If the ever-expanding food truck movement over the past few years has taught us one thing, it's that often, food from a mobile kitchen can be as good—or sometimes better—than anything offered by a brick and mortar restaurant. Our small but indefatigable fleet of food trucks and carts in central Arkansas is no exception. You'll find some of the most talented chefs, inventive menus, and skilled artisans cramped within the confines of a rolling restaurant. Indeed, some trucks will offer dishes unlike anything you'll find elsewhere in central Arkansas. It's this ingenuity that often attracts diners to food trucks, and keeps patrons lining up outside their order windows. One of Little Rock's freshest faces in the mobile dining scene is hoping to continue our tradition of eating excellence, and they're doing it through one of America's most beloved dishes, pizza. However, the folks behind Pizzeria Santa Lucia would not be content with throwing together a few half-hearted, grease-soaked, pedestrian pies. Instead, they are bringing to Little Rock something yet to be offered by any other pizzeria in this town, sharing their passion by spreading the gospel of authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Pizzeria Santa Lucia’s head pizzaiolo, Georges Launet is a Little Rock native who has been floating around the restaurant business for fifteen years. After cooking for a number of quality restaurants around town, he describes his latest venture with the fine foods catering company, Palette, to be the most influential and inspiring of his career. Here he met Jeremy and Jacquelyn Pittman, and the two chef/owners took Launet under their culinary wings. As Launet began to develop aspirations of his own, he was reminded of time spent in France with his father, where he would be introduced to Neapolitan pizza for the first time. Launet fell in love with the art of creating authentic Neapolitan pies, claiming that after sampling them, he “would never be the same again.” Drawing upon his experiences in Europe, and after cutting his teeth in the kitchens at Palette Catering, Launet was determined to bring authentic Neapolitan pizza to Little Rock, the first of its kind, something unlike any other pie in central Arkansas.
Food truck fans rejoice, because Chef Jeffrey Palsa is bringing back SoMa Second Thursdays to the Bernice Garden on March 14. The monthly event has some returning favorites, including Palsa's own The Food Truck, Southern Gourmasian, Clyde and Kiddo's Barbecue, and dessert truck Sugar Shack Sweets. If that's not exciting enough, the first event of 2013 will also mark the return of Green Cuisine, the popular vegetarian truck that has been on an extended hiatus.
In addition to those returning greats, two new trucks will be debuting on South Main: Kyle Pounder's Excaliburger, home of the burger-with-grilled-cheese-sandwich-buns (which we told you about here late last year), and a completely new truck concept in the Rock, Santa Lucia Pizzeria. Santa Lucia is owned by Jacquelyn and Jeremy Pittman, who some of you may be familiar with from Palette Catering in the Heights. I have word from Jeffrey that they've been seasoning the stone in their mobile wood-fired pizza oven by firing it up daily for the past month, so it's sure to be a much different pizza experience than anyone expects from a truck.
In addition to the good eats, there will a face-painter and outdoor games for the kids, and Loblolly Creamery will have their soda fountain open late. And as part of the eco-friendly mission of the Bernice Garden and SoMa neighborhood, the event is a low-waste affair, so patrons are asked to bring their own cups, forks, and knives (rinse stations will be available). These events were a lot of fun last year, and it looks like there's even more to be had coming up!
Little Rock food truck favorite Michael Juliano — a.k.a. Hot Dog Mike — announced today on his blog that he's packing up the hot dog cart and heading to his home state of New Jersey in order to run his family business. Fans of Juliano's wiener creations have until the end of January to get their fill, and given the level of popularity Hot Dog Mike has attained in Central Arkansas, I hope he's well stocked for the month — I foresee a run on his product.
In addition to providing a certain level of "cool" to his wares, Juliano has been very active in supporting the local food truck scene as well as charities that help the poor and homeless. Perhaps his most well-known charity event was the creation of the $1501 hot dog, four of which were sold to benefit The One (also known as The Van). Creating the world's most expensive dog is one thing, but giving all but one dollar of the proceeds to charity is quite another, and it's a testament to the sort of guy Mike is.
