Archive for category Around Town

10 Dream Additions to the Little Rock Food Scene

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Right off the bat, let me get this out there … this post isn’t meant to be a bitchfest about how things are lacking in the culinary scene around these parts. It’s just meant to create some interaction and dream a little bit about what would be some really cool additions. Alright, maybe I’ll get a tad whiny, but here goes.

24-Hour Diner

This one comes up all the time on the blog. You want. I want. We all want it. Would this town, which sees an overwhelming majority of folks call it a day by 8:30 p.m., embrace such a restaurant? Put it the right place with the right vibe and I think so.

Destination BBQ

Yes, I know, I know. Restaurant BBQ in this town is lacking, with just a handful of spots churning out quality smoked meats. We need a place like Pecan Lodge in Dallas or Central in Memphis or Franklin in Austin that will make people get in their cars and drive great distances.

Bagels

Bagel … the inspiration behind this post (thanks Elisa). My goodness, do we need a bagel shop in Little Rock. And I’m talking about real, boiled/baked bagels. How has this not happened yet in this town? Did one used to exist here?

That's fine!

That’s fine!

 

Fine Dining Restaurant

Fine Dining is virtually extinct in Little Rock, and for good reason, it’s expensive. Casual is king. Nationally, there are fewer and fewer fine dining restaurants. Locally, outside of One Eleven and Arthur’s, we really don’t have any fine dining options. I’m talking about anniversary-type spots.

Taco Cabana

What?!? Yes, I just went from bitching about a lack of fine dining to wanting Taco Cabana to reside in Little Rock. If you’ve never been to Taco Cabana, imagine a really awesome version of Taco Bell that doesn’t give you diarrhea. Taco Cabana is what Taco Bueno should be, but isn’t. The addition of TC would also solve our breakfast taco problem.

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New York-Style Deli

Hell, this is another suggestion that could kill two birds with one stone. A New York-Style Deli would also solve our bagel problem, while at the same time ensuring we have delicious delicacies like matzo ball soup, pastrami sandwiches, and knishes.

A Big Butcher Shop

I’m talking about a big damn place that sells every cut of meat, and for a reasonable price. I’m sure the Wal-Marts and Sam’s of the world will ensure this never happens, but a boy can dream. Heck, Hot Springs has a great independent butcher, why can’t we?

Italian Food

We need another Italian restaurant. We only have a few good spots and another one would do wonders for our scene. Maybe a place that makes its own pasta. Seems like something that would put a ton of smiles on faces.

More Pizza and Burgers

Just kidding, we have more than our fair share, but at least I got your attention.

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These are kolaches.

 

Kolache Shop

One of these days, someone will come along, hire a human from Texas who knows what the hell they are doing, and open an authentic kolache shop here in town. Nothing special is needed, just a modest place in a retail strip cranking out the best kolaches in the state. It’s a million dollar idea, probably, maybe.

Soup Dumplings

Soup dumplings are probably my favorite food on this planet. It’s an actual dumpling with warm broth inside. You can get them at Mr. Chen’s, but they’re pretty average … so a small place dedicated to making them fresh would be awesome.

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Dinner at The Root & Fantastic China, Lunch at Tacos 4 Life & North Bar

Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich at North Bar

Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich at North Bar

 

Thoughts on my latest dining experiences…

I already mentioned it on the blog, but the new dinner service at The Root Cafe is something to truly get excited about. The food from chefs Jonathan Arrington and Sara Slimp is both fun and creative, but sophisticated, while also managing to capture the down-home essence of the restaurant. Our group of four ordered most of the menu the other night, which wasn’t a difficult task, given its small, focused selection of dishes. We started out with the Arancini, a collection of fried balls of risotto, as well as “Radishes a Few Ways” and some house-made Toast slathered with pimento cheese and topped with chow chow. The radishes were a work of art and quite delicious, but the pimento toast was the appetizer that really stood out for me. We have some great versions of pimento cheese in this town (duh, it’s our most cherished dish) and this one stands up to some of the very best. The dinner menu consisted of only four entrees, and we ordered them all, including the Butternut Squash, Chicken Adobo, Roasted Pork Belly, and Beef Tenderloin with Green Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Mole. The bottom line is this … I tried all of the dishes and they were hits. If you want me to get into specifcs, I can, but the point is you need to go to The Root for dinner. And do it now! The weather is magnificent and you’ll probably get to take advantage of the the restaurant’s al fresco dining experience. The Root’s dinner service, along with those at South on Main and Raduno, gives the SoMa District-goers three excellent options.

