It’s taken almost six years of “research” to put together what I think is a truly fun and comprehensive list of the very best food experiences Little Rock has to offer. Now remember, this is about the experience, and while great food is definitely part of the equation, it’s really about highlighting places, events, settings, and dishes that are truly part of Little Rock’s food culture. Heck, some of the choices aren’t even in town, but are only a short drive, so I felt they needed to be part of the post. I numbered the choices below, but they are in no particular order.
30. Drinks at Capital Bar & Grill
This is one of Little Rock’s most classic bar settings and you just can’t go wrong with ordering a Southern Comfortable, the bar’s signature cocktail of Hangar One Spiced Pear Vodka, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lemon juice, and house-made pecan soda.
29. Eating Chocolate at Izard Chocolate
Yes, we actually have a chocolate maker right here in town, and owner/chocolatier Nathaniel Izard gets better and better with his craft. Go check out his small, Hillcrest shop and get some truffles, caramels, and dark chocolate bars.
28. Breakfast at The Root
No restaurant truly reflects Little Rock’s casual Southern vibe more than The Root. They also serve what many consider to be the best breakfast in town. Get the biscuits and gravy and a donut muffin.
27. Kolaches at Wild Sweet William’s Bakery
Are Wild Sweet William’s authentic kolaches worth the 55-minute drive (each way) from Little Rock to Searcy? The answer is yes, just make sure you get there by 9:30 a.m. or you run the risk of the bakery being sold out.
26. Saturday Seafood Boil at K Hall and Sons
I’ve never actually ordered the seafood boil but I’ve seen the line and heard the raves. K Hall is a fun place to be on a Saturday morning, and if crab legs and crawfish aren’t your thing, go inside and order a bacon cheeseburger.
25. Concert at South on Main
Some of my absolute best memories in Little Rock have taken place at South on Main. There’s nothing quite like watching a fantastic concert with an Old Fashioned in one hand and a fried duck wing in the other.
24. Ramen at Arkansas Heart Hospital
I can safely say no other hospital in America serves tasty ramen to a rabid fan base of folks. Show up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11-2, but be prepared to wait in line.
23. Cheese Dip Tour
Cheese dip is probably Little Rock’s most iconic dish. Heck, you can find it on about 80% of the menus in town. Take an afternoon and do a cheese dip crawl. You’ll want to hit up Mexico Chiquito’s drive-thru (respect history), Dizzy’s, and Heights Taco & Tamale Co.
22. Strawberry Shortcake at Trio’s
I’m not personally a big fan of Trio’s take on strawberry shortcake, but it’s something every Little Rocker must try at least once. It’s fun to be at the restaurant’s lunch service during strawberry season and see every table with the dessert.
21. Steak at Doe’s Eat Place
The character and history of Doe’s Eat Place makes it a must-visit, but so does the food. Order a 2-lb Porterhouse (which comes with soaked salad and fries) and an appetizer of fried shrimp.
20. Crawfish at The Faded Rose
During crawfish season, you gotta check out The Faded Rose on Wednesdays (starting late afternoon) for their mud bugs. You won’t be disappointed, but be prepared for a crowd.
19. Fried Catfish at Lassis Inn
I’m not saying it’s the best fried catfish in town (we do have many excellent choices), but there’s nothing like eating a plate of it, along with some fried Buffalo ribs, inside the iconic Lassis Inn. The place is old, small, and home to the smallest booths on earth. Oh, and make sure you don’t dance.
18. Pie at Charlotte’s
Pie … another beloved food item in Little Rock. Make the short drive to Keo for a slice of coconut cream pie at Charlotte’s. If you have a little room, get a piece of strawberry cake as well.
17. Hanging on the Patio at 42 bar and table
Little Rock has no shortage of great patios and this one is the best. What’s not to love? A great view and top notch restaurant, all inside the Clinton Library. This was an easy choice to make the list.
16. Attending the Cornbread Festival
We have a ton of great festivals but this one is my favorite. It’s in a neighborhood I love (SoMA), features a food I adore (cornbread), and is very well organized. Add music, beer, and friendly folks to the equation and you’ve got yourself a fantastic festival.
