Living in Little Rock for two years has finally allowed me to build up a strong list of restaurants to bring my out-of-town guests. These places must obviously have excellent food, but also offer great service and an atmosphere that truly reflects the essence of Little Rock. So, I figured…why not create a list of my Top 10 Restaurants to Take Out-of-Towners? Here goes…and these are in ranking order:
10. Big Orange Midtown
One of the restaurants from Little Rock’s greatest success stories had to make this list, so I opted for BO Midtown. The atmosphere is hip, the cocktails are in the top 3 in the city, and the food is usually on-point.
Tip: Sit at the beautiful bar and gab with the knowledgeable bartenders while crushing a cocktail and a turkey burger with sweet potato fries.
9. One Eleven
One Eleven, the new version of the old Ashley’s, is located inside the Capital Hotel and definitely belongs on this list. For one, it’s fine dining at its finest, and a “special occasion” type restaurant needs to be included.
Tip: Go for lunch and order the $16 express lunch … a great value and you get to try out several small dishes.
8. Lassis Inn
It ain’t fancy and may not be in the nicest area of town, but I personally could care less. The old school setting and insanely small booths will leave your guests with lasting memories. And so will the fried catfish and buffalo ribs.
Tip: Order an ice-cold 40 oz. beer, but remember, no dancing.
7. The Southern Gourmasian Food Truck
The brick-and-mortar is in the works, but for now, The Southern Gourmasian is a food truck, and a damn great one. The best, in fact, Little Rock has to offer. Take an out-of-towner and watch their face light up after a bite of the spicy chicken and dumplings.
Tip: Go for breakfast at the Hillcrest Farmers Market and order the Moco Loko.
6. Doe’s Eat Place
Does it have the character of the original in Greenville, MS? Maybe, maybe not. But hell, this is where Clinton did his thing back in the day, and the food, especially the 3-lb Porterhouse, is simply fantastic.
Tip: Save room for some fried shrimp and soaked salad…and yes, even the Delta-style tamales.
5. Hillcrest Artisan Meats
This new-school butcher shop with old-school values sits in the heart of Hillcrest and consistently churns out one of the best sandwiches in Little Rock. Seating is limited, but that’s part of what gives H.A.M its charm.
Tip: Pass on the bag of chips and get the lentil salad as your side.
4. The Root Café
The kitchen is small, and thus, the service can at times be slow, but The Root Café IS Little Rock. It’s one of the few places in town serving a quality breakfast, and that alone earns it a spot on this list.
Tip: Vegetarians rejoice…the tofu scrambler is legit. Carnivores should definitely order the sausage gravy and biscuits.
3. Vino’s Brewpub
Sure, Vino’s is a little musty, but that just spells c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r. The pizza is some of the best in town and so is the beer. Take a guest, sit inside by the beer tanks, watch a game and tell me that’s not all Little Rock.
Tip: Don’t sleep on the chef’s salad … it’s good.
2. Capital Bar and Grill
CBG is right across the way from One Eleven inside the Capital Hotel, but is a bit more casual and has a menu more reflective of what Little Rock does best, highlighted by their famous pimento sandwich.
Tip: Get the smoked catfish burger and thank me later.
1. South on Main
No place puts the entire package together like South on Main–great food, casually cool atmosphere, top-notch cocktails and consistently good service. If you have only one spot to take guests, this is your place.
Tip: Check out their website for scheduled musical performances. It doesn’t get any better than listening to some jazz while downing an Old Fashioned and some fried duck wings at South on Main.
Grab a beer: Stone’s Throw Brewing
Pop in for a pastry/coffee: Mylo Coffee Co.
Cool dessert: Loblolly Ice Cream (inside The Green Corner Store)
Ten-year-old N. Shalin is back with her monthly take on food in Little Rock!
The farmers market is a great place to get local and fresh fruits and veggies! The Hillcrest Farmers Market is set up on Kavanaugh and is open from 7 a.m-noon on Saturdays. They always have great booths and products. There is anything from pastries to pasta sauce!
