Not the best in Waco. Not by a long shot.
Let me open this review with a good ol' fashioned rant. La Fiesta loves their "Best of Waco" awards. They've even got one hanging on the side of the building, for Pedro's sake. I think the "Best of Waco" title is hideously misleading. "Best at making food dull enough to be inoffensive to the masses" is more like it.
Every time I see one of those “voted best in Waco” plaques hanging inside a truly mediocre restaurant, I die a little on the inside. I always wonder, “who actually votes for these?”
Let’s face it: La Fiesta is unforgivably meh, Uncle Dan’s isn’t good for anything besides a massive potato and typically bland chain restaurant fare has no place on the likes of a local “best of” list unless we’re lacking any better alternatives. For somewhere as wacky and interesting as Waco, that simply isn't the case. Why, then, do terrible restaurants end up winning awards year after year?
Awards mean nothing if the people picking them don’t know what they’re talking about. When I miss Waco’s food, I miss the extraordinary things about it. The problem is, Waco’s “best of” lists smack of generic restaurants that don’t really seem to speak for Waco. I can always find a Cheddar’s in Longview, or Tyler, or Austin, for pete’s sake. I can’t head up to Dallas and find another Olive Branch or Bangkok Royal.
Similarly, while La Fiesta may brand itself as a local tradition, the food is rather forgettable. There are a million other Tex-Mex restaurants that do it better all over the state. I can’t think of a single dish that would bring me to La Fiesta over any of the other ones. The queso is decent, but that just means that they meet the minimum standard for existence as a Tex-Mex restaurant. The salsa is unforgivably runny despite the fact that it has a respectable level of heat. Its consistency is more like a spaghetti sauce than it is a dip for chips. The rest of the food is exactly what you'd find at any other Tex-Mex joint in Texas, just usually a bit blander than it should be. Piling on the fresh pico de gallo (which is good stuff, but again, we're talking bare necessities of Tex-Mex here) can help with this, but not with everything. The fried items are usually so greasy that they're a bit gross. Although the service is usually fine and the room to the left of the bar is bright and airy, the whole restaurant always seems like it needs a good sweeping. In short, there's a good, long list of places I'd send you for Mexican food in Waco before I'd send you to La Fiesta.
Therein lies another problem with these silly awards: some of the usual winners simply aren’t adding anything unique or interesting to Waco’s culinary scene, but instead, they’re betting the farm on “this is where people in Waco have always eaten.” That's basically La Fiesta in a nutshell.
I have a bad feeling that the people who end up doing the majority of the voting for these “best of” lists are the kinds of people who love to paint things in neutral earth tones. People who buy Volvos not for quirky Swedish turbo goodness, but because they have practically enough airbags to float the car should something whack into it. Nickelback fans. Twilight readers. Anyone who’s ever been captivated by the plot of an English-language soap opera. The people who complain about things being too spicy, too loud, too bright, too fast--too everything. In short: the people who like things to be safe, familiar and predictable.
Those are not the people I like to ask for advice on about anything—especially food. What I love to eat might give them an ulcer.