A few weeks ago, I joined my sis-in-law and another girlfriend of ours for a girls’ weekend in Waco. Our friend, Sunday, and I live outside of Austin, and my sis, Jill, lives in Fort Worth, so Waco is the perfect meet-in-the-middle spot.
We’ve all been to the Silos before, and since the weekend we went was the annual Spring at the Silos event, we had no intention of going there and battling lines and crowds of crazy Chip and JoJo-seekers.
We were more interested in finding Waco’s hidden gems and places that locals call their favorite.
We solicited the help of my friend, Leighton Cromwell King, Waco’s most hilarious realtor and owner of Cromwell Management Company’s Residential Division, to help us find the town jewels.
She even met up with us for brunch and a giant hug.
Growing up in Texas, I remember Waco as being just a pass-through town when I was younger. Just a town you drove through on your way from Dallas-Fort Worth down I-35 to Austin or San Antonio.
It even got the unfortunate nickname “Wacko” from people in other parts of the state, based almost certainly from the David Koresh incident.
But Chip and Joanna Gaines have put little baby Waco on the map in all the good ways.
And major props to the City of Waco and their economic development team because they’re doing a great job managing the growth of their city, while protecting and revitalizing the historical areas of town.
Home to Baylor, a private Christian university, the vibe of Waco is part laid-back-hip college town and part old-money, all under a giant umbrella of Texas hospitality.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single place we went into, we were met with big smiles and a bright “Hi there! How y’all doin’?”
Next time you’re planning a day trip or weekend getaway in Texas, I highly recommend visiting Waco and not just to the beautiful grounds of Magnolia Market.
There’s so much more to Waco than just the silos:
A booth-style marketplace in the old historic McLendon Hardware Co. building, which was built in 1908 and then given new life by owner, Jennifer Wilson in 1997, Spice doesn’t have the typical “booth” feel of an old antique store.
Each area is overflowing with trendy clothing, modern farmhouse housewares, quirky and kitschy gift ideas, and jewelry.
There’s so much to see and buy in this place, I’m going to admit to you right now that we visited Spice exactly THREE times during our two-day visit 🤷.
But hey - we found something new each time. 😏
Crickets Draft House + Grill
In the same building as Spice, Crickets has a whole section of pool tables off on one side, and the restaurant is on the other. We were concerned that the noise of people playing pool would be an annoying distraction, but we couldn’t even hear them.
Their menu is sort-of hipster-Tex-Mex-meets-old-fashioned-country.
They have burgers and quesadillas, tacos, chicken, and sandwiches. I recommend the avocado toast with a fried egg and a spicy Bloody Mary.
Order it spicy and dirty, with lots of lime, and with salt, and you’ll want to lick the glass dry AND name your firstborn child after me.
MILO ALL DAY
You will fall in love with this perfect space!
The food here is what Milo calls “a collaboration southern comfort food and local farmers.”
It’s what I call “a delicious buh-bye to any WW points tracking.”
I got the Just Like Buddy Holly: bacon, breakfast potatoes, eggs over easy, and a biscuit with bacon gravy OHMYGOD.
And a cup of coffee that made my whole day.
I commented to the waiter that the coffee was delicious and he said people sometimes say the taste is too strong. Just be warned. You have a to have a mature palate for it. It’s a bold, rich taste that reminds me of coffee in Europe, and it is so, so good.
But you can’t be a sissy.
What makes this place so special is the people who work there.
As soon as you walk in, you’re greeted by smiling faces, and - if you’re lucky - you’ll get there on a day Eleanor is working.
She’s a hostess? A manager? I’m not sure, but she says her favorite thing to do is greet guests and chat with them while they wait for their table.
Most recently home to the Big Green Automotive Company, Eleanor told us how the chef Corey McEntyre and his friend, Blake Batson (who owns two of my other favorite Waco establishments, Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds) worked with the building’s owner to breathe new life into what was a Goodyear tire shop back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and turn McEntyre’s food truck business into a brick and mortar restaurant.
They removed all the hydraulic lifts, of course, cleaned the place up, but kept the giant garage doors, exposed brick, and the 20-foot ceilings, and it just has the coolest vibe!
HECHO EN WACO
Hecho en Waco owners Pedro Leon and his sister, Lupita, describe their restaurant as “upscale dining from the interior of Mexico,” but I didn’t get a super “upscale” feel from the place, and I don’t mean that to sound negative in any way.
In fact, I mean it as a compliment.
The restaurant is very comfortable - I’d say it’s more casual than upscale.
A lively atmosphere with a small patio out back that overlooks the Silos, this place, like every other place we visited in Waco, had impeccable service and the food was delicious.
The menu is mostly authentic Mexican, but they do have some Tex-Mex dishes (there’s a difference, for any of you non-Texans reading this post).
I had - and recommend - the chicken fajita quesadillas (a Tex-Mex dish) and a spicy margarita.
I swear we did not just eat while we were in town!
Another boothy-stype marketplace, but smaller and way less busy, Sironia is a Waco must-visit.
