I never would have pegged Benton to be a hot spot for tacos, but between the authentic brick-and-mortar taquerias and tasty taco trucks, I'm changing my tune. I've had several requests from readers to visit another Benton taco truck, Baja Grill, and so to all those readers I say: thank you, because it's one of the best food trucks in Central Arkansas. Baja Grill bills itself as Mexi-Cali cuisine, and while I can't claim enough experience to vouch for its authenticity in that regard, I've put enough tacos in my face to say for sure that these are some of the tastiest and most unique around. They've also got a very nice setup of shaded tables arranged around the truck, a luxury that many of our food trucks in Little Rock don't have.
Since Arkansas is the land of cheese dip, we decided to start off our meal with a small order of Chips and Queso Blanco ($2.95) and were treated to a smooth, white dip that clung to the chips nicely. The queso itself was mild, but liberally spiked with chunks of diced jalapeno that gave it a nice kick. We were impressed that the chips themselves came out warm and crisp — something expected from a sit-down restaurant, but a nice surprise from the smaller quarters of a food truck. The queso wasn't anything ground-breaking, but it was tasty and made for the perfect meal starter.
When our tacos arrived, we were surprised at how large they were. The Baja Beef ($3.25) was a generous portion of tender shredded beef topped with cheese, cilantro, and some of the freshest tasting pico de gallo I've ever had. Having always preferred shredded beef in my tacos, I was pleased at the savory, slow roasted flavor of the beef and impressed with the way that the flavors all melded together to make each bite nicely balanced. This taco has a different flavor profile than your typical carne asada taco, but beef-lovers should still find a lot to love about it.
Even better than the beef taco was The Cuban ($3.25), a pork taco piled high with sour orange red cabbage-jicama slaw, avacado, cheese, and chipotle aioli. In addition to being one of the prettiest dishes I've ever had the pleasure to eat, the flavors of this taco were unlike any I've ever had with the rich, savory marinated pork complimented perfectly by the slightly crunchy slaw and a spicy sauce that was tempered by cool, creamy avocado. It took about three bites for me to declare it my new favorite taco. As with the beef, the pork was shredded, almost like pulled pork, and with a spice to it that was subtle but effective. It's a taco that walks the line between being good and almost too much, but the proportion of meat to topping keeps it busy but not unbalanced.
Our last dish, a Chicken Quesadilla ($5.25), wasn't nearly as impressive as the tacos but still tasty. It's a large quesadilla, filled with shredded chicken and loaded with melted cheese, and while it came out toasted perfectly from the grill, we really wanted some more spice to it. We realized later that this was partially our fault, as the menu clearly states that any of Baja Grill's toppings can be added to the quesadilla, something we missed when we ordered. The quesadilla does come with a side of pico de gallo and a cup of sour cream, so we didn't lack for means to add some flavor there at the table.
Having eaten at quite a few of Central Arkansas' food trucks, I'm always pleased when I find one that still manages to impress and surprise me, and Baja Grill certainly did that. The folks running the place were very friendly, and even though we were there during the Friday night rush, our orders came out quickly and were hot and fresh. The menu is one of the most unique around, and while we didn't get to sample the shrimp and fish dishes this time around, we've already promised ourselves that it's something we have to do soon. This is a food truck worth seeking out from anywhere in the area, and I highly recommend trying it the next time you find yourself in Saline County — and there's also a sno-cone stand next door if you need something cold to wash down your spicy tacos. Baja Grill is located at 1130 Military Road, and they're open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m.-8 p.m. for dinner Monday through Friday.
I shoulda screen-capped it. I know I shoulda... but I just didn't for whatever reason and now it's gone.
I checked out the Hunka Pie Facebook page yesterday once I got home. I'd gone by with my daughter to have breakfast because I saw the message on the page Saturday saying the place would be open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. I've been curious about breakfast. Alas, the old Starlite Diner was closed and dark and I instead went to Cracker Barrel with friends. I'm kinda ticked off about it because I wanted to take home some pie for later, and because my schedule is not going to permit me to be over that way for a week or so.
There were several people who had let loose their frustration about Hunka Pie's unexpected non-opening on that Facebook page. I know I didn't dream that. Those comments aren't there today. I don't know if it's damage control or what, but I don't think that was a good move.
I've seen this before with social media, where an individual or company removes negative remarks to keep from smearing their reputation. I don't think it works very well. My personal opinion on the matter is, if someone has a legitimate beef with you, stand up and answer it. You see this on TripAdvisor a lot now — where hotel and restaurant representatives are allowed to rebut a negative comment, even though the comment still stands.
What are your thoughts?
And there’s a lot of holiday recipes inside, which if you’re like me in this particular year you may be looking for last minute inspiration. Like Mark Abernathy’s "Abernathy's Serious Hot Chocolate with Peppermint Whipped Cream," Jamie Lauren Adams' "Granny's Scalloped Corn Oyster Dressing," John Allen Nelson's "Simply Insane Cranberry Pie" or even Linda Bloodworth Thomason's own gingerbread recipe.
Want some proof? It's in the pudding — and I do mean that to mean in the dessert sort of way. A prime delicious example from Festivities, Too is on the jump — a precious Bûche de Noël recipe from Chef Andre Poirot of the Peabody Little Rock. That's Yule Log to you and me. Makes me hungry just reading the recipe.
You just might consider a really cool gift — the chance to try dishes from one of our state’s best known personalities — at his actual place of residence. No joke.
I’m talking about lunch or dinner and a tour at the Moss Mountain Farm home of P. Allen Smith. The TV star and garden wonder has a book out this year, Seasonal Recipes From The Garden, that we talked about a few weeks ago.
