Where to Eat in Bentonville, Arkansas

More than just a retailing hub, this booming burg in the northwest corner of Arkansas has become a new mecca for chefs wanting to envelop themselves in a rich agricultural region where farm-to-fork is an established fact.

By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Take a Bite of Bentonville

Welcome to 21st-century Mayberry. Over the course of a decade, the “town that Walmart built” has gone from a sleepy village to a progressively innovative mecca for innovators, entrepreneurs and chefs. While a few classics still stand out, the Bentonville Square and its surrounds are packed with budding new eateries, each showcasing identities and specialties to draw in the ever-growing local population and the tourist boom. Here are some of the best.

The Hive

James Beard Award-nominated Chef Matt McClure was one of the first in a crop of young up-and-coming culinarians to pick up and move to Bentonville and immerse himself in the local food scene. His custom-built kitchen is where the flavors of the region have melted together — the food is Southern with Midwestern charm, with notes of Indian and Hmong cuisines from families who have settled in the area, and has a fanciful dalliance with some of the state’s better-known homegrown fare. Here’s where you’ll find the BMF (buttermilk fried) Chicken and Quail that’s gained nationwide fame; bacon jam and pimento cheese; and decadently elevated comfort foods such as this crispy pork belly.

Eleven

The visual space of this restaurant on the grounds of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is worthy of a visit in and of itself – taking full occupation of one of the bridge-like pavilions at the heart of the facility. During the day, wraps and sandwiches crowd an ever-changing menu geared to art lovers, while dinners showcase Southern classics with elegance befitting the restaurant’s situation. Don’t be afraid to try a dessert creation served in a jar, or a Trailer Park cookie (with Cap’n Crunch and potato chips embedded in it) as well as shrimp and grits.

Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie

There are restaurants that evoke a sense of place, and restaurants that evoke a sense of time. Chef Rob Nelson’s celebration of locally raised meats in all their variety evokes personality. The strongly masculine chef and his strongly masculine menu are well-matched, and are paired with brews and concoctions that leave even the hungriest diner satisfied. Nelson’s understanding of the pig, from the rooter to the tooter (snout to tail), is unequaled, and his ability to take local vegetables, cheeses, mushrooms and beer and craft them into regionally rugged showpieces is genius. Forget your tie and come hungry.

Table Mesa

Looking for a cheap date-night destination? Here’s your place, where you can get a plate of bacon-wrapped sweet dried fruit to share as a great start for dinner. This Latin restaurant on the Square was one of the first of this new wave of restaurants to open, and it consistently offers marvelous choices. Even if your date isn’t cheap, you should find a nice romantic dinner between the eatery’s exposed-brick walls.

Spark Café

This is an old-fashioned soda fountain straight out of a classic ’50s television show, planted on the corner of the Square and at the exit of the Walmart Museum (which is free to visit). A selection of malts, milkshakes, Fizzys, egg creams and the like are available from the blender, and sundaes and cones abound. Ten flavors are offered each day, always including Sam Walton’s favored Butter Pecan as well as Spark – a blue-and-gold-tinted vanilla from Arkansas-based ice creamery Yarnell’s.

The Station Cafe

This patriotic meeting spot for Square visitors is located in a shop that’s been a theater, shoe store and pharmacy in past lives, and the sidewalk outside is a great spot for people-watching. The classic American dairy diner does breakfast, lunch and dinner right next door to the Walmart Museum. The star of the menu is the Steak Burger, high-grade beef smashed on the griddle and served with all the expected burger accompaniments. The black walnut pie is a local favorite.

Tavola Trattoria

This date-night restaurant’s sleek lines and even sleeker dishes provide respectable upscale dining half a block off the Square. A long, packed menu of pasta, pizzas and other Italian dishes delights. Try the Ravioli Tavola – stuffed with blue crab, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and turnip cream. The Crab Arancini with its three sauces is a meal in itself.

Modern Ozark Dining (MOD)

Fixed menus are not common in Arkansas, but they’re the standard bill of fare at MOD, where the Japanese ideal of omakase, or chef’s choice, is embraced. On the surface, dishes such as the picholine olive consomme with marble egg or the lamb merguez with English piccalilli may seem far from traditional Ozark fare — but when you examine the flavors and structure, you discover truths echoed in these dishes, from the common rural snack of pickled eggs to the deconstruction of a German bratwurst once favored by this state’s earliest settlers. The three-course dinner, including sweets, is $39 a person.

