The Best Food and Drink in Arkansas for 2019
December 20, 2018
Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my ma and pa… But not the way that I do love food
The Best Food and Drink in Arkansas
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 second 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 brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer 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, and you can find our Arkansas gallery ahead.
Best Airport Restaurant: Ouachita Landing Bar and Grill (Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport)
A full service restaurant that you’ll have to get through security to reach, Ouachita Landing Bar and Grill has something to satisfy everyone. Not only can you get the usual wings, chicken tenders, and burgers, but the restaurant also serves catfish platters, Reuben sandwiches, and flatbreads such as the honey barbecue chicken and jalapeño BLT.
Best All You Can Eat Deal: Abe’s Old Feed House (Benton)
Abe’s Ole Feed House/Yelp
Abe’s Old Feed House is serving some of the finest fried catfish you’ll ever try, and better yet, they’ll serve you all you care to eat. You’ll find them on the buffet alongside catfish steaks, boiled and fried Gulf shrimp, fried chicken, fried frog’s legs, hickory-smoked ribs and sausages, a variety of fresh side dishes, and ice cream sundaes and fresh-made cinnamon rolls for dessert.
Best Bar: White Water Tavern (Little Rock)
White Water Tavern was 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.
Best Beer: BDCS, Ozark Beer Company (Rogers)
Ozark Beer Company’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Double Cream Stout is aged for seven months in 12-year-old Kentucky bourbon barrels with coffee beans from a local roaster. The result is everything you could imagine. There are obvious notes of whiskey and cocoa, with smaller hints of vanilla and spice. It has a luxuriously smooth and creamy pour, making it a true dessert beer.
Best Brunch: At the Corner (Little Rock)
Located in the heart of downtown Little Rock, At the Corner uses locally seasonal produce and scratch-made diner classics. You’ll find the expected omelettes, pancakes, breakfast platters, and biscuits and gravy, but there’s also chicken and waffles, brunch poutine with an egg on top, Arkansas strawberry and cream cheese crêpes, avocado toast, a pimento cheese burger, and Mason jar mimosas.
Best Burger: Big Orange (Little Rock)
Little Rock = Big Orange. This popular hangout boasts a full bar, modern décor, and the best burgers in town. They’re made with all-natural beef and as many fresh, local ingredients as possible, and most of them have a decidedly gourmet twist: There’s the Farmer’s Burger, with Havarti, a fried local egg, bacon from local Petit Jean Meats, butter leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion, and aïoli; the Spicy Pimento (with house-made spicy pimento cheese and pickled green tomato); the Hickory Smoke (sharp Cheddar, barbecue sauce, dill pickles, and fried onion strings); and the pièce de résistance, the White Truffle & pecorino (with pecorino cheese, arugula, fig jam, white truffle, and mayo).
Best Chinese Restaurant: Mr. Chen’s (Little Rock)
Photo by Saul K. via Yelp
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.
Best Chocolate Shop: Kyya Chocolate (Springdale)
If you thought chocolate around the world all tasted the same, Kyya Chocolate in Springdale will prove you wrong. This bean-to-bar chocolate shop makes a variety of single-origin dark chocolate treats, allowing customers to taste the subtle differences between offerings from Uganda, Ecuador, Madagascar, and beyond.
Best Coffee Shop: Kollective Coffee + Tea (Hot Springs)
Kollective Coffee + Tea/Yelp
Next time you're spending a relaxing weekend getaway in Hot Springs, Arkansas, check out Kollective Coffee + Tea, a coffee and tea house that specializes in local and organic products. All of their coffee and artisanal foods are certified organic or natural, and Kollective strives to offer top-quality locally-sourced products. They're also a great gathering place for the community; on Mondays, they host chess playing for homeschoolers of any age and any skill level, and on Wednesdays they have a poetry night where creative minds can come together.
Best Cupcake: Cupcakes on Kavanaugh (Little Rock)
Photo by Diana R. via Yelp
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.
Best Dive Bar: White Water Tavern (Little Rock)
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.
Best Doughnut: Mark’s Do-Nut Shop (North Little Rock)
Photo by Christopher C. via Yelp
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.