The Arkansas Queen Riverboat is doing a special Christmas Day cruise. Boarding is at 12:30. It’s traditional holiday fare including ham, turkey, all the fixings and dessert. It’s $39.50 a person and you’ll need to make your reservations quick — tables are going fast. (501) 372-5777.
Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel is open regular hours Christmas Eve but will only offer breakfast on Christmas Day, with regular menu service 6-10 a.m. Reservations suggested. (501) 374-7474.
Camp David at the Holiday Inn Downtown is offering its Christmas buffet 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $19.95 a person, reservations suggested. (501) 975-2267.
Capital Bar and Grill is open regular hours both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Capriccio’s at the Peabody Hotel is open regular business hours Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with breakfast offered 6-10:30 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and dinner 6-9 p.m. on Christmas Day. (501) 399-8000.
Golden Corral is serving all its regular items plus turkey and dressing. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. $13.99 adults. 5001 Warden Road, North Little Rock. 771-4605.
Luby’s is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. with turkey and ham and such for the discerning Christmas diner. (501) 219-1567.
Opal Mae’s in Russellville is taking reservations now for Christmas family style dinners with prime rib, shrimp scampi, baked ham and all the fixings, including made to order dessert cups. Reservations are taken for hour sittings beginning with the 11 a.m. sitting. Adults $16.50, Seniors $15, kids $10, under 5 free. (479) 967-6725.
Panda Garden is offering its usual sushi-Chinese-crab legs and ribeye buffet for $13.95 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (501) 224-8100.
Papa Sushi is open regular hours Christmas Eve and evening hours (5-9 p.m.) Christmas Day. (501) 821-7272.
The Riverfront Steakhouse at the Wyndham in North Little Rock is offering Christmas Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. $24.99 adults/$12.99 kids. Reservations are suggested. (501) 371-9000.
Tokyo House is open regular hours both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with its usual slightly exotic and completely packed menu of items. (501) 219-4286.
So... sushi, anyone?
A couple years ago I did the Arkansas Times Food Gift Guide. The information is still there, ready for your perusal. And there are additions, too. Such as the fabulous oils, vinegars and wines from Raimondo Winery in Gamaliel. The handmade macarons from MaryClare Macarons in Hot Springs. Coffee from WestRock... and from Guillermo's Gourmet Grounds. Chocolates from Kopper Kettle Kandies. Gourmet toffee from Lambrecht in Heber Springs. There are a lot of great places to order from.
But you're just about out of time. For instance, if you want to send someone some peppered bacon (as seen above) or a ham from Petit Jean Meats in Morrilton, you have to order by 10 a.m. Monday morning — with two day shipping (you have until Tuesday for next day rates). For Burge's, your smoked turkey orders are due by Tuesday morning. And so on.
Well, you could check out this nifty pamphlet from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, which includes five recipes for your venison, including the unusual Caribbean Venison Pot Roast. That's one option.
Or you can head to Tie Dye Travels for some of my recipes, along with submissions from Arkansas Outdoors' John Philpot and more.
Michael Roberts says no one does cornbread like his mama. He contributes her recipe, a traditional Arkansas-style non-sweetened cornbread made in a skillet, over at Arkansas Foodies. Do give it a look-see.
Want to contribute your own cornbread recipe? Shoot me a line at kat@tiedyetravels (with pictures if you've got them) and I'll share them this week.
You have until September 12th to vote for Green Cuisine in The Great Food Truck Race. Click the link.
I thought it was hard to find a place to eat on Thanksgiving… but I was wrong. Most Central Arkansas restaurants are going to be closed on Christmas Day. The few I’ve been able to scare up:
Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel is offering breakfast only, regular menu service 6-10 a.m. Reservations suggested. (501) 374-7474.
Capital Bar and Grill, meanwhile, is keeping normal hours and will be open all day Christmas, with complimentary valet.
Capriccio’s at the Peabody Hotel is apparently offering a brunch, but details have yet to be forthcoming.
The Riverfront Steakhouse at the Wyndham in North Little Rock is offering Chirstmas Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. $24.99 adults/$12.99 kids. Reservations are suggested. (501) 371-9000.
Opal Mae’s in Russellville is doing another prime rib and holiday fixings buffet for reservations only. Call for your time…
Camp David at the Holiday Inn Downtown is offering its Christmas buffet 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $14.95 a person, reservations suggested. (501) 975-6227.
Luby’s is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (501) 219-1567/
Panda Garden is offering its usual sushi-Chinese-crab legs buffet for $12.99 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (501) 224-8100.
Hunan Oriental Cuisine is open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. with its usual menu. (501) 223-9966.
Papa Sushi, which just opened in the Koto space on Chenal Parkway, will observe regular operating hours both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It will be open 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 4:30 - 10:30 p.m. (501) 821-7272.
Igibon Japanese Food House is also observing normal hours of 11 a.m - 2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (501) 217-9063.
And the Arkansas Queen Riverboat is doing a special Christmas Day cruise. Boarding is at noon Saturday with the cruise running 12:30 - 2 p.m. Traditional holiday fare including ham, turkey and fixings will be provided. Reservations: (501) 372-5777.
Have more? Share them here.
So... you wanna share a recipe? Add it to the comments section here or send it to me at email@example.com. I'll go ahead and start putting up great recipes to share as I get them. Photos are a big bonus.
And a hint - everything's more awesome when you add "OF DOOM."
Click through for a list of places that have confirmed they’ll have the big meal ready for you come Thursday.
UPDATE: Fort Smith Eats has a list of places to dine on Turkey Day on the Western Wall.
It comes from the chef's roots along the Cache River. A "cache" pronounced "cash" can…
Yes! White River is awesome and you should all go get some of their cheese!
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