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

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