Progressive dinners are as popular as ever, and Little Rock has the neighborhoods and restaurants to help pull off a fun-filled evening of eating.
“It is a true walking neighborhood.”
What happens when you combine walkable neighborhoods with can’t-miss restaurants and great weather? Answer: a progressive dinner. Never participated in one? No worries, I will guide you through the entire process. And while I will be focusing on three neighborhoods — Hillcrest, the Heights and SoMA — just know that a progressive dinner is ideal in just about any major area of town, and that includes Argenta, Park Hill, downtown and Chenal, just to name a few.
First things first, a progressive dinner is when you choose a different restaurant or bar for each course, and once finished with one course, walk to the next place for another. Just park your car at the beginning of the evening and spend the rest of your time on foot. Saturday is the perfect time for one of these, and I’d encourage you to start in the late afternoon or early evening. Why? Because this ensures that most, if not all, of the restaurants will be open. Starting at 5 p.m., for example, also lets you begin the adventure when most places are just opening and are not full. Progressive dinners typically take between three to five hours (one hour at each stop) and are usually best with four to six participants. This allows folks to try a few items at each location but doesn’t overwhelm an establishment with larger groups. First-timers should consider beginning with a 3-course progressive dinner. For the more experienced eaters and drinkers, feel free to add as many stops as you’d like, but I find that most folks tire a bit after the third restaurant. Remember, the point of this crawl is to have fun, try out new dishes, and support local restaurants. If you overdo things with massive amounts of food and drink at too many spots, the evening does begin to wear on you. With all that said, let’s get to it!
When it comes to progressive dinners, the Hillcrest neighborhood certainly stands out with a plethora of fantastic options, especially along Kavanaugh Boulevard. “It is hard to explain, but the feel of Hillcrest makes it perfect for a night wandering and imbibing,” says co-owner of Leo’s Greek Castle, Frank Cox III. “We have cute shops, restaurants with tons of history and beautiful foliage and homes. It is a true walking neighborhood.”
In fact, Cox’s restaurant is a perfect spot for stop No. 2. Just make sure to start off the night across the street at La Terraza Rum & Lounge with one of their signature mojitos, an order each of Yuca Frita and Carpaccio de Lomito, a thinly sliced beef carpaccio with sliced mushrooms, parmesan, and basil aioli. If the weather is right, spend an hour on the outdoor deck, sipping on cocktails and splitting those appetizers.
Afterward, head over to Leo’s Greek Castle for some more patio dining, albeit a little more rustic in nature but still a spot ideal for a hungry group. “Nobody should attempt to eat a Leo Burger without the support of a loved one. Split one of those and a Gyro Platter, and you’ll find that your relationship has never been stronger,” Cox says.
You won’t have to stroll very far for dessert. The Pantry Crest is less than a block away and home to one of the very best desserts in town, their ever-popular cheesecake. The brûlée top is what separates this cheesecake from the competition.
Need More Suggestions?
Stop #1: Wine and a large charcuterie plate at Ciao Baci
Stop #2: Salpicão and Arroz con Feijão at Café Bossa Nova
Stop #3: Cappuccino Jar at Kemuri
“There are many local dives to dine and experience our foodie scene.”
Similar in layout and close in proximity to Hillcrest is the Heights. And like Hillcrest, most of my suggestions will even reside on Kavanaugh Boulevard, the road that winds its way through the heart of town and both neighborhoods. Jacob Chi, owner of three neighborhood establishments — Sushi Café, Lulu’s Seafood Kitchen and Prospect Bar and Grill — is obviously a big fan of the area. He explains, “The Heights is the perfect place in Little Rock to celebrate with friends and family in a progressive dinner. There are many local dives to dine and experience our foodie scene. Our family has always loved the Heights and have made considerable efforts to give customers in this part of Little Rock more options to sample.” I can’t think of a better place to start the evening than at Sushi Café.
“Our sushi menu naturally lends itself for groups to sample a touch of different items,” Chi says. “A few of these we would recommend are the Heights Roll, Kavanaugh Roll and our best-seller, the Bomb Roll. Guests often share a Cafe Pad Thai or the Hogs Plate. These are very popular and would lend themselves to be the perfect dishes for a party of four or more to progressively dine.”
Keep the seafood theme going by walking just around the corner to Lulu’s Seafood Kitchen. Chi says, “The new seasonal menu focuses on crawfish. Our Crawfish with Friends includes five pounds of fresh Louisiana crawfish and is served in our signature Lulu’s Sauce with a ‘Hot to Trot’ spice level. Our All-In Seafood Bucket is also the perfect dish for sharing and includes snow crab, one pound of Louisiana crawfish, lobster tail, a half-pound of Gulf shrimp, three pieces of corn and potatoes.”
Satiate your sweet tooth with a short jaunt to Le Pops. Just think of a flavor and Le Pops probably makes an irresistibly good popsicle with its inclusion. I am particularly fond of the salted caramel, but if you’re in the mood for something fruity, the strawberry is always a hit.
Need More Suggestions?
Beer, Baked Pimento Cheese, and Frites at Boulevard Bistro
Cuban Nachos and Combination Fajitas at Baja Grill
Gelato at ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.
“… one of the hottest neighborhoods in town.”
The SoMa District is one of the hottest neighborhoods in town and home to several local bars, food shops and restaurants. For a progressive dinner, the options seem endless, but we’ll begin our suggested adventure at Esters, the pub that appeals to beer-drinkers and connoisseurs of good food with a menu that draws in herbivores and meat-eaters alike. “Esters is like a mullet — a traditional dining space with local art and a vegan deli in front, but it’s a party in the back with video games, pinball and ping-pong,” says owner Evan Mathis. “We pride ourselves on being laid-back and family-friendly, but there’s always a chance for a rowdy Friday night.”
I suggest going with an order of Nugs, hand-battered then fried vegan chicken tenders with a choice of sauce or dry rub. The fluffy hushpuppies, with bits of onion, jalapeño and a house-made remoulade sauce for dipping, are also a good option, so consider getting an order for the table. Wash it all down with a local beer. Mathis says, “As far as beer pairings, I may have to lean towards the Lost Forty Brewing Second Rodeo for a light and clean palate cleanser to wash it all down. It would complement the spice of a Buffalo sauce or the tang of a remoulade.”
Afterward, walk a short block to Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom for a pizza and chicken parm sandwich, two options that are excellent for sharing. For pizza, I recommend going with the Quattro, a four-cheese pie with Buffalo mozzarella, ricotta, provolone, and shaved parmesan, the latter of which will also reside on the mountain of a chicken sandwich you just ordered. Raduno pairs the panko-crusted fried chicken breast with pesto and house-made marinara, along with melted mozzarella on toasted Boulevard Bread Company focaccia.
With stomach space now at a premium, head across the street to Loblolly Creamery for a scoop or two of the classic double vanilla ice cream or a flavor of your choice.
Need More Suggestions?
Stop #1: Axl Roll at Rock n Roll Sushi
Stop #2: Beer and Nachos Rocas at Mockingbird Bar & Tacos
Stop #3: Bread Pudding at The Root Café