colorful, 400-tile mural dominates one of the walls.
Lula Jane’s is the city’s first farm-to-table restaurant, and it’s always flooded with locals. Tucked away on Elm Avenue, in East Waco, this charming, light-filled cafe serves fragrant coffee and baked goods made from scratch, while the daily lunch special always features fresh veggies and herbs from the on-site garden. We dare you to try to resist their melt-in-your-mouth selection of desserts (think bacon-cheddar scones, buttermilk pie, bread pudding, and pound cake). Some of the desserts can even be made vegan upon request. Oh, and feel free to bring your pooch here; Lula Jane’s is one of the few restaurants in town that’s dog-friendly.
Stone Hearth Indian Cafe
Located downtown, just a few blocks away from the Magnolia Market Silos, Stone Hearth Indian Cafe is a fast-casual joint that serves truly delectable Indian fare (which can be spiced according to your preference). Though it opened fairly recently, this Austin Avenue establishment instantly made its way into locals’ hearts and bellies. The lamb saag paneer is the best thing on the menu: It’s creamy, rich, and packed with flavor. Or, pick your own protein for tikka masala and other entrees; there are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, too.
Taqueria El Crucero
Need to get your tacos and burrito fix? Pay a visit to Taqueria El Crucero, an unassuming little family-owned restaurant that has fantastic breakfast burritos, migas, tacos, and more. Their legendary Oso burrito is stuffed with beans, rice, and chicken, and smothered in sour cream and salsa verde; it’s a must-try.
Sure, the Gut Pack from Vitek's isn’t exactly the most appetizing-sounding dish in the world, but it’s an undeniable part of Waco’s barbeque identity. The Gut Pack is a pile of beans, smoked sausage, barbeque, and cheese sitting high atop a plate of Fritos (it’s basically a very, very tricked-out Frito pie). It has to be seen to be believed. Of course, you could always go with a simple brisket sandwich instead, but where’s the fun in that?
This casual, friendly diner has the best pizza in Waco, hands down. The culinary team at Baris uses only the freshest ingredients to make their famous gourmet pizzas, which are available by the slice or as whole pies, and are made from scratch as soon as you order them. The pasta dishes are outstanding, as well. In classic Waco fashion, there’s no beer or wine served here, but you can feel free to bring your own if you’d like.
Over the last 40 years, Kitok has gone from a no-name diner to a nationally known restaurant, beloved for its unique blend of American and Korean fare. The Liplocker is one of the best meals in Waco. It’s a heaping double cheeseburger served with deep-fried shoestrings of carrots, onions, potatoes, and parsley, all dipped in tempura batter. The burger is Kitok’s star attraction, heralded by the New York Times as one of the best burgers in Texas. High praise in a state that loves its beef more than life itself.
Everyone knows you can’t go to Waco without doing something Chip and Joanna-related. The hosts of the HGTV show "Fixer Upper" are Waco royalty at this point and there are few corners left in the city untouched by the pair. Magnolia Table is their signature restaurant, and you don’t have to have seen "Fixer Upper" to be able to appreciate the food here, which is mostly classic Southern fare with a locally-sourced twist (many of the veggies come straight from Jo’s garden). Menu mainstays like Jo’s Buttermilk Biscuits and the Gaines Brothers Burger are offered in addition to seasonal favorites.
Tony DeMaria’s Bar-B-Que
Since opening their doors in 1946, Tony DeMaria’s has been under the same family’s ownership, and today, it’s a veritable Waco institution (and a little bit of a hometown secret, thanks to its nondescript location off I-35). Many of DeMaria’s customers have been coming for the succulent strips of brisket and ribs for generations now. Just keep in mind that the restaurant closes early when they run out of meat, which is fairly often.
A very popular haunt for Baylor students and local families, George’s is a Waco landmark that dates back to 1930. Huge chicken-fried steaks, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and other Southern staples are what’s on the menu. Gorge yourself silly, then wash it all down with a frosty mug of “Big O” beer, which almost certainly requires two hands to hold. George’s is usually jam-packed on weekends and football game days, but the wait is always worth it.