Find out more →

Get unlimited access. Become a digital member!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quit passing by El Palenque

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 10:12 AM

IMG_3364.JPG

Any Little Rock Mexican food enthusiast worth his/her salt already knows that some of the finest south-of-the-border cuisine is readily found south-of-the-630. Southwest Little Rock is a beloved section of town that any resident anxious to explore the more authentic (and notably more affordable) side of Mexican cuisine will wisely visit often. There’s certainly establishments all over town that cater to the see-and-be-seen crowd, and there’s surely nothing wrong with wanting to slurp down cerviche and drown oneself in margaritas while wearing 6-inch stilettos or your J. Crew herringbone Italian linen sport coat. Hey, I like J. Crew, I also happen to like greasy $1.25 carne asada tacos that drip meat juice and salsa verde down the front of your shirt, but sometimes the two seem to be at odds with each other. Finding a truly “authentic” Mexican experience (however trite the term may be) in some neighborhoods around Little Rock can be a rather difficult feat.

I’ve driven down the strip of Rodney Parham Rd housing Taqueria El Palenque dozens of times without even noticing it existed. But its placement within this small shopping complex—more likely made famous by Layla’s—does not exactly allow the small Mexican restaurant to jump out at travelers zipping by on the nearby busy street. But I was fortunate to find it, and was even more fortunate to sample some of their exemplary food.

Spinach and mushroom quesadilla
  • Spinach and mushroom quesadilla
Perusing through El Palenque's menu, it did not take long to determine what I'd be ordering. Being on a burrito hunt (and having heard good things about El Palenque's version), I was immediately drawn to the prospects of a plump, weighty, al pastor burrito. Ordering this was a wise decision, as it was certainly one of the better iterations of I've found around Little Rock. The components are nothing unexpected, but each part works together to elevate the whole. The soft flour tortilla was tender and chewy, but sturdy enough to support its insides. Most notably, the pork and the Spanish rice were exceptionally good. Most often, I've found the rice to be a low point if not properly prepared. This rice was a bright, sassy orange, well seasoned and rich with tomato and onion. The marinated pork was a wonderful addition as well—juicy and tender, spiced with ancho chile and adobo seasoning. This spicy meat was suitably complemented by some of the cooling elements within: white cheese, sour cream, freshly shredded lettuce, and chopped tomato. Here was a burrito that could hold its own in any part of the country, proving the Little Rock is no stranger to quality Mexican fare.

Next, I was enticed by the spinach and mushroom quesadilla. Here you'll find a vegetarian dish that leaves no one yearning for the inclusion of protein—it's perfectly flavored as it is. This quesadilla was not the typical flattened, thin version you may be used to. Instead, El Palenque's take on the classic quesadilla finds a large flour tortilla rolled and stuffed full, then sliced on the bias. This creates several handheld pieces of bulging quesadilla, perfect for dipping in either of their two house-made salsas. It was engorged with creamy white, melted cheese, whose bold saltiness was at the forefront of the quesadilla's flavor. Caramelized, slightly sweet bell pepper, sautéed spinach, and mushrooms rounded out this magnificent dish. I don't always order quesadillas—most often leaning towards the standard tacos and burritos—but I'll likely be eating them a bit more often, as I found this order exceptionally rewarding.

For a part of town not particularly well-known for stand-out Mexican cuisine, El Palenque is a real peach, and I'm lucky to have found it. It's likely this place hasn't received the attention it deserves given its rather inconspicuous location, but it's high time the world know about what El Palenque is proffering. Southwest Little Rock may still be the epicenter of fine Mexican cuisine, but this humble establishment can keep up with anything you'd find in that part of town.

(Taqueria El Palenque is located at 9501 N Rodney Parham Rd, Little Rock)

Tags: , , , , ,

Speaking of...