Best Farmers Market: Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, Fayetteville
Courtesy of Fayetteville Farmers Market
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 Food Truck: Andouille (Fayetteville)
Creole cuisine originated in Louisiana, but it draws inspiration from French, Spanish, West African, and Caribbean cultures. This spicy, piquant style of cooking has since expanded around the globe, including the short distance from Louisiana to Arkansas. The Andouille food truck offers their customers a wide selection of traditional Creole dishes such as red beans and andouille, chicken and sausage gumbo, and a mouth-watering roast beef po’boy. Their rice-based dishes like the jambalaya and “Cajun Stephen Special” (blackened chicken over rice, topped with cheese sauce) are all served with Cajun garlic bread. Yes, Cajun garlic bread.
Best Fried Chicken: Monte Ne Inn Chicken (Rogers)
There’s only one thing that can make a perfectly cooked fried chicken even better: being able to eat as much of it as you want. That’s the deal at this Northwest Arkansas institution, which has been serving country classics family-style for nearly 50 years. Pull up a chair and help yourself to all the fried chicken, bean soup, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, coleslaw, string beans, house-made rolls and apple butter you care to eat. The fried chicken is spot-on: buttermilk-soaked, dredged in flour seasoned with plenty of black pepper and paprika, and fried until crisp.
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 Hot Dog: Hot Rod Wieners (Little Rock)
You’ll find this truck roaming Central Arkansas from its home base in Little Rock, serving all-beef hot dogs on fresh-baked buns, topped with a variety of fresh-made sauces and toppings, many of which include local ingredients. Specialty dogs include the Italian Stallion (meaty marinara sauce, provolone, pepperoni chips, Parmesan, and basil); Hot Cheese Injection (six-pepper relish, hot pepper cheese sauce, and homemade hot sauce); and the El Ranchero (homemade chili, sharp Cheddar, and Fritos).
Best Hotel Restaurant: One Eleven at the Capital (Little Rock)
A serene and stylish white-tablecloth restaurant inside the Capital Hotel, One Eleven has hardwood floors, original artwork on the walls, and plenty of natural light. Executive chef Joël Antunes won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2005 for his Atlanta restaurant Joël, and his culinary skills are on serious display here in dishes like cured and smoked pork loin with mostarda chutney; roast duck breast with duck tortellini and honey ginger sauce; grilled prime beef fillet with bordelaise; and seared diver scallops with shiitake mushrooms, potato gnocchi, and lemon beurre blanc. The wine list is also expertly curated.
Best Ice Cream: Burton’s Comfort Creamery (Fayetteville)
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.
Most Expensive Restaurant: One Eleven at the Capital (Little Rock)
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).
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Hubcap Burger, Ed Walker's Drive-In (Fort Smith)
Ed Walker's Drive-In & Restaurant/Yelp
Ed Walker's Drive-In is a drive-in and diner with a 1950s vibe and a classic menu that contains many items that have been served since 1943. The most impressive, however, is their Hubcap Burger – named due to its size, as the patty on the giant bun weighs 5 pounds!
Best Pancakes: The Pancake Shop (Hot Springs)
Artifact Adventure C./Yelp
Serving some of Arkansas’ finest breakfasts since 1940, The Pancake Shop serves a no-frills menu of breakfast staples, including six pancake varieties: buttermilk, buckwheat, blueberry, buckwheat blueberry, apple, and banana. Whatever you order, you can expect your pancakes to be big, fluffy, and perfectly golden brown.
Best Pasta Dish: Lasagna Imbotito, Bruno’s Little Italy (Little Rock)
Yelp/ Elissa M.
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: Griddled Pimento Cheese, The Hive (Bentonville)
Michelle Lynn S./Yelp
Pimento cheese is one of the stars of the menu at Matthew McClure’s showstopping Bentonville restaurant The Hive, located in the 21c Museum Hotel. The four-time James Beard Award semifinalist makes his pimento cheese with shredded mixed cheeses, mayo, sriracha, garlic powder, salt, cider vinegar, and roasted bell pepper; he serves it with toast, on a burger, or griddled with bacon jam between two slices of white bread. The latter option (only available during lunch) is the one to try: The toast is soft and crunchy, the cheese is melty and gooey, and the bacon jam (made with bacon, onion, brown sugar, cider vinegar, and maple syrup) kicks it into the stratosphere.
Best Soup: Caldo de Pollo, Rosalinda (Little Rock)
Yelp/ Sug D.
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 2019.