Casa De Castillo: Home away from home

Casa De Castillo is a family-owned restaurant that has been serving Waco delicious Tex-Mex food since 1922. Audrey La | Photographer

By Ella Cork | Guest Contributor

At first glance, this classic Waco restaurant does not seem like anything but an ordinary place. However, that could not be further from the truth. Immediately after entering Casa De Castillo and being greeted by the owner there is something special about this restaurant.

Opening its doors in 1922 in downtown Waco, with the original name “Texas Café,” this family-run business has been serving Mexican food ever since.

Current owner and Baylor alumna Mary Lou Castillo’s grandfather, Antonio P. Castillo, started the business. His son, Antonio P. Castillo Jr., took over the business in 1982 before Mary Lou and her two brothers took over. The business has been in the family and serving the Waco community for nearly 100 years.

There is something noticeably different about this dining experience — not only good food, but good service and genuine people. Castillo said her favorite part about owning the restaurant is the people.

“The guests make it all worth it,” Castillo said.

While she said it is hard work and she often works 10 hours a day, she wouldn’t trade it for anything. Her love for not only the restaurant, but for each person who steps inside is what makes this place different, Castillo said.

In the busyness of life today, most people forget the importance of genuine human connection and meaningful conversations. This value was never lost at Casa De Castillo. In fact, it is the heart of the restaurant.

This Waco staple was voted the No. 1 restaurant in Waco by Lariat readers in April. Immediately after entering, the tradition and family legacy are evident. These components, along with the amazing food, make it clear why this establishment has survived for so long. The community of Waco has been greatly impacted by Casa De Castillo and vice versa.

“Waco has stood by us through thick and thin,” Castillo said.

Villa Park, Calif., freshman Summer Lienau said she has visited multiple times since she arrived in Waco this fall.

“Walking into Casa De Castillo feels like home,” Lienau said. “Coming to Baylor from California, it was hard to find community, but Mary Lou and her meals at her restaurant are like being back home.”

Lienau’s experience is just one example of how Mary Lou and the whole staff greatly impact their customers and provide an extremely positive dining experience.

Server and manager Crystal Johnson started working at Casa De Castillo in August 2015. After six years, Johnson said she still feels she is right where she belongs. She has worked every shift and done all possible jobs at the restaurant, but has found that her favorite is the lunch shift, Johnson said. She said she has many regulars who she’s formed amazing friendships with during her lunch shifts.

“The team is one big family, everyone helps each other out,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she has never had a bad experience and she feels very blessed being right where she belongs.

Recently, social media has had a large impact on the growth of the company. Castillo’s sister-in-law started a Facebook page, which now has over 3,000 followers with over 300 positive reviews. Castillo took over the Facebook page, where her and her niece now do weekly shows talking about customers and telling fun stories.

“The Facebook page is a fun way to talk about dishes and shoutout special customers,” Castillo said.

Tustin, Calif., freshman Gabby Hendricks first went to Casa De Castillo during move-in week in August. She said she continued going back after being surprised by the amazing, authentic Mexican food she was not expecting to find in Waco. Hendricks and her family enjoyed their meal, as well as talking to Mary Lou about her experience at Baylor when she went there.

“I felt relieved after going there with my parents and talking to someone who had gone to Baylor before,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks said she has continued to eat at Casa De Castillo for special occasions or anytime she needs a break from dining hall food.

From personal conversations to internet reviews, it is evident this restaurant is not ordinary. The community of Waco is impacted greatly by Casa De Castillo and would not be the same without it.

It is not common for a restaurant to survive for almost a century, but it would be nearly impossible to imagine Waco without this integral part of the community. The history of Casa De Castillo and its strong roots in the heart of Waco make it an establishment like no other and a go-to for many.