Posts Tagged El Palenque

The Southern Gourmasian Shines, As Does Capeo and Ciao Baci

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Thoughts on my eating escapades around Little Rock…

Beef or no beef … the Thai Chicken Burger at The Southern Gourmasian is one of the best burgers in Little Rock. Yes, I feel that strongly about this one and only hope it lands on the restaurant’s regular menu. The thick patty of super juicy ground chicken is topped with a creamy edamame hummus—a condiment that truly makes this burger a memorable one. Add some pickled onions and crisp lettuce and you’ve got yourself a damn near perfect burger.

Capeo is one of those underrated restaurants you tend to forget is one of our top dining destinations. The place is cozy, somewhat elegant, but not over-the-top fancy. In short, it’s a great restaurant to go for dinner, and in a town void of top-tier Italian food eateries, Capeo is a place you can always go for a good-to-great meal. My very traditional Veal Parm from a recent dinner was saucy, cheesy, and just an overall hit … as was my tablemates’ Tagliatelle Bolognese and Spaghetti Carbonara. Wine lovers will also have plenty of amazing options to choose from.

I’m not sure why, but I am always a little shocked by what a great business Mugs Café does at just about any hour of operation. They seem to have such a loyal clientele, the hallmark of success for any small business. Props to ownership for its continued quality and consistency. Btw…my cold brew coffee was spot on.

I’ve been pretty vocal over the past several months about Ciao Baci and why I now consider Chef Owen a top 5 chef in town. Past inconsistencies have given way to a restaurant where you can not only expect sophisticated yet unpretentious food, but also service that is second to none. I’ve touted it before, but the 5-course, $45 chef’s tasting menu is really the way to go. I’d go into detail about my last experience, but looking over the restaurant’s website, I see Chef Owen already has a new seasonal menu. The bottom line is this … go to Ciao Baci.

If you follow me, by now you know I love El Palenque. Simply put, it’s my favorite Mexican restaurant in town and dishes like the loaded nachos, chicken enchiladas, shrimp burrito, and shrimp ala plancha only solidify my case. All that said, I was a little disappointed with my Chicken Milanesa from the other day. The pounded thinly, then fried chicken breast was a little ho-hum and bland. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but definitely not a dish I’d recommend over some of the far superior options mentioned above.

We took a roadtrip to Bentonville this weekend. Per usual, we dined at The Hive (inside 21c Hotel) and Crepes Paulette. While both places were outstanding, The Hive shined even brighter than usual by churning out an insanely delicious wood fire grilled Berkshire Hog Chop and a dish of Alaskan Halibut. Kudos to Chef McClure and his crew. I also had a chance to pop into the new Pressroom location for a quick brunch. The space was absolutely gorgeous–clean, modern, and expansive, yet warm and inviting—and my Austin City Limits dish of eggs and beans resting between two tortillas and topped with salsa, avocado, and cilantro, was certainly good enough to inspire a return visit.

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Restaurant Review: El Palenque is the Real Deal

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I’ve been to El Palenque, the WLR taqueria tucked in the corner of an obscure strip center off Rodney Parham, several times over the past few years, and I’ve never had anything but excellent meals.

I felt it was time to write a formal review.

So, here we are.

The atmosphere: El Palenque’s atmosphere is everything you’d expect from a traditional taqueria—small, warm and inviting, with a steady flow of adoring customers. The restaurant walls have recently been painted with a beautiful mural that really gives the place a wonderful feel. It’s an open kitchen concept (which I love), so you’ll always see and hear the experienced chef banging around, doing his thing.

The service: Diners can expect prompt, attentive and friendly service. The chip basket is always full, as are the drinks, and the food never arrives more than 10-15 minutes after the order.

The cost: The prices are about as reasonable as it gets. Recently, our table of four got out of there for about $50, and that included tip and an order with three entrees, two a la carte items, guacamole and two alcoholic beverages. In short, given the high quality of food, the prices are more than fair at El Palenque. Heck, it’s downright inexpensive.

The food: The food! Yes, the most important part. What doesn’t this restaurant do well? If you dig guilty pleasure, high caloric gut bombs, opt for the chicken nachos. Split them with a tablemate or be prepared to jog ten miles the following day to sweat out the guilt. This monster plate of chips is covered in cheese sauce and all the standard fixings. Those with smaller appetites should consider ordering the shrimp burrito, which is filled with plump, yet not overcooked shrimp. Nothing annoys me more than those cooked-to-hell, pea-sized shrimp, and happily, you won’t find them at El Palenque. The tortas are excellent, as are the chicken verde enchiladas and the beef tacos. For lovers of spicier dishes, check out the Camarones ala Diabla, a plate filled with a smoky adobo sauce (which the chef can tailor to your desired level of heat). Finally, good guacamole is essential, but El Palenque misses the mark just a bit. While I enjoyed its chunkiness, this guac needed a heavy dose of salt and lime.

The verdict: El Palenque is not only one of the top Mexican food restaurants in Little Rock, it’s one of the top restaurants, period. Yes … El Palenque is that good! And if you don’t believe me, ask anyone of the dedicated neighborhood patrons who come back time after time.

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