The Best Food and Drink in Arkansas for 2018 from The Best Food and Drink in Arkansas for 2018 (Gallery)
The Best Food and Drink in Arkansas for 2018 (Gallery)
Photos Modfied: istockphoto.com
The Best Food and Drink in Arkansas for 2018
Though Arkansas is often overlooked as a food destination in the United States, the landlocked Southern state is hiding some epic eats. Bordered by the cultural and culinary hub of Louisiana and the Deep South languor of Mississippi — not to mention Oklahoma and Texas to the west, Tennessee to the east (with Memphis directly across the river), and Missouri to the north — Arkansas is a crossroads, and it boasts many of the delicious flavors that might more typically be associated with its neighbors. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
The most populous city is the state capital, Little Rock, a city that has been attracting diversity since its economy bloomed after World War II. It is now considered a hub for transportation, business, culture, and of course government. Many of our favorite food items hail from this city, since it has attracted both growth and tourism more than the rest of the state’s cities.
If you venture to travel to Arkansas, we recommend visiting its forests and hiking among the Arkansas Timberlands to enjoy the beautiful weather. After your hike and perhaps a visit to the meandering Mississippi River, you will be starving and ready to chow down at one of the state’s best places to eat.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and farmers markets to its best dive bar and craft brewery in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state.
Facebook/The White Water Tavern
Best Bar: White Water Tavern (Little Rock)
White Water Tavern was recently named one of Esquire magazine’s best bars in America, and while it’s not the oldest bar in Little Rock, it has quite an interesting history. Originally opened in the 1940s as a beer bar called The Pitcher, the place was founded under the White Water name in 1976 by two canoe enthusiasts. Thirty days later, it was badly damaged in a fire — an intentional fire set by Ron O’Neal, whose family owned another bar in town, and who also torched another local bar, Bennigan’s Tavern, on the same night. O’Neal wasn’t done setting White Water on fire, however, and he did it again in 1982. (In all, O’Neal was responsible for fires at a minimum of six local businesses, and is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder.) A third fire ravaged the establishment in the late ‘90s, this time accidental, and the business changed hands shortly after. However, it continues to thrive, mostly off of sales of PBR and Jameson, along with other whiskey and beer, and simple staples like vodka, gin, rum, and Jägermeister. The walls are still adorned with some of the same bric-a-brac from the old days, even though a lot of it was removed by patrons prior to the change of ownership in the ‘90s. Eventually many of the mementos returned after it was clear the beloved White Water Tavern wasn’t going to hell under the new owners and would remain the same solid hangout that it always was.
Courtesy of Lost Forty Brewing Company
Best Beer: Nighty Night by Lost Forty
Photo by Saul K. via Yelp
Best Chinese Restaurant: Mr. Chen’s, Little Rock
If you’re looking for authentic Chinese fare in Little Rock, look no further than Mr. Chen’s. Sure, you’ll find your usual assortment of Chinese-American dishes (all expertly prepared), but venturing outside of your comfort zone will be rewarded. Don’t miss the Sichuan beef stew noodle soup, braised beef shanks, salted crispy chicken, fresh steamed fish, and braised beef belly in hot pot.
Photo by Diana R. via Yelp
Best Cupcake: Cupcakes on Kavanaugh, Little Rock
Built on the work of four generations of bakers, this cupcakery has industry know-how and inventiveness on their side, featuring both traditional and more unique flavors ranging from cookies ’n cream to oatmeal cream pie. The rum-infused pineapple piña colada cupcake is a life-changing coconut cake, iced with coconut rum buttercream for a delicious confection you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Plus, the presentation is practically flawless, with a healthy balance between cake and frosting.
Cupcakes are way better than squirrel meat, but the competitors in this cook-off might feel differently.
Best Dive Bar: White Water Tavern
Cheap drinks, good food, and good folks can be found at the White Water Tavern in Little Rock. What more can you ask for? This historic bar has survived three raging arson fires, and it’s still standing strong thanks to stiff whiskey cocktails and a fabulous rotation of live musical acts.
Photo by Christopher C. via Yelp
Best Doughnut: Mark’s Do-Nut Shop, North Little Rock
This small, family-owned doughnut shop is a hidden gem. The team at Mark’s has been focused on selling its signature doughnuts since 1978, and we really hope it never stops. On your first visit, try the classic plain glazed, which is satisfyingly fluffy, sweet, and often still warm, and coated in a layer of hot sugar: Breakfast doesn’t get much better than this.
