Where to Eat in Little Rock

Cheese dip may lie in the heart of Arkansawyers, but there’s far more on the menu for those who venture into the heart of Arkansas. Here are the places the locals love in Little Rock.

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

Photo By: Kat Robinson

Lap Up the Best of Little Rock

Recently discovered by culinary travelers as a “secret foodie city,” Little Rock is home to variety of local and regional cuisines still being defined by food researchers and chefs. From barbecue and pizza to brew bites and sweet treats, there’s a lot going on in this Arkansas town — and everything’s within a 15-minute drive, no matter where you are in the city. Here are a few reasons why Little Rock has a lot more to share than beyond cheese dip.

Lost Forty Brewing

Little Rock’s budding craft beer scene is headlined by this startup operating out of a warehouse near the Clinton Presidential Center. The name comes from a 40-acre plot in Arkansas’ Timberland region that somehow missed the blade of logging companies. Rather than settle for a simple tasting room, Lost Forty combines casual drinking and dining in its restaurant. Specialties such as housemade bratwurst, rustic meat plates with pickles and mustards, and even a platter of grilled split-grain sorghum bread served with sweet and savory butters are available to complement the seasonal beers that have quickly gained Lost Forty its renown.

Heights Taco & Tamale Company

One of three Yellow Rocket Concept restaurants on this list, this Heights neighborhood joint commemorates the restaurant that came before it, the longrunning Browning’s, by elevating its Ark-Mex cuisine to delicious new levels. That influence is best seen in the Plato 1947, a re-envisioning of Browning’s Saltillo Platter, featuring a highly researched Arkansas Delta tamale, a cheese enchilada with house red sauce, a chicken taco and a guacamole tostada. Also, you have to give in to Melting Pot Cheese Dip, the deep orange cheese dip that “messed with Texas” by beating The Lone Star State’s queso in chip-to-chip combat.

Doe’s Eat Place

George Eldridge bought the rights to open an eatery based on the Greenville, Mississippi, original, but he’s done it one or two better. Best-known as the place where Bill Clinton’s campaign staff whiled away hours during the 1992 presidential campaign, Doe’s delivers Delta tamales and incredible steaks sold by the pound. The unassuming diner’s main cavernous room is decked from end to end with photographs and memorabilia. The chili, always served with tamales, is an unheralded star.

Sim's Barbecue

Arkansas lies at the crossroads of barbecue, betwixt Memphis pulled pork, Kansas City ribs and Texas brisket. At Little Rock’s oldest barbecue joint, you’ll find one of the state’s most-famous sandwiches chopped brisket (or pork, your choice) soaked in a sweet vinegar sauce, topped with slightly creamy coleslaw and served on white bread, as nature intended. Sandwiches come with a fork, because that bottom slice will be saturated before you take your first bite, the same way they’ve been offered since 1937.

Arkansas Burger Company

Little Rock loves its burgers almost as much as its cheese dip, and it’s hard to choose between outstanding burgers. Best-of lists often include The Root Café, Big Orange, downtown dive EJ’s Eats and Sweets, food truck Excaliburger and Arkansas chain David’s Burgers (davidsburger.com). But when it comes to a great classic with magnificent flavor and height, The Rock at Arkansas Burger Company is tough to beat. The memorabilia-covered walls within this counter-service joint share generations of tourism history with every manner of sticker, plate, newspaper ad and license place you can imagine, while the hand-patted Greek-seasoned burgers satisfy. The cheese dip, by the way, is white and served with deep-yellow tortilla chips.

Red Door

Well-known for baby back ribs, stuffed mushrooms and a gorgeous burger at dinner, Red Door may be even better at brunch. Chef Mark Abernathy’s commendable attention to the Southern culinary heritage includes a bacon-infused Bloody Mary, cathead biscuits, homemade granola, chicken and waffles and even chicken-fried ribeye steak topped with peppered bacon. The French Country Breakfast piles house potatoes into a skillet with sautéed asparagus and mushrooms and two eggs to order, under a cascade of Hollandaise. Cheese dip aficionados will revel in the legendary white Blue Mesa cheese dip.