When we first pulled up, it was late in the day and we were tired (from all our eating? 🤔), so we sat in the car, looking at the place and trying to decide if we were really interested in going in.
Honestly, Sironia does not have impressive curb-appeal.
But several locals suggested it, and one guy even gave me a brief history lesson about the building, which is like giving candy to a fat kid, so I was all in after that.
The story of the building is that it’s named after a fictional town from a book of the same name, “Sironia, Texas,” written by local author, Madison Cooper, in the early 20th century. The 1,700-page novel is one of the longest novels in the English language.
The building itself was originally designed to be home to Sach’s Austin Avenue, a 1950’s dress shop that raved about its new digs as being “California-styled,” and “flanked by swank establishments,” but it was destroyed in a category F-5 tornado in May of 1953.
I have to tell you that when you walk into this place, you won’t want to leave.
Once inside, you’re surrounded by cool music like Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, and The Eagles, and the soft muttering of shoppers.
The space has an unusual shape, with curved walls, tucked-away rooms, and all kinds of little nooks and crannies filled with unique treasures like jewelry, boutique-style clothing and decor for your home, in all different styles making up the perfect mix of trendy, modern farmhouse, classics, and my favorite: fresh vintage (I just made up that term. I’m referring to things like aprons made out of vintage-patterned fabrics, but you can tell they’re brand new, never-before-used items).
One of their vendors, Maud Elizabeth makes the coolest purses and bags out of vintage bank bags, old military uniforms, and leather from old furniture, and she has each price tag labeled with the “ingredients” she used to make that bag.
I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. Things that are different. Things that have a story and history behind them. I eat that shit UP.
There’s also a café inside Sironia (cleverly called the Sironia Café), but it was closed when we were there. It’s an earlier-in-the-day type place that closes around 2pm.
In the summer, my sis and I meet in Waco to swap kids for a week. “Swap” isn’t really the right word. She’ll bring me her son for a week and then later in the summer, I’ll send her my son for the week. The boys are only two weeks apart, and despite living three hours apart, they’re best friends and Facetime all.the.time.
One of our regular meeting spots has become Heritage Creamery, the cutest little ice cream shop of all time (it was also featured on one of the Fixer Upper episodes, where Chip took Joanna to get an ice cream and mull over the designs of one of their clients.)
Providing locally sourced frozen treats out of an old building (that I’d love to know the history of) right next door to their coffee shop, Common Grounds, the owners Blake & Kimberly Batson, make everything 100% homemade right there in their 8th Street shop.
The guy behind the counter at this coffee-shop-that’s-also-a-cocktail-bar was super-hipster, with his tattoos and his full beard and his dark denim jeans with a cuff, but it didn’t look like a put-on.
He was the real deal.
The coffee was divine (I recommend the 10 oz coffee with a mocha add-on), and the atmosphere was so cool - they call it “a finely detailed mix of modern and vintage,” which is my favorite, and they’ve absolutely nailed it.
It’s a huge space - narrow and long, with black walls and chalkboard-style writing, vintage-style tin ceiling tiles, rustic wooden tables with metal chairs, and an old-style hexagonal tile floor that I went ga-ga over.
The best part is the art hanging on the walls, the murals painted on the storefront and within, and the tables were all made by local artisans, crafters, and designers.
Back over to the Spice Village building, The Olive Branch was our last stop on Sunday for brunch. You’ll want to get there before church lets out because it was PACKED.
The space is huge with exposed brick and the building’s original long-leaf pine beams, and while the furniture is lackluster (old tables and chairs, but not the cool kind of old), it almost wouldn’t work quite right if they had anything different.
They have a serve-yourself coffee bar with DELICIOUS coffee (I recommend the Downtown Dark, which they describe as “a dark and rich roast with almost no acidity”), but they tell me that their most popular blend is the 254 Blend (notes of chocolate, coconut, almond, and vanilla).
I had the avocado toast, which was good, but Jill had the pancakes and they were the fluffiest, most gigantic things I think I’ve ever seen. Definitely go with the pancakes.
FUN PLACES FOR KIDS OF ALL AGES
Here are some other places that came highly recommended, but places I haven’t personally visited, yet.
Steel City Pops - Popsicles aren’t just for littles, don’tchaknow! This place was recommended by my son’s friend, who goes to Baylor.
Bittersweet Cookie - Are you kidding me with some of these flavors?? Another one recommended by a college student.
Dr. Pepper Museum - When I was a freshman in high school, we moved to Maryland for a minute, and I remember that you couldn’t get Dr. Pepper up there. Luckily we don’t have that nightmare here in Texas.
Hey Sugar! - Another thing I’m a sucker for: an old fashioned candy shop!
River Cruise Tours - A full 2.5 hours of relaxation and gorgeous views along the Brazos River, while you learn about local wildlife and some of Waco’s most iconic sights.
The Texas Experience - Experience Texas with 3 hours on horseback or riding on a utility vehicle, while you learn about Texas history and cowboy culture.