When the Elite Café opened in downtown Waco nearly a century ago, the owners committed themselves to combining classic American fare with technological innovation. It was the first restaurant in town to use refrigeration as well as air conditioning. But the food was the primary draw, attracting even the attention of a young Elvis Presley when he was stationed at Fort Hood. While a lot has changed since the days when the King was a regular, the restaurant still sticks to the classic American recipes that have made it a Waco staple for decades.
Specialties include juicy burgers, fried tenderloin sandwiches, and build-your-own breakfast omelets served all day long. The chefs’ secret-recipe barbecue sauce—made with Dr. Pepper—is splashed across everything from ribs to wings. Burgers, meanwhile, arrive topped with chili, cheese, and Shiner Bock onion rings.
Red River Steakhouse looks like it jumped straight off the reels of a Western film: its raw-wood façade opens to a rustic interior with paintings of rolling grasslands, red barns, and horse-drawn carriages. On the tables, cowboy boots serve as vases for bright sunflowers or footwear for men with no name. In the kitchen, chefs bread and cook chicken-fried steak on flat-top grills, season racks of ribs with signature rubs, and on weekends, slow smoke pork ribs and prime ribs. The catering side of the operation offers similar fare, including aged Black Angus rib eyes, sirloin kebabs, and prime rib. With confidence in their cuisine, the caterers offer a 120 percent satisfaction guarantee or money back plus a discount on the next order.
With more than 90 buffet dishes including 30–35 hot entrees and more than 10 varieties of sushi, it’s no surprise that Buffet Palace's Austin location has been voted best buffet 12 times by Austin Chronicle readers. The similarly well-stocked Killeen location looks like a grounded spaceship from the outside, complete with a cylindrical metal cage, a Saturn-style ring, and two alien-like statues.
At each location, a modern 350-seat dining room vaunts sleek countertops and high ceilings as well as a buffet so long visiting Lilliputians regularly land planes on it. Items range from Korean-style salads and Japanese sushi to more than 30 primarily Chinese hot dishes such as sesame chicken and pan-fried dumplings.
In addition to these made-from-scratch items, a chef cooks Asian pancakes and dumplings. Before departure, diners can also stock a plate full of the buffet’s housemade desserts, which include cakes, cookies, and fruit so fresh it often gets smacked by older, wiser side dishes.
As visitors walk toward Petty's BBQ's storefront, they're surrounded in the aromas of slow-cooking meats and classic southern-style barbecue. At the origin of these scents stands the restaurant's grill master, who wields a pair of tongues and watchfully controls the outdoor smoker’s flame using only his mind. The experienced cook works culinary magic on beef, pork, and chicken, bathing the meat in custom blends of sauces.
Inside the eatery's casual dining space, servers load the slow-smoked meats onto plates or follow architectural blueprints to construct them into sandwiches. They also serve up classic sides such as corn bread and green beans.
Every day, Carpenter Hamburgers stocks fresh beef from local vendors in its refrigerator. They form this beef into hamburger patties, from a quarter-pound round to a hefty full-pound burger. Though the crew will tailor a burger with customers' desired toppings—from grilled onions to fried eggs—they also prepare signature Texas Fire Cracker burgers. The latter burst with pepperjack cheese and fried jalapeno strips, giving tongues a bigger kick than Paul Bunyan booting a soccer ball to his ox. The kitchen also crafts other casual food favorites from ingredients culled from local vendors—frito pies, hot dogs, fried pickles, and steak fingers.