Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
I love David’s Burgers just as much as the next guy. Heck, it’s definitely in the discussion for top 3 burgers in town, but can they ease up on the salt shaker at the WLR location? My chicken burger, which also now seems like a thinner patty (meaning: less meat), was way over-seasoned. Don’t get me wrong, I ate every bite, but I spent the rest of the night sucking down water like I was wandering around a desert. That said, the fries, which I’ve never been blown away with, were the best I’ve ever had at David’s. The crispy, not-so-greasy exterior will get you excited about them being all-you-can-eat. Per usual, the service at David’s was stellar.
How can you not like Doe’s Eat Place? Just walking into the place feels like a warm Little Rock hug. Last Friday, my two tablemates and I split a 3-pound Porterhouse cooked medium rare, which includes all of the fixings (dipping toast, fries, and soaked salad). We also polished off some Delta-style tamales with chili. The steak was excellent, especially the filet side, and although it wasn’t the best version I’ve had at Doe’s, it did have that signature crust and perfectly cooked medium-rare interior. And the sides? I could eat a large tub of the soaked soaked if it was socially acceptable, and the fries and bread are the ideal vehicles for meat-juice dipping. Once again, Doe’s proves that solid food, reasonable prices, and excellent service are the keys to longevity in the Little Rock market.
Enough about the old go-to’s like Doe’s and David’s. Have you checked out the still new-ish food truck called The Wunderbus (Wayfaring Germanic Cuisine)? I caught them while wandering around the Cornbread Festival and was blown away by The Floki, a pork/beef meatball sandwich with a rich, mushroom/onion/tomato sauce on a Sidney & Sons French bun. Simply put, the sandwich ($12) was absolutely fantastic, so good, in fact, that I returned 10 minutes later to order another one because my kids wolfed down the first sandwich. I’ve been on record as saying our food truck scene in this area is currently way down. Several trucks have folded and the ones that are left often lack creativity. Not The Wunderbus. Much like The Southern Gourmasian, this is a food truck to get genuinely excited about. The food comes out in a timely manner, is fun, creative, different, and above all … delicious. Follow them on Facebook to see where they’ll be next.
It’s been too damn long since my last visit to Baja Grill in the Heights. Remember when everyone was saying that location was jinxed? Seems like Baja has put that ridiculous notion to rest. And they do it with a simple menu, comprised predominately of tacos and burritos. Per usual, I ordered one each of the Cuban and Pig Sooie tacos, the latter being a non-traditional offering of pork, barbeque sauce, and pickled red onions … all resting on two, white corn tortillas. Each taco is $4.50 and you can add a side of rice and beans for $2.25. Part of me just wishes it would come as a complete plate and just charge me $11.25 for the entire shebang … but I get why they structure the menu this way. Anyways, we sat on the patio and enjoyed some of this wonderful summer/fall weather.
Quick Hits: The sausage and cheese kolaches at the Shipley’s on Shackleford are my favorite in town. I wish we have more options, but for now, these will do. I had an hour to kill the other night, so I headed over to Heights Taco & Tamale Co. for a $5 happy hour frozen margarita. It hit the spot. Why do I continue to eat Kroger sushi? It’s overpriced and woefully below average, but it still has a once-a-month hold on me. Boulevard still serves the best cup of coffee in town, but Honey Pies, The Root, and Trio’s (they use dark roast Westrock) are also excellent options, just to name a few.
We’re back at it again, trying figure about what some of your favorite culinary delights are here in Little Rock. This time around, let’s look at another subjective food item … tacos. Here’s the question posed on Facebook…
What restaurant in the Little Rock area serves your favorite tacos?
We had 58 comments, with 26 different places being mentioned and 60 total votes. As always, these are very informal polls, so please treat this post as just a nice resource for quality taco options in our area.
Fives places really stood out in terms of votes. El Palenque received the most votes with 9, followed by Local Lime (7), The Fold (6), Guadalajara (5), and Heights Taco & Tamale Co. (5). I thought this was a nice mix of hole-in-the-wall spots with some of your more bigger, popular restaurants. Personally, I’ve enjoyed tacos at 4 out of 5 places… sorry Guadalajara, I’ll get to visit you in the near future. Specific standouts include: the Beans & Greens Taco at Local Lime, the Pollo y Poblano at The Fold, and the Pickled-Fried Chicken Tacos at HTT. Don’t get me wrong, I love El Palenque, but often find myself passing on tacos in favor of burritos, enchiladas, or the caldo.
The second tier of top taco spots included: Taqueria Jalisco San Juan (food truck in the Colonial Liquor parking lot), Chuy’s, Taqueria Karina Cafe, and Eliella. For me, Eliella really stands out in this group. The tacos there are small and simple, but pack big flavor. I’m not surprised to see Chuy’s this high up the list … it’s a very popular spot and they do make their own tortillas. Is it one of the better tacos in town? In my opinion, no, but the chicken soft tacos are very solid and reasonably priced. Karina, on 65th Street, is a hidden gem, and is certainly worthy to receive this many votes.
