Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If We Build It

One of the first places that I tried when I arrived in Waco was Tapatio. It was cozy, friendly, cheap, and uncrowded basic home-made Mexican food. When I stopped by last week, I learned that they were closing the downtown location. This is a loss for those regulars who have enjoyed the privacy and comfort of an unhurried lunch.

A new Mexican restaurant named Se Cocina is preparing to take over the space after some interior remodeling. The newer and nicer El Tapatio is doing very well out on New Road.

The Chipotle restaurant is still under construction but getting closer. Probably by the end of June we will be able to crowd into this new fast-casual outlet. Chipolte started in Denver about 15 years ago. The management favors naturally raised meats and vegetables from smaller farms for use in their tacos and burritos.

The founder, Steve Ells, still runs the company. He started as a line cook at a famous upscale restaurant in San Francisco named Stars. There are now over 500 Chipolte Mexican Grill company-owned restaurants in the United States. The expansion was fueled by McDonald's - they once owned a major interest but sold it in 2005.

There is work going on at the former Smokey Bones. Last year owner Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster and Olive Garden) closed over 50 Smokeys and sold the rest to another company who must not have ever tasted real barbecue. Now the building is being renovated so that we can enjoy another much needed Mexican restaurant.

When it comes to Mexican food in Waco, the philosophy is, "If we build it they will come!"

Sunday, April 06, 2008

One Mikeska or Another

My apologies for assuming that all of the folks named Mikeska in Central Texas are related. It turns out that they are not or do not wish to admit it if they are. Janell and the late Reuben Mikeska, are the owners of Cyclone Corral Barbecue in the tiny place in the road known as Cyclone, about 15 miles east of Temple. They are not a part of the Mikeska family that has a restaurant in Temple (Clem) or his relations that have places in other parts of Texas. I do recommend the Cyclone. You will have to try the different Mikeska barbecues and decide for yourself which is better.

Basaberu and Billy Too

My visit to Basaberu was made during their third week of operations. That's usually long enough to make sure that at least some of the kinks have been worked out. I was a little surprised by the rather ordinary menu selections. I was reminded of a basic American menu at TGI Fridays or Bennigan's. With a name like Basaberu, I was expecting something more exotic. I was informed by my server that the name is derived from the initials of the owners and their children. Basaberu is not some mysterious foreign name in an obscure language. They should have made up a better story.

The two-story building looks quite large from the outside and has a large parking lot. The seating area for food service takes up less that one-half of the ground floor. The kitchen, restrooms, and offices are also on the first floor. Most of the second floor is taken up by a lounge and bar area.

The menu choice consists of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and a few full meal selections. Most of the choices are in the $8 to $12 range. Surprisingly a glass of iced tea cost only $.99 - a bargain in today's Lets make a ton of money on the soft drinks mentality.

My Rosemary Chicken dish was of adequate size and tasty. Burgers are fairly large and well presented. Soups and salads are delivered in unusually shaped bowls.

The service was just OK. The restaurant was not very crowded at 1:30 PM so I expected a faster delivery of the meal. My plate sat on the counter for several minutes while my server passed it twice to deliver water and a bill to another table.

Basaberu is someplace different to go for lunch in the downtown area. It won't survive just on lunch but if they sell a few drink upstairs on nights and weekends it might last long enough for me to decide to go back.

Two Waco veterans have recently relocated to new locations. Bangkok Royal has moved into the downtown area from the Baylor owned shopping strip on University Parks Dr. where it has been for several years. Buzzards Billy's has fled downtown and opened in the old Dock's location. In both cases, the food and atmosphere has improved in each restaurant.

Bangkok Royal's food tasted better and presented better in the sleek modern surroundings. Isn't it funny how much better food looks in nice lighting than under dingy florescent tubes. Prices may have risen slightly but portions were also a bit larger that I remember. I was not a fan of Waco's only Thai restaurant. This is a nice improvement.

Buzzard Billy's owners have remodeled their new location as well. The building looks brighter and cleaner, the staff is uniformed, and the whole place no longer smells of stale beer. The crowds have subsided just enough that an 11:45 arrival got me a table. The menu seemed to have a couple of new offerings. Service was better than at the old BB's. Billy's has always done a fair job with Cajun food. Give the new location a try and you won't be disappointed.