Courtesy of Fayetteville Farmers Market
Best Farmers Market: Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, Fayetteville
Often called the "Crown Jewel of Fayetteville," the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market has provided fresh and local products to the community for more than 40 years. From the early morning, the market is busy with shoppers, farmers, crafters, musicians, and even a juggler. The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market is open year-round, and the outdoor summer market is open every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from April to November.
Best Grocery Store: Edwards Food Giant
Edwards Food Giant: There are seven Edwards Food Giant stores reliably serving the people of Arkansas. Most importantly, they are viewed quite favorably in reviews, as seen here: “This store is always remarkably clean with friendly staff. Their meat quality and prices cannot be beat!”
Best Italian Restaurant: Wood Stone Craft Pizza & Bar, Fayetteville
Wood Stone has been bringing top notch pizza to South Fayetteville’s Mill District since summer 2014. Owners Clayton Suttle and Jerrmy Gawthorp are crafting some unique and high-quality pizzas made with impeccably sourced ingredients (local when possible) and firing them in a custom-built wood-burning oven. Standouts include the Bloomington (caramelized onion and rosemary marmalade, gorgonzola, house-made Italian sausage, and rosemary); Late Harvest (local butternut squash puree, uncured ham, bacon, house-made ricotta, sage, parmesan, roasted Brussels sprouts, and honey gastrique); and the Carolina (smoked local pork, mustard barbecue sauce, asiago cream sauce, roasted red onion, cabbage slaw). Dip the “bones” in your choice of five sauces, and wash it down with a local beer.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Taqueria El Palenque, Little Rock
Hiding in a hidden corner of an anonymous strip mall, this tiny taquería is turning out some seriously authentic Mexican fare for in-the-know locals. Specialties like enchiladas, carnitas, and shrimp cocktail are fresh and flavorful, and tacos (which only cost $1.49) are available in seven meat options running the gamut from al pastor to buche (pork stomach), and the grilled carne asada is perfection.
One Eleven at the Capital, Little Rock
Most Expensive Restaurant: One Eleven at the Capital, Little Rock
Little Rock’s priciest restaurant is located inside the Capital Hotel, and is overseen by James Beard Award-winning chef Joël Antunes. His appetizers range in price from $13 (chicken liver mousse) to $24 (cheese plate), and entrees start at $26 (crab cake) and top out at $46 (filet mignon).
Yelp/ Elissa M.
Best Pasta Dish: Bruno’s Little Italy, Little Rock: Lasagna Imbotito
One of Little Rock’s most popular Italian restaurants, this classic family-owned red sauce joint has been going strong since 1949. Just about everything on the menu is spot-on, but the Lasagna Imbotito is nothing short of legendary, a must-order. It’s layered with ricotta, mozzarella, and romano cheese, but the real kicker is what comes next: Italian sausage, meatballs, and various cured Italian meats. This is one kicked-up lasagna.
Best Sandwich: Hillcrest Artisan Meats, Little Rock: Beef Cheek
Ask any Little Rock local where to find the city’s best sandwiches, and they’ll point you in the direction of the city’s best butcher shop, Hillcrest Artisan Meats. Affectionately called H.A.M, the shop has been serving delicious and creative sandwiches since opening in 2011, but its most coveted (and most infrequently offered) one also happens to be its most delicious. Braised beef cheeks are shredded and topped with caramelized onions, Gruyère, horseradish, aïoli, and arugula. It’s nicknamed “The Get Here Early” for a reason.
Yelp/ Sug D.
Best Soup: Rosalinda, Little Rock: Caldo de Pollo
Yes, the best bowl of soup in Arkansas can be found at a real-deal Honduran restaurant in Little Rock called Rosalinda. This hidden gem serves a caldo de pollo (chicken soup) that’s essentially perfect: The homemade stock is slow-cooked for hours, and it’s loaded with big chunks of chicken (don’t be surprised if you get a whole leg), plenty of vegetables, and mild seasonings. You actually won’t mind catching a cold if it gives you an excuse to eat this soup every day.
Best Steakhouse: Riverfront Steakhouse, North Little Rock
An Arkansas gem, Riverfront may not look like much (it’s tucked in next to a Benihana inside a hotel), but don’t be fooled: The steaks here are USDA Prime and darn good. The 30-item salad bar is old-school and well-stocked, baked potatoes are the size of your head, and the 24-ounce porterhouse (the top seller) is, like all the steaks, heavily salted and peppered, seared in an infrared broiler, basted in butter, then placed back in the broiler to crisp up the crust. With steaks ranging from $25.95 to $44.95, it’s nothing short of a steal. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.