What really stood out about this particular poll was the number of single vote mentions. Seventeen restaurants received one vote. They include: El Alamo Grill, Cinco de Mayo, Fonda, Maddie’s Place, El Torito, Samantha’s, Senior Tequila, Taco Bueno, Taziki’s, EJ’s, La Regional, Tacos 4 Life, El Porton, Mexico Chaquito, SO, Baja Grill, Taco Beer Burrito. To me, the real surprise here was Baja Grill receiving only one vote. There are some really good, eclectic tacos (Pig Sooie and Cuban) being served up at Baja. Cinco de Mayo is very underrated, as is El Torito off Bowman Road. The chicken tacos at El Porton are excellent, as are the tacos at La Regional. One place that didn’t make the list but I feel deserves a mention is South on Main. They do a fantastic breakfast taco with chorizo on the brunch menu.
Finally, a few reactions from readers…
Daniel Ford: “Not sure if they’ve got overall best, but the Diablo Shrimp at The Fold is my favorite single taco.”
Brandon Olvey: “For my money, nothing touches the chorizo and carnitas tacos at Local Lime.”
Johnna Jaynes Feldman: “I really just love a basic taco crispy, ground beef and cheese at Senior Tequila.”
Tom Allen: “Not well versed in tacos, but I do like The Fold and was surprised by the fish tacos at EJ’s.”
Stephanie Baker Brock: “It will be Tacos for Life when it gets here. For now, I have to drive to Conway to get them.”
Alicia Tuggle: “Never been to El Palenque yet, still on the list though. Baja Grill, Taco Beer Burrito, and Local Lime are my favs.”
Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
Going to The Southern Gourmasian for dinner isn’t something I do very often, and that’s a shame, because I’ve said for years now that Chef Justin Patterson is one of our very best chefs in town. This is a long, rambling way of saying our meal on Friday night was fantastic. My daughter and I split orders of ramen, Balinese Chicken Steamed Buns, and Shrimp Fried Rice. Fans of good ramen know the popular dish is hard to come by in this town. TSG’s version, although a smaller portion than many others you’ll find around the country, is priced right ($9) and quite tasty. The broth is rich and flavorful, and while the noodles are the centerpiece of any bowl, the star in the dish was the tender pork shoulder chunks scattered throughout the broth. The shrimp fried rice, with it’s meticulously-cut veggies and plump, perfectly cooked shrimp, proved to be an ideal compliment to the soup. Great service and delicious food at a reasonable cost will have me back at The Southern Gourmasian sooner than later.
If folks sometimes forget The Southern Gourmasian does a dinner service, they may also forget that The Pantry West does a mean lunch service. The Pantry doesn’t get much credit for serving one of the better lunches in town, highlighted by a stellar offering of sandwiches, including my Sauerkraut Panini with Smoked Turkey from Friday’s patio lunch. Comprised of grilled whole grain bread, tangy kraut, fontina cheese, Russian dressing, and shaved turkey, this sandwich is small and simple, but perfect for lunch. For an additional $1.50, I substituted an order of pommes frites for house chips, bringing the total cost to $11.95 … still any excellent value.
Trio’s rotates part of its menu every few weeks, something, as far as I can tell, no other restaurant does in Little Rock. The Blackened Tuna with Soba Noodles, created by Chef Shanna Merriweather, is currently on the menu and is a must-order. Ahi tuna is pan seared for what must be no more than 30 seconds per side and is seasoned to a subtle, spicy perfection. The finished product is this soft, rare piece of tuna that is just wonderful with the accompanying noodles and mixed veggies (Napa cabbage, snow peas, and bok choy). It’s all tied together with a nice ginger-mustard beurre blanc, proving once again that butter is always a great addition to any dish. My only knock on this plate? The portion of noodles and veggies was a little light.
Healthy eating and Maddie’s Place don’t typically go hand-in-hand, but it may surprise you to learn that the Riverdale restaurant does a fantastic salad of house-smoked salmon, candied walnuts, red onion, tomatoes, Romaine, and lemon herb vinaigrette. The full order costs $9.75, and given the heavy hand of salmon, this salad is an excellent value.
Quick Hits: Honey Pies is taking a stab at kolaches, and admittedly, I am very picky when it comes to these little breaded pockets of joy. Simply put, HP’s version needs some slight re-tooling. The sausage was pretty dense, making it somewhat hard to bite through and the dough needed a little sweetness to it. The Acai Bowl at Juice Bar in Midtown is not cheap (upwards of $12 after tip) but I’m hooked. I just hope that darn thing is relatively healthy. I popped into the Pop Pop Shoppe (like what I did there?), our newest and I guess only specialty popcorn store in Little Rock for a quick gift. I didn’t try any of the popcorn, but the store was bright and beautiful and the service was fast and friendly. I hope they make it, but given the store’s large size … seems like there needs to be more product being displayed. The place struck me as being little empty.