One of the venders is The Pie Hole food truck, which sells dynamite pies. I tried their lime icebox pie and it was delicious! Some of their other options are the Boston cream pie and the chicken pot pie.
The Bonta Toscana booth is amazing! They sell a divine garlic sauce that you can put on pizza, pasta and more. The sauce has a little heat to it, but is very mild.
Also, Arkansas Fresh Bakery is a great vendor to purchase bread products. Everything they make is local and fresh! Did you know that a lot of their bread products are sold at many restaurants a cross Little Rock?
Bodacious Farms is another great vendor at the market. They sell lots of fruits and veggies. I recently purchased some of their tomatoes and okra, which were great!
Freckle Face Farm is a great place to buy meat like bacon and sausage. Mylo Coffee Co. is a pastry and coffee vendor which does fantastic sweet treats.
As you can see, the Hillcrest Farmers Market is a great place to buy fresh and local food.
By: N. Shalin
BUZZ WORD … each month a word is posted over on The Mighty Rib Facebook page, followed with a request for reader suggestions centered-around the term. One of the suggestions is randomly picked, dish is eaten, and a review is written.
This month’s BUZZ WORD was “cheese.”
The cheese grits at Maddie’s Place, suggested by Dc, was chosen, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I had recently stole a few bites of Maddie’s shrimp and grits and was more than delighted with the outcome.
Dc recommended I order a bowl of gumbo, but instead of the inclusion of the standard rice, ask for a scoop of cheese grits. Cheese grits … in gumbo?!? Never heard of it, but this is Buzz Word, and if you suggest it, I do it.
And here’s how the conversation went down with our server.
Me: “I would like the gumbo, but instead of rice, I’d like some cheese grits.”
Server: (pause…stares at me) “That can be done.”
Well, I honestly couldn’t be more delighted with the suggestion. Heck, I may never order gumbo any other way. The slightly spicy gumbo base had that classic burgundy/brownish hue, along with a deep richness imparted by the flavorful sausage. The creamy grits, once mixed into the gumbo, added a subtle coolness and thicker consistency to the dish. The chopped scallions on top were like icing on the cake.
Kudos, Dc … and thank you to everyone for all your suggestions!
One of the biggest shortcomings of the Little Rock food scene is that many of the chefs/restaurants tend to play it safe with menu items. Forgoing creativity in favor of familiarity, they often lose the opportunity to introduce diners to new and innovative dishes. That’s a soapbox issue I’ll save for another day, but it did get me to thinking about why I enjoyed my recent seven-course, Around the World Dinner at Forty Two (inside the Clinton Presidential Center) so much.
It was creative … and it took some chances.
Chef Burrow and his team prepared a themed menu for the evening, all part of an event the restaurant holds each month centered-around the cuisine of a chosen country. This month was Korea.
While Forty Two obviously does not specialize in Korean food, I certainly applaud them for branching out and attempting a style of food unfamiliar to both their chefs and many local diners.
Was every course a homerun? No. Some missed the mark, like the stone grilled mussels and Korean barbecue short ribs, but others were absolutely fantastic, like the bulgogi, a marinated Akaushi beef with scallions, sticky rice and soy-brewed shiitakes, as well as the Korean fried chicken, and a dessert course of street-vendor pancakes.
The insane amount of food, coupled with a low price tag and an admirable amount of risk-taking, earned Forty Two a certain amount of leniency for any minor missteps. I’ve never eaten that much well-cooked food for such a low cost, making the entire evening feel almost like an act of kindness from the restaurant. I’ll shut up now before Forty Two raises the price for September, but just know that if you’re in the mood for a fun evening filled with innovative cooking, these Around the World Thursdays provide a wonderful option.
It’s also worth noting that chef Stephen Burrow exuded a calm command over his kitchen, a trait we were fortunate enough to witness while dining at the chef’s table. He and his team rifled through course after course with a controlled, systematic precision that was both unexpected and quite impressive. And the best part? They all seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
As were we.
More Info: Around the World Thursdays are held on the third Thursday of each month and cost $27.95 per person. Seating is limited and reservations are required. For more info, visit their website or call 501.537.0042