Appetizers have been top-of-mind this month here at AY Magazine, so I wanted to chime in with a few of my own favorite meal starters throughout Arkansas, but with an admittedly heavier concentration in Little Rock. One thing is for certain, these 10 below are sure to please.
Onion Rings at Seaton’s Scott Place (Scott)
I am not quite ready to say that these are the best onion rings in Arkansas, but if you know of any better, please give me a shout. The folks at Seaton’s got their hands on the beloved Fisher’s Steak House recipe, one that produces a thin-cut, hand-breaded ring that is so light and delicious.
Fried Green Tomatoes at Maddie’s Place (Little Rock)
While you can take your pick from the plethora of appetizers at Maddie’s Place, I absolutely adore the super crispy fried green tomatoes with blue crab and remoulade. That said, the truffle Parmesan fries are a very close second.
Egg Rolls at Oriental Gardens (El Dorado)
I am a sucker for a great egg roll – always have been. But with most restaurants nowadays choosing to serve those terrible frozen ones that resemble a fried test tube, finding one made in-house with bits of pork and cabbage is nearly impossible. Thank goodness for Oriental Gardens in El Dorado.
Pupusa at Rosalinda’s (North Little Rock)
Rosalinda’s makes fantastic Salvadoran and Honduran food, and I always enjoy starting my meal off with a cheese pupusa. This circular, thick flatbread is filled with melted cheese and topped with slaw and salsa. The concoction is quite filling, so I recommend limiting your order to one or two.
Smoked Pork Belly Fries at Saiwok Vietnamese Street Food (Rogers)
Kudos to Saiwok on their use of crinkle-cut fries for this delightful gut bomb appetizer. The fried potato is then topped with mayo sauce, smoked pork belly, and a fried egg, taking gluttony to an entirely new level of greatness.
Shrimp Tchoupitoulas at The Faded Rose (Little Rock)
This appetizer combines two of my greatest joys in life, butter and shrimp. Toss in a little minced parsley and chopped green onion, along with some Leidenheimer rounds that manage to soak up everything like a sponge, and you’re looking at one of the most iconic meal starters in all of Little Rock.
Jalapeno Cheddar Tots at Ciao Baci (Little Rock)
I am not knocking frozen-then-fried tots, the kind you see at 99 percent of restaurants, but the house made variety are just on another level of greatness. Ciao Baci does a jalapeno cheddar version with buttermilk dill ranch that will blow your socks off.
House Made Ricotta at The Pantry (Little Rock)
Speaking of house made, The Pantry does a wonderful ricotta with a pool of extra virgin olive oil and sliced bread as one of their regular apps. There is something so simple and comforting about this dish and it pairs well with a local beer.
Lumpia at Whilma’s Filipino Restaurant (Searcy)
Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll with a paper-thin pastry skin that is typically filled with ground pork and cabbage and deep fried to a golden perfection. If you’ve never tried this wildly addictive dish, Whilma’s in Searcy is a great place to start.
Fried Shrimp at Doe’s Eat Place (Little Rock)
When it comes to food, simple is usually better, and it doesn’t get much simpler than twelve Doe’s fried shrimp circling a small bowl of tartar sauce. I guess you could treat it as a full meal, rather than an appetizer, but why even go to Doe’s without ordering the three-pound Porterhouse?