Bobby’s Country Cookin’

This weekday-only cafeteria-style lunchroom only serves from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the line is always out the door. Bobby’s brings the rural diner to the big city, offering meat-and-two or meat-and-three plates with favorites such as fried chicken, country-fried steak and pot roast (and like all good Southern diners, catfish on Fridays) paired with the likes of purple hull peas, steamed cabbage and other regional delights. The pie case is a destination in itself — filled with the sort of sweets best purveyed by grandmothers in country kitchens.

Honey Pies

Arkansas loves pie, and nowhere is pie exalted more in the city than at Honey Pies. Sharon Frizzell Woodson’s inviting café offers plenty of pie options, including classic caramel-apple and the more inventive Possum (cream-chocolate-cream cheese), and she takes requests. Whether serving gorgeous golden-topped fruit pies, delectably caramelized meringues or impossibly fluffy creams, Honey Pies has quickly become the place to find the perfect slice in Little Rock.

Ciao Italian Restaurant

Every city needs a great hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant — some place that’s affordable, cozy, dependable and stocked with good wine. In Little Rock, that place is Ciao. The 7th Street trattoria’s three rooms host romantic dinners and group get-togethers under local art and photography. A vibrant menu centers around remarkable sauces, prime cuts of beef, fresh seafood and desserts served in both large and small portions. Fresh focaccia with multiple dips is the ideal start to a meal that should include the best pesto sauce in the South.

Arthur's Prime Steakhouse

Head west to Chenal to spend an evening of quiet elegance in the dark-paneled interior of one of the top steakhouses in the region. Arthur’s sports one of the finest selection of steaks, from dry-aged prime to certified Japanese Kobe beef to Australian Wagyu. Cuts include the delectable Chicago bone-in ribeye, Alley’s Bone-In Filet and the only Chateaubriand on any Arkansas menu. The seafood and desserts are also fabulous, so be sure to slate plenty of time to enjoy this luxurious experience.

One Eleven at the Capital

This James Beard Foundation Award-nominated dining experience evolved from the upscale classic Southern restaurant Ashley’s, with the guidance of JBFA -winning chef Joel Antunes, who merged local flavor with French techniques and service to create a standout. Antune’s small-pots (instead of small plates) combinations at each meal are outstanding; still, the best secret is breakfast, where you may find yourself a table away from the biggest movers, shakers, businessfolks and politicians in The Natural State. The Petit Dejeuner de Paris offers a cold assortment of meat-free options including fresh pastries, yogurt, granola, fruit, cheese and coffee — far more than the single diner will consume but oh the selection.

Trio's Restaurant

This venerated mainstay began in 1986 on the edge of a growing capital city. Today, Trio’s is miles from the western edge of town, but it’s still the restaurant by which all other midrange eateries in Little Rock are judged. Chef Capi Peck, whose family has been at the heart of the city’s restaurant scene since the 1930s, works with partner Brent Peterson to cultivate a menu defining Little Rock food culture – from the legacy Peck Salad to the much-lauded raspberry cream pie to the adored shrimp enchiladas, one of many dishes combining Latin influences with Arkavore cuisine.

The Root Café

This tiny up-cycled restaurant used to be home to the decades-old Sweden Cream; Jack and Cory Sundell revived the long-empty dairy bar and created a new epicenter for Arkavore eats, where most everything is short on food-miles and long on flavor. The bright little diner’s mismatched tableware and napkins, indoor and outdoor dining and sweet, hip staff would be an asset anywhere; gems such as third-of-a-pound burgers featuring small-farmed, pasture-raised beef from Simon Farms, brats Farm Girl Meats’ pork, and an incredible curried chicken salad sandwich on an Arkansas Fresh Bakery bun.

Loblolly Creamery

No city guide is complete without ice cream, and no Little Rock flavor roundup would be complete without the eclectic, locally sourced offerings of Loblolly Creamery. While many restaurants in the city serve Loblolly’s cool treats on their own menus, the ice cream wonders are best enjoyed at the old-fashioned soda fountain within the Green Corner Store in Little Rock’s SoMA District. Buttermilk, honey-green tea and Little Rock-y Road are outstanding – as are the fantastic collaborative ice creams created from local products such as Rocktown Bourbon Pecan made from Rocktown Distillery’s award-winning bourbon and Death by KYYA from KYYA’s bean-to-bar chocolate. Look for seasonal wonders such as blackberry-sweet corn and dark chocolate-orange when you go.

Boulevard Bread Company

If Little Rock has the equivalent of a French boulangerie, this is it. Every manner of bread, pastry, cake and cookie comes out of the ovens of this multi-location bakery – which also provides the buns, bread and doughy delights for many of the city’s other restaurants. The Heights location in particular stands out as a bakery, bistro and bar that fills up with the neighborhood’s residents who come not only for the out-of-this-world chocolate croissants and light, sweet Queen Annan, but for a variety of warm and cold dishes as well. Dozens of different take-home salads, meals and sides means that it’s a great substitute for home-cooked dinners, too.

South on Main

Not just a place to dine on great updates on Southern cuisine, South on Main’s entire style — from its grand open spaces to its eclectic typewriters and furniture — shows off contemporary Little Rock dining. Its bar is packed at night with the city’s top conversation-makers; musicians and speakers often spin spells from the prominent stage. Chef Matt Bell’s remarkable reinterpretations on everything from casual fried bologna sandwiches to elegant wild game provide an education to city-oriented diners. Become amazed and entranced by the Mason jar-borne creations he and his culinary team conjure, including pickled egg salad, beer cheese, deviled ham spread and chicken liver mousse, or any of a selection of daily desserts.

Star of India

Little Rock’s oldest Indian restaurant makes this list not just because of the splendid, varied menu, nor it’s well-priced lunch buffet, with 17 items plus dessert on weekdays. It’s not even on the list because of its top-tier selection of vegetarian options. It’s because proprietor and chef Sami Lal never forgets a face, and will welcome diners back by name whether it’s been a week or a decade since they last visited. The Chicken Tikka Korma is a nutty, creamy indulgence that’s a stellar standout in a constellation of great curries offered here.

ZaZa Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Company

Pizza in Little Rock ranges from Damgoode’s thick crust to US Pizza Company’s extra-thin, but only ZaZa’s makes the leap to grandiose. The high-heat, gourmet-topped pies — think figs and feta — are crispy and come in a single size. Despite the unusual architecture of the old Heights Theater, which requires a substantial climb for second-floor overlook seating, every table’s taken at top times. The Quattro Staggioni is a must – four quadrants of pizza, each featuring an ingredient (prosciutto, Kalamata olives, roasted mushrooms and artichoke hearts) on a shaved parmesan- and mozzarella-donned pie.

Cajun's Wharf

Mary Beth Ringgold has been the captain at the stern of this riverside hangout for many of its 42 years. An anchor for the Riverdale Design District, this restaurant is known for great seafood, the Big Swinging Deck (a second story outdoor lounge directly overlooking the Arkansas River) and the famed pink Play-De-Do concoction that’s the start of many a great story of a fantastic evening. The Oysters Bienville, half-shell oysters stuffed with tiny shrimp in a white wine and cream sauce topped with Parmesan cheese, are a comforting and steady appetizer.

Kemuri

Little Rock loves sushi, as evidenced by the dozen different purveyors of rolls and sashimi within city limits. It’s hard to find any place where the fish is fresher or prettier than at Kemuri, where a well-trained team of chefs and itamae creates gorgeous structures of chirashi, magnificent robata and fused dishes combining Asian aesthetic with fresh seafood and Arkansas-local ingredients — shishito ginger spoon bread, anyone? The East-meets-West brunch is of particular note at this Hillcrest neighborhood eatery.

Brave New Restaurant

Long before “farm-to-fork” became trendy, Chef Peter Brave was sharing the bounty of Arkansas-grown food. Open since 1991, the restaurant celebrates seasonal specialties, with a menu of moderate to high-end standards. Duck with Duck perches duck breast and duck sausage on wild rice, both of which are revered in the Arkansas Delta. When in doubt, opt for the stuffed protein: Locally ranged Falling Sky Farm chicken breasts are stuffed with Boursin cheese, and trout (a north Arkansas favorite) is plumped with spinach and crab; the stuffed quail, packed with wild boar sausage, is also popular.

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