Saturday, January 4, 2014

Broke and bored in Little Rock

Posted By on Sat, Jan 4, 2014 at 1:42 PM

I love the Christmas season, but it's an expensive time of year. Gifts and travel expenses tend to add up pretty quickly, so January usually finds me a little more strapped for cash than normal. Given that I've grown used to the glitzy life of a hotshot food writer, it's hard for me to maintain the level of high-adrenalin excitement I'm accustomed to on such a limited budget. All is not lost, however — there are ways to have an excellent day in Little Rock without having to break the bank. So without further delay, here's a day in the life of a poor man trying to cure his gloomy winter ennui:

*Breakfast: The so-called "most important meal of the day" need not be skipped just because you spent too much money over the holidays on fancy eggnog. Head down to SoMa to the Root and get an order of Eggs and Toast ($3.75). For that low price, you'll get two eggs done any which way you want them and some whole grain toast served with butter and homemade jam or jelly. This one-two punch of protein and carbs will provide just the sort of energy you'll need to start the day off right.

After breakfast, you'll probably want to get moving, so head on up to the William Jefferson Clinton Museum, just a few blocks north. Now since you're broke, you probably won't be able to actually go IN the museum (although they occasionally do free admission), but the surrounding grounds and park make for a lovely setting to stroll about our fair city. You're right on the River Trail, and since your feet will propel you for the bargain price of free, shuck off the cold weather by working up a sweat and seeing the sights.

River Market shopping isn't necessarily out of the question, either, even on a budget. New spice, herb, and tea shop Dandelion has all sorts of tasty teas to sample, and since it's a bulk store that sells its products by the ounce, picking up a few varieties to take home won't set you back very much at all.

*Lunch: By the time you've done all that walking, you'll probably be hungry again. Head down to Southwest Little Rock to Eliella Ristorante, a quaint and friendly Mexican cafe that is tops for cheap, delicious dining. Tacos at Eliella run about $1.50 - $1.75, and they're big enough that a couple can make for a satisfying lunch. My personal favorites are the tripa and al pastor, but really any of their wide selection of fillings is worth trying. There's a large salsa and toppings bar available, so take advantage of all those free condiments to add more bang for your buck.

After lunch, head up to the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center — admission is free, and you'll find a wealth of information about the history of our city. From the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame to exhibits about the historical role that African Americans have played in Little Rock, the Cultural Center is a museum like no other in the city. It's a great way to learn without hitting the pocketbook.

If museums aren't your thing, there are always the various branches of our Central Arkansas Library system, each a treasure trove of books, music, movies, and other multimedia materials. It's an amazing resource for learning and entertainment that can't be beat.

*Dinner: Dinner can be tricky to do on a budget, but not if you head over to Layla's. Ample portions and low prices mean that two people can split a pizza for around $7, or order a combination gyros and shawarma plate for $8.99. Layla's is a Little Rock institution, and there's a reason for it: the food is amazing, the people are friendly, and the prices are fantastic.

After dinner, Market Street Cinema is a relatively inexpensive option for entertainment at $8 a ticket. If that's beyond your means — well, you could have always grabbed some movies from the library earlier for a night in. A growler of beer from Vino's runs about $13, or you can forgo the alcohol and brew up some of that delicious tea from Dandelion. All in all, there are a lot of things to do in Little Rock that won't break the bank. I'm sure you all have a favorite for cheap eats and entertainment — let us know about them in the comments.

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