Folks have been raving about the food coming out of the new North Bar in the Park Hill neighborhood of North Little Rock, so I figured it was time to go check it out. For those wondering, North Bar is in the space formerly occupied by Ira’s and E’s Bistro. Seems like North Bar has finally found the magic for that spot. The casual, sports-bar-meets-neighborhood-eatery vibe they have going on there definitely works. Televisions adorn the walls and burgers adorn the menu, a good combination to have in this town. I kept things simple and ordered a Flyway Bluewing beer (on tap) and a North Bar Burger. The burger was served on a familiar Arkansas Fresh brioche bun, along with all of the fixings, and proved to be a tasty take on an American classic.  The accompanying waffle fries were a bit of a disappointment in both amount and taste. My plate only consisted of a small handful. Don’t get me wrong, the fries weren’t terrible, just ho-hum, but didn’t stand out like the juicy burger. My buddy’s Sweet and Sour Chicken Sandwich was the star of the table and is probably what I’d order on my next visit, which will be sooner than later because North Bar is a hit.

I had a nice meal at Fantastic China in the Heights. It really didn’t stand out in any way, but it was solid. I had the Chicken in Hot Garlic Sauce, which also came with fried cream cheese puffs, an egg roll, fried rice, and wonton soup. The soup was excellent, so I guess something did stand out. Folks really want the spring rolls to come back on the menu, and you won’t find any argument from me on that topic. Listen, in my opinion, Little Rock lacks in top-notch Chinese food, but Fantastic China is solid and consistent and is probably the best option in town.

Tacos 4 Life’s Little Rock location (off of Shackleford) recently opened, and from the looks of it, at least early on, the restaurant is being widely embraced by local diners. On my one visit, I made sure to arrive at the 11 a.m. opening, which was smart, because the place was full 15 minutes later. I applaud any restaurant that has a cause, but at the end of the day, the food has to be good for me to go back on a regular basis. And it wasn’t … specifically, the flavor just wasn’t there. My grilled chicken puffy tacos with a side of rice and refried beans was bland, and while the service was fast, attentive, and quite friendly, the food just didn’t do it for me. Some readers told me I ordered wrong, so there’s that. Maybe I’ll go back in a few weeks and try something else.

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Top 10 Restaurants to Take Out-of-Towners

South on Main

South on Main

 

Living in Little Rock for almost five years has allowed me to build up a strong list of restaurants to bring my out-of-town guests. These places aren’t necessarily serving the absolute best food in town, but they are restaurants with an excellent combination of food and atmosphere, while also truly reflecting the essence of Little Rock.

South on Main

I’ve said it for a few years now, but South on Main’s unique offering of dynamite, elevated Southern food and cocktails in a setting that also hosts amazing concerts makes it one of our top restaurants to take out-of-towners. Simply put, it’s the entire package … all in a casually cool setting with consistently excellent service. It’s a good idea to keep up with the concert schedule on their website and be sure to make reservations/purchase tickets in advance. South on Main is also open for Sunday Brunch, serving popular items like biscuits, breakfast tacos, and fried oysters eggs Benedict.

What to Order: Old Fashioned with The Double: Two All-Beef Patties, Comeback Sauce, Pimento Cheese, Bacon Jam, Fries and a Soaked Salad

Doe’s Eat Place

The place where Bill Clinton hung out will always be a cool draw to non-locals, making Doe’s inclusion on this list a complete no-brainer. Oh, and Doe’s also happens to serve one of the best steaks in town at a fairly reasonable cost. While I’m not a huge fan of the Delta-style tamales, they should be the start of any meal, along with the deliciously addictive fried shrimp. Save room for soaked salad and buttered Texas toast, perfect for dipping in the meat juice from your medium-rare, 3-lb Porterhouse. Doe’s is no-frills but absolutely charming and one of the most historically relevant restaurants in town.

What to Order: 3-lb Porterhouse (make sure to call ahead and reserve on busy nights)

The Root Cafe

The Root Cafe

 

The Root Cafe

Little Rock’s only true farm-to-table restaurant is now open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While it has long served the best breakfast in town, this charming SoMa District cafe recently started serving dinner as well, which is great news, especially if you enjoy dishes like pork belly, arancini, and beef tenderloin. While a grant allowed ownership to double the size of the restaurant and create a kitchen area that is better suited to handle bigger crowds, The Root maintains a quaint, down-home feel that has made it wildly popular with locals.

What to Order: Biscuits and Gravy for breakfast; hamburger for lunch

Flyway Brewing

Flyway Brewing, located in North Little Rock’s Argenta District, played a large role with Little Rock’s craft beer scene catching up with the rest of the country. There are usually about 9-10 beers on tap, so even your pickiest beer connoisseur should be able to find something that suits their palette. Stouts, IPAs, brown ales, and wheat beers … Flyway has it all and the food isn’t too shabby either. The limited menu is filled with several hits, like smoked trout nachos, soft pretzels, and marinated tofu sliders. Flyway’s atmosphere is casual and unpretentious, a true reflection of Little Rock mentality.

