I hear it all of the time on the blog, “There are no good restaurants in North Little Rock. It’s a wasteland of chains.” Not true. Here are 25 places to eat in the area … most local, a few regional chains, but all of them reader suggested. Just click on the links below for more restaurant information, and check out my quick takes on the places I’ve actually dined at (1-25, in alphabetical order).
2. Bobby’s Café
4. Chang Thai & Asian Cuisine
My take: The food here is outstanding, and, depending on who you ask, its the best Thai food in the area. For me, kBird is still better, but that’s taking nothing away from the food at Chang.
6. Cilantros Grill
7. Flyway Brewing
My take: I’ve written about Flway pretty extensively over the past year, mainly because it’s my favorite brewery in town. No matter your preference, Flyway almost assuredly makes a beer that you’ll enjoy. Just save some room for food. The tofu sliders, assortment of soft pretzel offerings, and smoked trout nachos are all outstanding.
10. Hideaway Pizza
My take: Certainly not in my top 10 pizza joints, but Hideaway is a nice place to go with family and friends for good food and a warm atmosphere. The pizza is a bit doughy for my liking, but Hideaway certainly has a loyal following, as evident by its expansion into Arkansas.
11. La Casa Real
My take: This restaurant used to be located off Rodney Parham. I ate there once and remember really enjoying it. I haven’t made it up to the new location, but I’ve heard nothing but good reports. If you adore refried beans, like I do, this is the place for you.
15. Mr. Chengs
My take: I’ve only eaten at Mr. Chengs once and it was a few years ago, but I remember the food being very good. With not a lot of quality Chinese food restaurants in the area, this is definitely a nice option.
16. Mugs Cafe
My take: I haven’t been to Mugs since new ownership, but if things are business as usual, then it’s a great spot for coffee and breakfast items. I’ve also been told they serve one of the better brownies in town, although I can’t personally confirm it.
17. North Bar
18. Ristorante Capeo
My take: If you’re looking for quality Italian food served in a cozy, yet elegant setting, Capeo is a wonderful choice. The Hunter’s Board is a nice start to the meal, and I especially enjoy the pork chop or lasagna entrees.
My take: One of the better restaurants in the area, anything and everything is great at Rosalinda. The pupusas, shrimp soup, fried chicken, and skirt steak with fried plantains are all elite dishes. And if whole, fried fish is your thing, then check out this restaurant.
21. Santo Coyote
22. Skinny J’s
My take: I’ve only been once to this regional chain located in Argenta, but I thought the food was solid.
24. Whole Hog
25. Zaffino’s by Nori
My take: The drive up to Sherwood is definitely worth the fantastic food coming out of Zaffino’s kitchen. Casual and family-friendly, Zaffino’s is an Italian food gem. Definitely order the Italian sausage with mushrooms.
I don’t claim to be a barbeque expert. Hell, I’m probably a shade above a novice when it comes to the subject, but I have been fortunate enough to visit some great spots over the past few years. Simply put, these are my absolute 5 favorite barbeque joints.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Kansas City
This used to be called Oklahoma Joe’s, and while I’m still a little bitter about the name change, one thing is for certain, Joe’s serves the best pork rib I’ve ever eaten. It was so damn good seven years ago that it inspired me to go home and start a food blog called The Mighty Rib. Joe’s also specializes in burnt ends, a Kansas City classic. Don’t get me wrong, the burnt ends are great, but just make sure you try the ribs. The Z-Man Sandwich (beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, topped with two crispy onion rings, on a toasted Kaiser roll) is also super popular, and the French fries aren’t too shabby either. Also, please go to the original location on W. 47th Ave. inside of a gas station. I know, I know … eating barbeque inside of a gas station sounds a bit sketch, but the place is nice. Go early, lines can extend through the parking lot.
Micklethwait Craft Meats, Austin
Micklethwait is just down the road from the most popular barbeque joint in the world, Franklin Barbecue, and although the line is long, it’s not as insane as Franklin’s 3+ hour waitfest. And guess what? The cue is insanely good. Special thanks to Ken Dempsey for recommending this spot. It’s Texas, so the brisket reigns supreme, but everything at Micklethwait is fantastic, including the lemon poppy seed cole slaw, beans, jalapeno cheese grits, and potato salad. Oh, and don’t forget about another Texas classic, the Frito pie … a dish that’s topped with their signature brisket, sour cream, red onions, cheddar cheese, and house-made, pickled jalapenos. Micklethwait is an immobile food truck, like most spots in Austin, so be prepared to eat in your car or on one of the outside tables. Arrive 30-45 minutes before open.
Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis
All credit goes to Dax McDonald on directing me towards Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis. I barely knew Dax at the time (we were Twitter buddies), but this rec turned out to be so good, that I’m convinced it became the foundation of a our friendship. Dax knows his food, and Bar-B-Q Shop’s pork ribs (served dry) turned out to be the crown jewel of this food recommendations. The ribs stood head and shoulders above the competition in our 4-man Memphis barbeque tour about 3 years ago. And when you bite into one of these tender, well-seasoned ribs, you’ll know why. I can’t tell you much more about the other dishes at Bar-B-Shop, although it’s a personal goal of mine to return and try the legendary bar-b-que spaghetti.
Pecan Lodge, Dallas
I hate just about everything associated with Dallas. But then there’s Pecan Lodge, pound-for-pound my favorite all-around barbeque joint in America. Well, it’s no longer a joint, rather an enormous restaurant. Given the size, it’s quite a feat they pull off such amazing ‘cue. Props go out to Daniel Walker for the rec. What should you get? Glad you asked. The answer is everything, so go with a crew and just agree to order most of the menu. The signature beef rib, about $20 a pop, is like a pot roast on a stick, and a must-order. The fried chicken is even killer, as is a loaded sweet potato affectionately named Hot Mess. Pecan Lodge is another place you better arrive about an hour before opening. Also, be forewarned, you will eat way too much and will feel like death has descended down and touched your tummy. Pro tip: Order The Trough to-go and drive back to Little Rock. The $75 monstrosity serves about 4-5 and includes 1 beef rib, 1-lb of pork ribs, 1-lb brisket, 1/2-lb of pulled pork & 3 sausage links.
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, Austin
Louis Vasquez, thank you. You introduced me to the gift that is a Valentina’s brisket taco. It was the best bites of food I had during our 2016 Eat Austin trip, and frankly, one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. This is an example of how great food is sometimes also the most simplistic. House-made flour tortillas, perfectly smoked brisket, and a dab of salsa and guacamole make for a taco that is the definition of Tex Mex. Valentina’s is another immobile Austin food truck, but they are also going brick-and-mortar in the very near future. Lines can be long, so be prepared to wait for greatness … and have a friend snag a seat next to the parking lot.
I recently sampled a new, online marinade based out of Columbus, Ohio called Sabauce. The 16 oz insulated container of marinade arrives in a box that also includes: one lime, a small seasoning packet, instructions, and a plastic marinade bag. You’ll immediately be impressed with the contents of the package, along with the informative instructions. Heck, the instuction card, with its beautifully pictured, marinade-soaked chicken wings, even has suggested prep and dining music options. Welcome to 2017! While the company motto is “Create Your Own Tradition,” these particular chicken wings were speaking to me, meaning I had to do my best to replicate them.
And so I did.
I went to Whole Foods and purchased two pounds of chicken wings, rinsed, patted dry, and then placed them in the plastic bag, along with about 8 oz of the marinade. I then gave the wing/marinade mixture a good toss and placed in the fridge for 5 hours. The instruction card suggests to marinate anywhere from three hours to overnight, so I definitely leaned towards the shorter time zone.
After a quick 24-minute grilling (about 12 minutes on each side) and a 10-minute rest period, the wings were ready to eat. I opted to forgo the seasoning packet and squeeze of lime because I wanted to taste the marinade by itself. Both visually and taste-wise, the marinade struck me as a delicious, ramped up version of tikka masala. The flavors were perfectly balanced and absolutely delicious, and what I enjoyed most about the product was the appropriate level of heat that permeated the wing. From the picture, you probably noticed my inclusion of fresh, chopped cilantro. I put cilantro on almost everything, and it was particularly good on these wings.