Oven & Tap Restaurant

Any restaurant can have beer on tap. But what other restaurant also has Onyx Coffee and cocktails ice cold and ready to be dispensed out of a selection of taps at its bar? This friendly pizza parlor combines high-heat wood-fired oven creations (pizzas, flatbreads and the like) with Southern favorites and lots of cold beverages.

IDK Cafe

Ever get into an argument with your co-workers about what to eat for lunch? When the answer comes up “I don’t know,” the solution can be found at the IDK Cafe, which offers a variety of sandwiches, wraps, salads and such just a block from Walmart headquarters. More than just your normal sub shop, this is the place to pick up gorgeous, colorful food worthy of noshing. IDK’s rendition of the Reuben, an Arkansas classic, is a standout with its red cabbage coleslaw. Get your locally produced KYYA chocolates here, too.

Bentonville Butcher & Pint

Chef Travis McConnell’s recent relocation to the area is good news for meat lovers, who can pick up prime cuts of beef, lamb, pork and more alongside housemade sausages of note in the butcher shop portion of this combination store and eatery. For those who’d like someone else to do the cooking, there are such delicacies as smoked brisket, chops and even fried chicken skins, and a lovely array of local beer on tap to go along with them.

Thai Kitchen

Thai Kitchen's authentic Asian fare at reasonable prices brings in a crowd strong with locals, who dig into as Angel Wings (chicken wings stuffed with kaffir leaves, clear noodles and vegetables) alongside standards like chicken satay and pad kee mao. The Tom Kha, a hot coconut soup bedecked with mushrooms, is a private symphony best played on a chilly day. Expect a wait for a table at lunchtime any weekday.

Fred's Hickory Inn

Sam Walton’s favorite restaurant has received an update with its acquisition by new owners and its recovery from a significant fire. Today, its smokehouse goes seven days a week, and on warm days the patio outside the several-times-expanded log cabin is packed. The smoked sirloin is the stuff of legend, but there are also chicken, ribs, Kansas City-style steaks and pasta among the offerings.

Gold Town Sushi & Korean BBQ

Northwest Arkansas has plenty of Asian offerings. While several eateries serve one style or another of popular dishes, Gold Town’s blend of barbecue, bibimbap and bento makes this a great place to find a nice blend of eastern tastes. The jalapeno bombs — jalapenos stuffed with spicy tuna and deep-fried — are especially tempting.

The Preacher's Son

Set within the shell of an old church, this ultra-hip aerie with its gorgeous bird-decked stained glass windows is home to the creative works of Chef Matt Cooper, whose decadent renderings of down-to-earth foods are their own spectacular art. Cooper’s heirloom-carrot gnocchi is inspired, while entrees are allowed to shine as the oversized, gorgeously presented marvels they are. Be sure to check out the “secret” speakeasy bar downstairs behind the coat check door.

Pressroom

This downtown joint that started out as a panini shop has moved a couple of blocks over into a specially designed space reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” Pressroom has become the late-night spot on the Square with a vast selection of coffee drinks and alcohol and a small-plates menu worthy of envy. Tragically hip, this is the place to be seen among the younger crowd.

Pedaler’s Pub

A bicyclist’s odyssey within walls bedecked with everything on two wheels, Pedaler’s Pub offers the local link for the cycling set. Its clientele dines on dishes from a gigantic orange-shaped high-heat oven while seated under spoke-fitted overhead lights. In addition to a splendid array of pizzas and calzones, each month Pedaler’s Pub offers chances at winning the bicycles featured hanging overhead. It’s a great spot to begin or end a fat-tire exploration of the area.

The Forge

This reclaimed welding shop has been outfitted with the sturdy wooden walls and accoutrements of a solid Irish pub, complete with bar and adorable snug. While bangers, mash and a splendid potato soup come hot to the table, hoisted by lovely lasses, it is the gorgeously lavish and rich white-chocolate bread pudding with bourbon sauce that should be your culinary endpoint on any chilly night.

Crepes Paulette

Promoted from food-truck favorite to brick-and-mortar destination, this hand-held revolution was the inspiration of Frédéric and Paula Henry, who moved back to northwest Arkansas in 2005 after a stint in France. The Henrys started up their food truck in 2010, and it quickly became the go-to street-food stop for visitors and locals alike. Both the food truck and the new location, opened in 2016, offer buckwheat crepes (naturally gluten-free) packed with a variety of fillings — including a turkey Reuben and a spicy chicken option as well as one with Nutella and strawberries.

Blu Fresh Fish Marketplace

More than just a fish market, Blu offers lunches that celebrate everything from the water, including sushi that’s the freshest in the region. Fish tacos, fish fajitas, crab cakes, coconut shrimp and a “butterfish bucket” of fried fare cover the lunch-only offerings.