A secret haven of high fashion, fine dining, and White House VIPs.
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1. Think you can’t find high fashion in Waco? Bella A., a funky boutique outside downtown, is packed with Louise Hedley, Betsey Johnson, and other hip labels popular among the Us Weekly celebutantes. (The welcome mat is out, says owner Alison Kothman, for Jessica Simpson and the Bush twins whenever they’re in town visiting family.) Traveling with kids? No sweat. There’s a gated area where children can play while Mom shops. 608 N. Eighteenth, 254-235-4885
2. Finding 1424 can be a little tricky. Located in an old storefront church, this eclectic American bistro doesn’t have a prominent sign, so look for a giant gorilla statue sitting directly across the street. The hunt is worth it: The small but creative menu by chefs Bob O’ Farrell and Nancy Mitchell features not only steaks but also spicy curries. The portobello mushroom appetizer is well loved locally, but it’s the orange roughy with cream sauce you won’t want to miss. 1424 Washington, 254-752-7385
3. If it exists, you’ll probably find it at Sironia, an emporium of shops under one roof selling everything from toys and furniture to clothing and candles. Christi Proctor, a Waco designer often featured on Trading Spaces, sells custom-made jewelry at her store, Gypsy Hearth. Wind up your trip with a stop at Amelia’s on the Avenue, the in-house tearoom and restaurant that has long been popular with ladies who lunch. 1509 Austin, 254-754-7467
4. If President Bush is in town, chances are you’ll find the White House press corps packing the tiny tables at El Siete Mares. The ceviche here is legendary and a favorite of George W.’s, who often taps the family-run restaurant to feed the Western White House. With a menu of more than a dozen Veracruz-inspired seafood dishes, you can’t go wrong, but be prepared for some serious heat. Many entrées here are not for the faint of tongue. It’s also BYOB. 1915 Dutton, 254-714-1297
5. No trip is complete without a visit to the Dr Pepper Museum, which chronicles everything you might want to know about the official drink of Waco. Check out the exhibit featuring Dr Pepper imitators—Dr. Smooth, anyone?—and stop by the old-fashioned soda fountain shop downstairs. You can sip a glass of the soft drink’s original formula, which was made with real pure-cane sugar. Admit it: You’d like to be a Pepper too. 300 S. Fifth, 254-757-1025
6. Locals come to Diamond Backs for the steak. Dry aged for 25 days, the prime rib melts in your mouth. The excellent wine list, which rivals any in the big city, is not to be overlooked either. Oregon pinots, Sonoma Valley cabernets, Argentine malbecs—this restaurant’s got them and everything else. When Karl Rove’s in town and wants to spin the press, this is usually where he takes them. 217 Mary, 254-757-2871
7. With a roomful of polished wood beds and exquisite leather chairs and couches, it’s no surprise that a CNN White House reporter once furnished almost his entire D.C. apartment during a shopping spree at Spice. Owner Jennifer Wilson has packed her 10,000-square-foot space at the Shops of River Square Center with an eccentric mix of rustic antiques and custom-designed furniture for every room in the house, along with all the accessories you’d ever dream of. 213 Mary, 254-757-1066
8. Located adjacent to Spice, Splurge is perhaps Waco’s most aptly named boutique. After all, you’ll be hard-pressed not to break the bank here, given the Tano purses, the healthy inventory of trendy designer denim like Joe’s Jeans and Paige Premium, and the spa products from Bliss NYC, including to-die-for body butters. But don’t forget to peruse the jewelry, where you can find some great vintage-like pieces from Australian designer Alexia Crawford. 213 Mary, 254-757-0921