Chef/owner Amit Amin has an outstanding product on his hands and you can tell it’s something he’s put a lot of time and energy into. Says Amin, “My passion for cooking comes from my mother. I was always in the kitchen with her in the evenings growing up after helping my father with business during the day. Growing up in high school and throughout college, my friends and family always would ask me to cook for all the gatherings and trips that we had. I LOVED to see all of the smiles on everyone’s face after I made a grilled meal. It was priceless. It really brings joy to my heart that I can bring my flavors into everyone’s home from something that I have created. The marinade you are having has been tweaked for over 15 years.”
I’m looking forward to using the rest of my marinade for some grilled tofu later this week, and in the future, I have no doubt it would pair well with fish, pork, or shrimp. Below are some other product details…
- 1 16 oz. bottle costs $9.99 (with shipping, close to $17 total)
- 2 16 oz bottles cost $18.99
- 1 gallon container costs $64.99
- Marinade will last up to a month in the fridge and 3 months frozen
To order Sabauce, head over to the website and click away! I enjoyed the product and would not only order it for myself, but also as an affordable gift for any of my food-loving friends and family.
Patti Stobaugh gives us an update on Stoby’s in Conway, how she got into the food business, what to expect from her in the future, and even her three favorite movies.
How much of your time is spent with PattiCakes and how much with Stoby’s?
Prior to THE fire, I’d say it was 95% PattiCakes and 5% Stoby’s. Now it is about 50/50.
How long has PattiCakes been around?
We first opened in Russellville (next to Stoby’s) on October 17, 2006. The Conway location opened on November 11, 2010. We sold the Russellville PattiCakes in June 2011.
You married into the food business, how was that transition at first?
I have always been a foodie, even before it was cool. That is one of the reasons David and I hit it off so well from day one. I was working as a corporate accountant at the time and really never liked the accounting field. The food business was a great diversion. When I quit my job, David had hoped I would take over our accounting. I really, really didn’t want to. It took a while to sort that out, but we finally did.
What’s some of the biggest challenges of running multiple restaurants?
What’s a typical day for you look like?
This is the best part of the food business … no two days are the same! I am an early riser. It is when I do my best thinking. Supporting our community is a top priority. I am the one out more in public, while David is the behind the scene brains. Because we are in business together and we are empty nesters, it seems we work all the time. But we enjoy it.
What’s the strangest request you’ve received at the bakery?
Anatomically correct cakes. We don’t do them. Hearing some people attempt to describe what they want is the best part!
Regarding Stoby’s, you suffered a major fire and had to rebuild from the ground up … how has that gone and what can diners expect from the new Stoby’s?
In one word … slow! We never expected a total fire loss. Because Stoby’s was in a building that has primarily been a restaurant since the 1940’s and home to Stoby’s since 1980, it was a lovable dump. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. Bringing the restaurant up to 2016 standards, making it ADA compliant, complying with the requests made by the City of Conway, all took time during the design phase. Initially, we planned to rebuild exactly as it was, with the required updates. Our building is on the corner of Donaghey and Robinson, an intersection that is now quite busy. The city disallowed ten parking spaces that had cars backing into that busy intersection. We completely understand that decision. However, that was the first domino that fell regarding changes to be made. Our final design plan was to replicate the original dining room with an obvious addition. The end goal being if someone didn’t know we had suffered a fire loss, they would think we remodeled and added on. We will have twice as much dining space, more parking and you no longer will have to walk through the kitchen to use the restroom.
What is your ETA on Stoby’s re-opening?
Late summer 2017, hopefully sooner.
I gotta ask you about Stoby’s famous cheese dip … was it a hit from day one or did its popularity take a little time?
That was David’s invention. His desire was to make a mild enough cheese dip for children to get hooked on. Then the kids would bring their parents to eat at Stoby’s! It caught on immediately.
Outside of the rebuild, what are you looking to accomplish professionally in the next 2-3 years?
I would like to attend culinary school so that I understand the science of food. Although I come from a family of great cooks, I would like to understand the why behind what I’ve been taught by the important cooks in my formative years.
Now for some fun…
What’s your favorite movie?
I don’t have one. I have three … Chariots of Fire, The Intouchables and The Shawshank Redemption.
What are you five favorite restaurants in Little Rock?
The Pantry, South on Main, The Fold, Samantha’s and Trio’s
Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met?
Paula Deen. She is a hot mess.
If you could go to any concert, who would it be and who would you take?
Tina Turner with my hubs. If he didn’t want to go, I would go with my only friend that would sing louder than me, Beckye Ezell.