New restaurants bring Waco buzz

Matt Hellman | Lariat staff
Monday, August 20, 2012, marks two weeks since the grand opening of Jake’s Texas Tea House, a Waco restaurant located at 613 Austin Avenue.

By Josh Wucher

Copy Desk Chief

A rusted BF Goodrich sign, the front-end of a ’56 Ford Fairlane and an old-fashioned Texaco gas pump. To anyone who hasn’t eaten at Jake’s Texas Tea House on Sixth St. and Austin Ave., you would think the downtown restaurant is a stand-in for a mid-century filling station.

“The signs are all authentic,” said Jake Black, the amiable owner who enjoys greeting each customer that walks through the door. “We wanted to do something that was a fun atmosphere. We opened two weeks ago, and it just went bananas.”

The menu is a comfort food lover’s dream: triple-cheese cheeseburgers, chicken- fried steak, bread pudding and of course the staple of any southern meal, sweet tea.

In keeping with the garage theme, the made from scratch food is served in hubcaps. And their blue-plate special actually comes on a blue plate.

Black decided to turn the tables on traditional dine-in dinners. “At night we wanted to make you think you did not eat at a restaurant,” he said, about the family-style dinner portions. “Everything is made like at grandma’s house.”

If southern comfort food doesn’t whet your appetite, Panda Express opens today in the Bill Daniel Student Center.

Or if you’re looking for a sandwich, try the recently opened Which Wich on Wooded Acres. With more than 50 varieties of subs, there’s bound to be something for your taste buds. This reviewer partakes in the “Thank You Turkey:” a thanksgiving meal in a sandwich loaded with stuffing and cranberries.

By the way, if you haven’t heard, a Freebirds is coming to Waco. The create-your-own-giant burrito chain that’s popular in college towns is planning to open on Sept. 10.

“We seem to have a pretty strong following here,” said Freebirds’ Regional Manager Jamie Williams, about the company’s decision to be in Waco.

As is tradition for Freebirds, on opening day, the first 25 customers will get free burritos for a year. Williams said arrive early. “I’ve seen people start camping out the night before.”

If your hunger can subside for a little longer, some other big name food chains are heading this way.

Pennsylvania based Quaker Steak and Lube – a racecar themed wing bar – is opening their first restaurant in Texas this September next to Chuy’s on Highway 6.

Austin based Mama Fu’s Asian House is coming later this year. The Asian-inspired made-to-order menu is reminiscent of Pei Wei, but Fu’s promises a fresh take on traditional dishes.

And Waco is getting another hamburger stand. But for those who have tried Smashburger, you know it’s not your average burger joint. Menu favorites are a fried egg and onion ring burger called the “Sin City,” a burn-your-taste-buds spicy Baja burger and a truffle mayo burger.

“It does seem like Waco is booming at the moment,” said Chad Conine, co-founder of Waco Fork – an online restaurant guide.

He said Baylor is a big attraction for companies looking to tap into the young adult market.

“Waco is sort of becoming more of a jewel on the I-35 corridor between Dallas and Austin, rather than just this place you drive through.”