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
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, 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
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
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
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
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.
11321 W. Markham Street Suite 4
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
March 11-18 is Girl Scout Cookie Restaurant Week and several of our local restaurants are participating by offering a Girl Scout Cookie-inspired dessert.
Here’s a complete list of participating restaurants (and what they’ll be making) in the Little Rock area:
@ The Corner Modern Diner – #letsgetmoussey a Tagalong Mousse Cup
Big Orange – Thin Mint Cookies & Cream Shake and Samoa Crush Shake
Colonial Wine & Spirits – Cookie & Wine pairing event (March 15)
Dinner’s Ready Catering – Entrée: Crispy Honey Lemon Chicken/Dessert: Luscious Lemon Cupcake
Izzy’s Restaurant – Thin Mint Meltdown Milkshake
Kilwins Little Rock – S’more Cookie Fudge
Lulu’s Latin Rotisserie & Grill – Choco-Samoa Flan
The Pizzeria – Do-si-do Nutter Pie
South on Main – Banana Pudding Do-si-do Jar
Table 28 – Lemoncello Sabayon-Savannah Smiles
ZaZa Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. – Tagalong Gelato
Also, on March 15 (from 4-7 p.m.), Colonial Wine & Spirits will have an event at their tasting bar where they will pair eight cookies with wine and beer and have a local wine expert present the wines.
Can’t make it to one of these restaurants but still need to get your Girl Scout Cookie fix? There are three ways you can buy:
1. Order from a Girl Scout
2. Visit a Girl Scout Cookie booth sale. If you need help finding one, just download the Girl Scout Cookie Finder app on your phone and enter your zip code to find a booth sale near you.
3. Have a Girl Scout send you her Digital Cookie link. You can order online and have the cookies shipped to you!
*photos courtesy of Girl Scouts and The Pizzeria
Thoughts on my recent eating experiences around Little Rock…
I’ve never been to Star of India for dinner, which, after last Friday night, I’m realizing was a big mistake. Everything we ordered (no buffet at night) was pretty much fantastic, including vegetable samosas, saag paneer, chicken tikka masala, chicken tikka, and lamb with garlic. Specifically, the chicken tikka with its tender, flavorful chicken and grilled onions and peppers was the hit of the table. I’m a mixer and there’s not a better cuisine to mix than Indian food. The flavors and textures all meld together, making for a wonderful, spice-filled plate of food. Service was excellent, which came as no surprise, as Mr. Sami has one of the best reputations for hospitality in our local food industry. I’ve always associated Star of India with being a popular buffet lunch spot, but after seeing a full restaurant on a Friday night, it’s evident the dinner service also does quite well.
It’s way early to truly form an opinion of the restaurant, but my Friday afternoon lunch at Mr. Hui’s in the Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center (near Belk) didn’t exactly inspire me to come racing back. Servers didn’t seem very knowledgeable of the menu, which, to their defense, was quite expansive. I decided to be a little adventurous and order the Frog Hot Pot, which did include a ton of tasty frog, but it was oddly served on a cast iron fajita-type skillet. Granted, it came out sizzling and piping hot but it was a weird presentation, and overall, the food was too salty and saucy. The frog was definitely the best part. Thumbs up on the the steamed dumplings appetizer as well as my buddy’s entree of squid with pork, but my other friend’s seafood clay pot didn’t agree with me at all. It tasted and smelled like the sea … and not in a good way. Take my opinion with a grain of salt , as my three other tablemates enjoyed the soup. In the end, Mr. Hui’s strikes me as a restaurant where you need to find 3-4 dishes you really like and just stick with them. This isn’t a bad thing, but it may take you a few visits to figure it out.
Going 2+ months without kBird isn’t a good thing, so I was happy to get back to one of my favorite lunch spots in town last week. I kept my lunch light and simple, ordering my standard green papaya salad. By now you’re sick of me saying it’s on of the best dishes in town, so I’ll just mention that it was as good as usual. Fresh, spicy, sour, and slight sweet … the trademark characteristics were all there.
We checked out another great concert at South on Main on Saturday night, and, of course, also ate a bunch of food. We started out with the addictive fried cauliflower popcorn, along with the skillet bread of the evening, a pickled carrots and beet concoction with goat cheese. Big thumbs up on the cauliflower. I also enjoyed the toppings on the skillet bread, but thought the bread itself was small and dense. In the past, the bread has been bigger and lighter, making it not only more visually appealing but tastier. The four entrees that hit the table were all hits. I can only speak for the Snapper with Zucchini Latkes and Tomato Jam, but I also heard good reports on the Stuffed Pepper with Cous Cous, the Rabbit Leg with Country Ham, and the Grilled Ribeye. I washed everything down with an Old Fashioned, a Hemmingway Daiquiri, and a cup of coffee to end the evening,which were all excellent. The snapper has quickly become one of my favorite dishes at South on Main. I love how crispy they get the fish skin and the tomato jam adds a delicious sweet and smokiness to the dish. The plate is light and fresh, making for a perfect late night dinner. Well, it was late for me. I’m old.