Random thoughts and ramblings on local food and drink…
The annual TMR dinner at Trio’s—“An Evening in Oaxaca”–was held last Thursday night in the Pavilion Room adjacent to the restaurant. Co-owner Capi Peck, Chef Shanna Merriweather, and crew put together a delicious 5-course meal for 50 guests, highlighting many of the ingredients and cooking techniques Peck picked up on her recent visit to Oaxaca, Mexico. The evening started with an open bar, which included a variety of tasty, mezcal-inspired cocktails created by Merrick Fagan, along with wine selections from Alexia Elichiry of De Nux Distributors. A table sat near the bar area, filled with guacamole, molotes (imagine an empanada), elote (street corn), and chapulines (grasshoppers) for entering guests to start the meal. Truth be told, I think many folks, including myself, loaded up on these starters, and by the time the actual 1st course hit the table, stomach space was at a premium. Here’s a quick run-down of the rest of the menu: (1st Course) shrimp cocktail with cactus, (2nd Course) squash blossom quesadillas, (3rd Course) Grilled beef tenderloin in four-chile sauce with chicharrones and chile de arbol, corn tortillas with Oaxacan red mole, chayote with roasted poblanos, quesillo, and chepiles, and black beans, and (4th Course) flan, pastel de tres leches, and copita de mezcal. From start to finish, the food was truly fantastic, and while I had to wave the white flag by the middle of the third course, I can tell you every dish was planned and executed to near perfection. Peck knows her way around a dynamite shrimp cocktail and this one with its bits of cactus was no exception. I also loved the perfectly cooked, medium rare tenderloin topped with the chile sauce, but felt like the bits of chicharones were a little tough and added a texture that wasn’t needed on the plate. This was all part of a main entree course that included the star of the evening, an intensely flavored red mole. Peck, herself, made the rounds to each table, topping dishes with the extra sauce while gabbing with guests, something no one in this town does better. Kudos to Peck and her entire staff for once again pulling off an amazing evening.
I attended The Root Cafe’s “Dinner in October” the following night. If you’re thinking, “Wait, The Root is open for dinner?’ The answer is no, not quite yet, but they will be probably sometime in early 2017. For now, diners can get a taste of things to come, as ownership puts together these monthly communal dinners in The Root’s charming, one-of-a-kind setting. Chef Jonathan Arrington and Pastry Chef Sara Slimp created a masterful, 5-course dinner that had a touch of sophistication, while still holding on to The Root’s unpretentious qualities. Highlights of the evening included a gorgeous plate of red and black lentils (pictured above) with turnips, carrots, and apples, along with the main entree, a plate of pork belly, pinto beans, pickled boy choy, and cornbread pudding. While the dessert course of honey molasses layer cake was also a winner, the cake itself was a tad dry, but fortunately, had this amazing ginger infused, orange cream frosting that was also elevated by a spicy red chile sauce. Long story short … the food, company, and service were all fantastic. Keep an eye out on The Root’s Facebook page for details on the next ticketed dinner, which is typically held on the second Friday night of each month. I would not hesitate to sign up. The Root also does an open seating dinner on the 4th Friday of each month.
Have you ever been inside the Izard Chocolate storefront located just across the street from Hillcrest Kroger? You should. It’s a cool place and owner Nathaniel Izard is making a variety of excellent dark chocolate. Come to find out, he’s also starting to roast some of his own small-batch coffee. I’ve yet to try it, but if the coffee is anything like the chocolate, it should be a nice addition to the mix.
Speaking of coffee, did you know Honey Pies makes one of the better cups in town? I’m partial to their pour-over, which uses Leiva’s Coffee. And this from the store…”For every cup of coffee you buy, we donate a meal to a hungry child in Central Arkansas.” Just a heads up, Honey Pies new-ish hours are Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m -7 p.m.
Quick hits: I sat at South on Main’s bar and downed an Old Fashioned while listening to the tunes of Shawn Camp last Wednesday night. Just an overall great evening. Taziki’s is quietly one of the best take-out options in town. The chicken pasta salad on the weekend is a must-order. Juice Bar in Midtown (near Big Orange Midtown) serves this wildly addictive acai bowl. It’s filled with 15+ healthy ingredients and perfect for breakfast. The Pantry does it again … my go-to salmon wrap for lunch never disappoints. Shout out to our server, Bonnie, who once again proved why the restaurant has some of the very best food and service in town.