15. Burger at Midtown Billiards
Speaking of SoMA, one of the classic burgers in town is served up by this beloved hole-in-the-wall billiards hall/bar. I’m told the later you go, the better the burger tastes. It was pretty damn good when I went at 7:30 p.m.
14. Dinner on the Patio at Brave New Restaurant
I’ve actually never eaten on the patio at Brave New but I’ve seen it from the inside, have heard many folks speak glowingly about it, and know it’s one of the very few places you can actually eat and get a decent view of the river. Oh, and the food at Brave is excellent.
13. Peanut Butter Pie at Three Sams BBQ
This is a total and complete gut bomb that should not, I repeat, should not, be eaten by one person. But the peanut butter pie at Three Sams is insanely delicious and something that everyone should try at least once before they die. Note: this will send you to an early grave.
12. Paella at The Pantry’s Birthday Party
The original Pantry location celebrates its birthday each year with a paella extravaganza. Owner Tomas Bohm opens up the restaurant for the day and cooks an enormous amount of paella in a massive pan. It’s all quite a spectacle.
11. Chicken Strips at Franke’s
You know I love Franke’s and at the heart of it all are those fried chicken tenders. But I also enjoy walking into the restaurant and being in that warm and cozy space for 45 minutes. Oh, and Franke’s is nearing it’s 100th birthday.
10. Pizza at Deluca’s
The hour’s drive to Hot Springs for Deluca’s pizza is something that must be done. I think it’s some of the best pizza you will eat, and I doubt you’ll ever meet anyone like owner and pizza maker Anthony Valinoti.
9. Breakfast at Gadwall’s
Some restaurants just agree with you, and Gadwall’s agreed with me the moment I walked into the establishment last year. It’s a typical greasy spoon type place, and that’s meant as a compliment. We don’t have many good ones in town. Go to Gadwall’s for breakfast on the weekend and order the fried chicken biscuit sandwich.
8. Eating Chicken Wings in the Parking Lot of Chicken King
Chicken wings are best eaten immediately, but NLR’s Chicken King is take-out only, so your best option is to tear into an order of hot garlic wings right on the hood of your car. There’s something so freeing about the entire experience.
7. Dinner at One Eleven
From casual Chicken King to Little Rock’s most elegant restaurant … One Eleven. I don’t eat at the restaurant often but it really is a perfect spot to celebrate the most special of occasions.
6. Chef’s Tasting at Table 28
Chef Scott Rains, one of our top chefs in town, does a chef’s tasting upon request. Don’t quote me on this, but I think you need a least a week’s notice and eight folks in your party. It will probably run you $100 per person (not including drinks), but it’s well worth it.
5. Ice Cream at Loblolly
Little Rock’s only local ice cream maker has new SoMa digs, making it an ideal spot to take the kiddos, especially during the soon approaching warmer months.
4. Cup o’ Bacon at Dickey-Stephens Park
For $6, you can actually get a cup o’ bacon, thanks to the fine folks of Petit Jean. You haven’t lived until you’ve downed several strips of bendy bacon while watching a few innings of a Trav’s game.
3. Whole Spread at McClard’s
Listen, McClard’s gets a lot of recognition for its longevity, but the truth of the matter is that the bbq was fairly average on my visit. That said, go to McClard’s, sit at the bar, and enjoy one of life’s greatest guilty pleasures …the Whole Spread. It’s two tamales with Fritos, beans, chopped beef, cheese, and onion. If you’re a wuss, like me, get the Half Spread (one tamale). The dish is great … and so is sitting there while watching the restaurant hum along during an afternoon lunch service.
2. Cheeseburger at Leo’s
Leo’s is this old little dive restaurant in the heart of Hillcrest that I’ve written about many times over the past few years. I absolutely adore its greasy cheeseburger with a side of perfectly fried onion rings.
1. Beer and Pizza at Vino’s
Sure, maybe Vino’s best years are far behind it, but there’s something I still love about that irresistible smell of beer, pizza, and yeasty hops.