What to Order: Bluewing beer (blueberry wheat) with Duck Confit Nachos

Capital Bar and Grill

CBG has been through some ups and downs over the past few years, but there’s still no denying its importance to Little Rock’s dining scene. More importantly, located inside The Capital Hotel, CBG is a restaurant many out-of-towners will actually check out. And that’s a good thing, because Capital Bar and Grill has gotten its groove back, serving the classics in a sophisticated setting with just the right amount of Southern charm and elegance.

What to Order: Pimento Cheese (appetizer) and Duck Pot Pie

Lassis Inn

Lassis Inn

 

Lassis Inn

It isn’t fancy and may not be in the nicest area of town, but the old-school setting and insanely small booths at Lassis Inn will leave your guests with lasting memories. And so will the fried catfish and buffalo ribs. If you’re really feeling crazy, order one of the ice cold 40-oz beers. Does Lassis serve the best fried catfish in town? In my opinion, no. But it’s still damn good and the history and charm behind this restaurant make it a must-stop for folks looking to get a true taste of Little Rock.

What to Order: Fried Catfish, Buffalo Ribs, Fries, and Tomato Relish

The Pantry Crest

Restaurants and food can be so damn subjective, but The Pantry Crest is one of the very few restaurants that’s beloved by all. And let’s face it, when you have out-of-towners, sometimes you need a sure thing with a restaurant. The Pantry Crest is a sure thing. European comfort classics never tasted so good, at least not in this town. With a beautiful decor, elite service, and a menu that includes such dishes as lasagna, truffle deviled eggs, and charred Romaine Caesar Salad, The Pantry Crest is a perfect spot to take non-locals. And I have … many times. FYI, the original location in WLR is just as nice.

What to Order: The Pantry Board and Cheesecake 

kBird

kBird

 

kBird

Much like Lassis Inn, kBird isn’t much to look at, but hole-in-the-walls are my thing and I’m a firm believer they are the backbone to any city’s dining scene. kBird is the best Thai food you will find in this area, or, for that matter, any area. It’s that good, and if your guests are more concerned about where the locals are eating, as opposed to trendy spots with overrated food, kBird is an excellent option. The menu is quite small, which means everything is great. Side note, if you see a jar of ginger cookies sitting by the register, order at least one, if not all of them. It’s probably the best cookie you’ll eat in Little Rock.

What to Order: Green Papaya Salad

One Eleven

One Eleven

 

One Eleven

Truthfully, I feel a little foolish putting two restaurants (CBG being the other) that are located under one roof. One Eleven, located inside The Capital Hotel, is as fine-dining as you’ll get in Little Rock, and sometimes out-of-towners are in search of elegance. Make no mistake, One Eleven is more than just a beautiful setting. The food and service are absolutely elite, and while the restaurant may not view itself as a “special occasion only” type of place, for most of us, it is.

What to Order: Seared Diver Scallops with Potato Gnocchi

The Faded Rose

Little Rockers love New Orleans and folks around here just can’t get enough of the food associated with this city. The Faded Rose has been serving up Cajun & Creole-influenced dishes for almost 35 years … all in a casual setting that seems to always be full. The menu rarely changes and includes staples like shrimp and grits, thin fish, and a blackened rib-eye. The food is consistently good, as is the service, making it a perfect place to take out-of-towners.

What to Order: Crawfish Etouffee 

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My $6.94 Lunch at Kebab House

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The latest stop in my affordable lunch series brought me to Kebab House, a small, Mediterranean eatery in WLR. Here’s a little back story about Kebab House.

I went once and hated it. End of story.

It’s really that simple. The food was terrible and I vowed never to go back. But this was a few years ago, and a trusted friend recently informed me Kebab House was under new ownership and that the food was pretty good.

I’m all for second chances, especially when it’s an inexpensive lunch for this latest series of posts. Yesterday, I walked into the fast casual restaurant around 12:30 and ordered the Chicken Shawarma Panini at the counter. My bill came to $6.94 ($6.25 + tax) and the food arrived at my table in about 10 minutes. As you can see, the presentation was simple, but clean. The panini’s gyro tortilla was filled with an ample portion of shaved chicken, along with pickles, tomatoes, and creamy garlic sauce. Simply put, it was a damn tasty grilled sandwich on its own, but dipping each bite into the accompanying hot sauce brought it to another level. This hot sauce made the sandwich. A friendly gentleman, who I assumed to be the owner, informed me that he was the only place in town offering such a hot sauce. Props on the recipe, good sir.

All said, I was in-and-out of Kebab House in about 20 minutes, making it a wonderful, quick-lunch option in the WLR area. And I was also full, which is never a bad thing when it costs less than $7. I’m not ready to heap praise on Kebab House, but the food was definitely good enough to inspire a return visit, which is a hell of a lot more than I could say before.

The menu is quite expansive and you can order anything from Chicken Shish Kebab to a Lamb Shank Plate to Turkish Feta Salad to falafel to hummus to a burger. Please go check them out.

Kebab House
11321 W. Markham Street Suite 4

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

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