Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Taco time at Local Lime

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Pork belly, chorizo, and beer battered fish tacos
  • Pork belly, chorizo, and beer battered fish tacos
Few restaurants in central Arkansas have been as hotly anticipated as Local Lime. I will openly acknowledge that I have not been immune to the hype surrounding this place. We were initially promised an opening “no later than Oct. 1,” but that date came and went and we had little more info regarding that promised day. I started to get a little fussy at this point. Yet after many sleepless nights, tossing and turning with tacos on the brain, Local Lime announced its arrival to The Promenade at Chenal. Needless to say, I was excited. All this enthusiasm over tacos and margaritas begs the question, “Does it actually live up to the hype?” The answer to that question, my friends, is simple: Yes, definitely. In fact, it largely exceeded my rather lofty expectations.

As the dinner crowds have been reportedly rather large, with waits quoted at up to 2 hours, we opted to stop in for lunch on a Saturday afternoon…no wait, grabbed a comfortable table on the patio. I was in my happy place.

The decent-sized menu at Local Lime starts with a selection of freshly prepared, housemade salsas, then there’s a handful of small plates, a group of starters and snacks for the table to share. Among these small plates you’ll find made-to-order guacamole, queso, Mexican corn on the cob, cerviche, and nachos. Entrees include a variety of taco plates which include three tacos and two sides, with each plate ranging between $9-12. Conversely, diners may opt to order any of the eight taco varieties a la carte for $3.75 a pop (certainly not the cheapest tacos in town). A trio of salads and a small selection of plated dishes such as grilled salmon, enchiladas, and bacon-wrapped shrimp round out the entrée section.

Trio of salsas
  • Trio of salsas
We began with the trio of salsas (which I highly suggest you do as well). Unlike most Mexican joints around town, salsa at Local Lime is not unlimited or complimentary. For $2.50 you’ll select three salsas from a list of six house-made options, served with a large bowl of thick and crispy corn chips. Our first selection, the “tres chilies” was a deep red-colored blend of pasilla, ancho, and arbol peppers with fresh garlic, charred onion, and charred tomato, finished with a sprinkle of queso fresco. The end result is an earthy, flavorful concoction with subtly sweet and smoky notes, perfectly complimented by the mild burn of the three pepper varieties. This was supposedly the “spiciest” of the house salsas, but I found it to be rather timid. The touch of queso lent a cool, creamy flavor to the salsa, making this an altogether wonderful start to our meal. The second salsa was a blend of roasted zucchini, green chili, cilantro, Mexican crema, and lime. This was finished with a topping of toasted pumpkin seeds. Again, we found this salsa to be highly impressive. The nutty pumpkin seeds paired with the crisp, acidic zucchini mixture was particularly refreshing. We were, thus far, very pleased with our selections. The “house tomato” was rather dull, however, by comparison. A mixture of tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and cilantro, it was on par with salsas you’d see at most ordinary Mexican restaurants, not bad by any means, but not as exciting as our first two.

Local nachos
  • Local nachos
As a starter, we chose the “Local Nachos.” While I expected a heaping pile of sloppy, sopping-with-cheese, soggy-chipped nachos, luckily, what we got was nothing of the sort. This was a plate of a dozen or so thick corn tortilla chips, each carefully topped with smoothly blended black beans, jack cheese, bell pepper, goat cheese, and Mexican crema. We opted for the addition of grilled chicken, a wise choice indeed. The inclusion of goat cheese was especially nice as it paired well with the tangy, almost tart, fresh Mexican crema. The chicken was diced into chunks and came out perfectly grilled, slightly charred and juicy. My dining companion declared them to be the best nachos he’d ever eaten. I’m not arguing.

Lastly came our taco plates. Tacos are fashioned in “street style” form, in other words, they tend to be on the smaller side and aren’t overflowing with fillings. Both corn or flour tortillas are offered, though each taco option comes with a suggested tortilla type. Let me just say that each taco we sampled was fantastic. It’s clear that a good amount of thought and attention went into each one’s creation. Each element feels balanced and perfectly proportioned. A few of our selections deserve special mention. First, the glorious pork belly taco. I’m not sure how, in my many years of taco-eating, I’ve never eaten a pork belly taco before, but now that I have, I’m not sure how I survived without it. The unctuous pork belly is grilled and slightly sweetened with a light coating of sauce. Accompanying this is a mango-papaya salsa, house hot sauce, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Quite frankly, it’s one of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten. Not far behind it was the chorizo taco which utilizes spicy, locally-produced ground sausage, chunks of sweet caramelized pineapple, and jack cheese. It’s a dazzling blend of sweet, spicy, and creamy. Another exceptional selection included the beer battered fish with crispy, delicate whitefish coated in a crunchy batter with shaved cabbage, pico de gallo, and red pepper crema. Lastly, we sampled the lovely pork carnitas made from locally raised pork, slow roasted until tender, with tangy pickled red onion, a sharp and salty cotija cheese, and more red pepper crema. Each taco was distinctly different from the next and the flavors never veered into monotony. If I had the stomach space to sample every taco on the menu, I would have, but luckily none of our selections turned out to be disappointing.

Local Lime is not so interested in creating an “authentic Mexican experience.” What they are interested in is using as much locally produced ingredients and incorporating them into their own take on Mexican cuisine. The results are impressive. If you don’t start seeing Local Lime on a number of upcoming Arkansas “best of” lists in the near future, it will be nothing short of a food crime.

Local Lime
17815 Chenal Pkwy
Little Rock
Sun-Thur: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Fri-Sat: 11 a.m. — 12 a.m.

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