  • Kool Keith celebrates his birthday at The Joint

    October 10, 2014
    Fans of '90s and '00s underground hip-hop were treated to a special performance of Kool Keith at The Joint on Thursday. It got pretty weird, as was to be expected from an eccentric performer like Keith. /more/
  • A return to form and more at Jason's

    September 24, 2014
    A classic Hot Springs eatery is back open under original ownership and better than ever. /more/
  • Review: 'Memphis' at The Rep

    September 22, 2014
    You can’t help but feel the heat of summertime Memphis in 1958 as the forbidden love story of white radio DJ Huey Calhoun (Brent DiRoma) and black club singer Felicia Farrell (Jasmin Richardson) unfolds before you on the stage of the Arkansas Repertory Theater. It’s one of the hottest, loudest musicals I’ve ever seen at The Rep, and perhaps the most uplifting since “Les Mis” came to Main Street in 2008. /more/
  • Slim Chickens impresses with sliders

    September 2, 2014
    Chicken sliders at Slim Chickens are a messy, wonderful thing to eat. /more/
  • Another shot at The Fold

    August 20, 2014
    After a tepid review a year ago, we revisit The Fold in Riverdale. How will the restaurant fare this time? /more/
  • Live Review: James Taylor at Verizon Arena

    August 11, 2014
    Looking around Verizon Arena ten minutes before James Taylor took the stage on Friday night, this writer, 19 himself, noted fans young and old alike — white-haired women in flashing red glasses scooting past a gaggle of teenagers, a wide-eyed boy of about seven clutching his father’s hand in a stairwell, and senior lawyers and businessmen sipping beer in a booth. When asked Taylor’s age, my own 14-year-old sister answered correctly. He’s 66. /more/
  • OK, so I was wrong about Local Lime

    August 1, 2014
    Two visits a year apart bring different results. Sometimes it pays to go back and try things again. /more/
  • More »

Comments (14)

Showing 1-14 of 14

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-14 of 14

Add a comment

More by Daniel Walker

  • The Kraft Mac & Cheese Food Hack

    Recently, we held another food hack competition, taking another childhood classic, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and tried to turn it on its head, creating something entirely new and unique. Again, the results were pretty awesome. The rules were simple: Use a whole box of mac and cheese, both noodles and cheese powder, and turn it into any sinister monstrosity imaginable. We had a vote via the Eat Arkansas Facebook page to crown a winner. Here's what was submitted:
    • Jul 30, 2014
  • Food Feedback Friday: The "We need your vote!" edition

    Alrighty...you know the drill with Food Feedback. Tell us what you're eating this week and what you thought about it. I love to hear all the suggestions and I'm frequently looking back through your recommendations to determine my next meal. So share away! Happy weekend, y'all.
    • Jul 25, 2014
  • Looking in on the new Le Pops, now in the Heights

    Le Pops is a wonderful addition to the Heights neighborhood. Laurie Harrison is incredibly dedicated to her product, she still works here 7 days a week and is constantly experimenting in the kitchen to develop new flavors. Check them out the next time you need a cool down.
    • Jul 24, 2014
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Koch mailer: We know who you are, we know if you vote

    Still more complaints rolling in — including from Republicans — about the mail campaign of the Koch-brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity to scare people into voting.
  • Pat Hays' NRA membership riles Republicans

    Democratic 2nd District Congress candidate Pat Hays is causing conniption fits among Republicans because a new TV ad shows him with his guns and mentions his long-time membership in the National Rifle Association.
  • Talk is cheap; state government isn't: Preparing for the new GOP order

    The state looks at rising prison and school costs in a world where the theme of Republican political campaigns is reducing government and cutting taxes. Does anybody in that party know arithmetic?
  • Live Review: Nahko and Medicine for the People at Rev Room

    Thursday night, Portland, Oregon’s Nahko and Medicine for the People brought their “musical medicine” to Little Rock’s Revolution Music Room, a fitting venue for the socially-conscious music collective. Their uplifting medley of folk, urban and world music, as well as hypnotizing videos featuring their music have enchanted activist-minded music fans across the world in the relatively short time they have been creating music together.
  • What about the Arkansas ballot issues?

    To give the legislature more power, the people less, a wetter state, longer term limits and a bump in the minimum wage.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation