After covering food and drink for nearly a decade here in Little Rock, I have learned a few very random tidbits within the industry, and while I wouldn’t necessarily categorize these as secrets, the following 20 helpful hints are probably ones you did not know about the restaurants you love … until now!
The Search for Burnt Ends
I am always getting asked about burnt ends from folks wanting to know which restaurants in the area make them and if they are good. Well, the answer is Count Porkula on Fridays, and yes, they are excellent.
K Hall, Go for the Burger, Stay for the Cheesecake
I have long viewed K Hall and Sons Produce as a food institution, a place that combines a small grocery items with a food counter that churns out one of the best burgers and fried pork chops in town. Well, they also make cheesecake (by the slice). Look for it in the cooler by the register. You won’t regret getting a slice or two.
Vino’s Does Dough
Speaking of institutions, Vino’s has long been a pizza and beer hot spot in downtown, but did you know that they also sell raw dough balls for like $3 or $4? That’s right, if you’re big on making your own pizza at home without the fuss of making dough, Vino’s has you covered.
And The Bramble Market Does Pizza
Sticking with the pizza theme, The Bramble Market sells all sorts of local goods, from fruits and veggies to jams and honey, but did you know they also do fantastic grab-and-go items, including their take-and-bake pizza?
Acid Sauce at Baja Grill
If you love the food at Baja Grill and like to kick up the spice level, just make sure to get some acid sauce with your meal. As far as I can tell, it’s definitely something you need to ask for, as I can’t remember it being offered up by the servers. Be prepared, as it’s hot, but not insanely so.
Tamales in Sherwood
Another popular question I get is where to find the best tamales. My answer? A tiny food store in Sherwood called Tienda Mexicana El Valle (301 Brookswood Road). They come in cheese and jalapeno, pork in red salsa, pork in green salsa, and chicken in green salsa, and are only available Thursday-Sunday.
Banana Delight … Capi’s Way
It’s only available during strawberry shortcake season, but the truly magical dessert at Trio’s is Banana Delight, Capi’s Way. It’s a hunk of the banana dessert topped with a heaping scoop of ripe Arkansas strawberries. The shortcake gets all the attention, as it should, but this dessert is even better.
A Scoop of Grits
Next time you order gumbo at Maddie’s Place, ask your server to substitute a scoop of cheese grits for the rice. Trust me, they’ll do it, and your life will be better for it.
Java at Brave New Restaurant
Chef Peter Brave roasts his own coffee and sells it at Brave New Restaurant in 12-oz bags and K-cups. As far as I know, he is the only restaurant owner in town to do such a thing, which is cool. Oh, and the coffee happens to be fantastic.
Hidden Table at SO
SO has one of the more elegant, relaxed settings in Little Rock’s dining scene, but if you really want to get away from the crowd, the restaurant has one table for two on the back porch. It’s open-air and very secluded, making for a perfect al fresco dining experience.
The Jam at Rabbit Ridge
Many folks love Rabbit Ridge for their traditional offerings of locally produced chicken, pork, and beef, and while it’s not always available, the true hidden gem is one of their specialty items: bacon jam. If it’s in-stock, order it. Good luck if you can resist eating it straight out of the jar with the spoon.
Chef’s Tasting at Two Spots
Ever done a chef’s tasting? It’s a multi-course dining experience where the chef calls the shots, ideally for open-minded, non-picky food lovers who love to put their trust in folks who have mastered their craft. Two restaurants in the area that offer them are Ciao Baci and Brood & Barley, and both options are surprisingly affordable.
Get Saucy at Three Fold
You love the dumplings and noodle bowls at Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co., but did you know all the sauces can be purchased as well? It’s true. They come in jars and you can even purchase all four (spicy pepper, spicy chili, spicy chili oil, and soy sauce) for less than $30.
Kemuri Has an Upstairs
One of the most common questions I receive is, “What restaurants have private dining rooms for larger groups?” Answer: “Several do.” But one that you may not know about is Kemuri, which added a second story area above its main dining room and is a nice setting for groups.
Jam Out at Dave’s Place
I am not quite sure when it will return, but when it does, make sure to check out Dave’s Place on a Friday night. The food is great, but there is also a musical jam session that takes place, comprised of talented friends and family members of the restaurant. The entire evening feels like you’re sitting in someone’s living room while eating lasagna.
Syrups at Brood & Barley
David Burnette is one of the very best bartenders in Central Arkansas, and last year he started making small bottles of a few of his cocktail syrups to-go. My favorite is his old fashioned mix, which is around $15 and makes several drinks. All you have to do is add bourbon. Just make sure to call ahead to see if some is in-stock. During the holiday season, you won’t want to miss his bottles of egg nog.
Dim Sum is Back
Dim sum is back at Chi’s, and as far as I can tell, the Chenal location is the only restaurant in town offering the experience. Loosen your belt a few notches and indulge on a variety of offerings (like dumplings galore) as staff members wheel carts of food by the table.
Playtime at Esters
Ever been to Esters in SoMA? It’s a cool spot, perfect for a beer and bites, relaxing with friends, and playing games. Yes, playing games. Esters has an awesome space in the back, filled with a ping pong table, arcade games, and pinball machines.
Behold, The Party Platter at Heights Taco
Something tells me that many of y’all know about this one, if for no other reason because I’ve been writing about Heights Taco’s party platter several times over the course of the pandemic. The circular tray is filled with tacos, tamales, cheese dip, and chili with enough accompanying tortilla chips to feed an army. All told, this platter will fill up 5-6 people with ease and costs $65 (before tax and tip), which is a great value.
Matcha Latte at The Southern Standard
It’s not an item that is heavily showcased, but next time you’re at Me & McGee Market, walk over to The Southern Standard food truck and order one of their matcha lattes with your meal. You’ll swear you’re at a fancy tea/coffee shop.