Mike was a regular winner of Readers' Choice awards from this and other publications. I can't help but be a little jealous that Jersey is going to get all that hot dog goodness, but from all of us at Eat Arkansas: Best of luck, Mike, and may your new adventures lead you to even greater success — you will be missed.
If you spend any time at all reading Eat Arkansas or the Arkansas Times, you may have noticed that we've got a thing for taco trucks. For me, no matter what I'm doing, it's almost impossible for me to pass one of these mobile deliciousness vendors without stopping the car and stuffing my face with grilled meat wrapped in a toasted corn tortilla. The Geyer Springs Road area is the epicenter for excellent trucks, and one of my new favorites is the K-Lienttos Taqueria, a brightly painted truck parked next to the Sonic. For the bargain price of just $1.25 per taco, K-Lienttos serves up beef, pork, chicken, and lengua topped with fresh diced onions and cilantro along with a cup of their tangy salsa verde.
The best taco filling coming from this truck is the pastor, a flavorful marinated pork that is meltingly tender. Running a close second is the barbacoa, a chewy spiced beef that had me craving another bite after everything was gone. Like all good taco trucks, K-Lienttos is quick with your order, making it the perfect spot to stop on a lunch break or for a quick snack. A selection of Jarritos drinks and real-sugar Mexican Cokes round out the menu to provide the perfect taco truck experience. K-Lienttos Taqueria is located near the intersection of Geyer Springs and Forbing Road, right next to the Sonic, and they're a must-try for all you taco truck aficionados.
It was Halloween, and despite the unseasonably warm afternoon, a strange chill came over us as we walked from our car to the shadowy depths of the Bernice Garden. Strange shapes began to emerge from the darkening streets — tiny witches, zombies and Power Rangers came forth with high-pitched cries of hunger, begging for tricks and treats and mouthfuls of candy. The chill deepened. Perhaps it was something supernatural, a force from beyond the grave coming to exact revenge on those of us who still drew breath — or perhaps it was the Peanut Butter Buttermilk ice cream cone from Loblolly Creamery that filled my mouth with a sweet, tangy richness that that made me shiver with delight. For Halloween in SoMa was a festive affair, with crowds of trick-or-treating families heading down to the Bernice Garden to sample some local food truck favorites before heading out to score their sugary loot.
We had originally intended to grab the appropriately-named Mortadella Monster sandwich from The Food Truck, but the long line of pixies, lion cubs, and one light saber-wielding Darth Vader made us re-think our plans. We contemplated a cheese steak from Philly's, but we finally decided to try Wishbone's, a gourmet hot dog truck that we hadn't seen before, despite its having been open for nearly a year. Fortified by grilled meat, we mingled with the crowd of horrors and hilarities and made our way to the Green Corner Store, where the mustachioed soda jerk was offering tastes of blood-colored hot chocolate, goblin green ice cream, and the delightful caramel apples pictured to the right. It was a great scene full of people out enjoying the weather, stuffing their faces with junk food, and generally just being neighborly. We read every year that the traditional Halloween ritual of going door to door has fallen victim to the fears with obsess and possess our increasingly more isolated society, but that's certainly not the case on South Main. In SoMa, any reason is a good one for getting together with folks in the neighborhood, with Halloween just an opportunity to dress up like a crazy on top of the general feeling of community.
More pictures after the jump.
With its body shops, factories, and rim shops, Asher Avenue probably wouldn't strike anybody as a street where a body could find a culinary treasure, but there is a hidden gem to be had: the Hot 'Lanta Wings food truck. In addition to the advertised wings, Hot 'Lanta also offers a menu that reads like a who's who of Southern food, with fried catfish, barbecue, okra, and chicken and waffles in addition to an assortment of burgers, sandwiches, and corn dogs. And while a rickety picnic table in a gravel lot on one of Southwest Little Rock's busiest streets might not be most people's concept of the ideal lunch spot, once I (along fellow foodie travelers Daniel Walker and Kevin Shalin) got a taste of the food coming out of Hot 'Lanta not a one of us cared about the traffic whizzing by.
The immediate thing that caught my eye was the Catfish Sandwich paired with an order of onion rings. The fish was freshly battered and fried while I waited, and the dark, crisp batter had an excellent flavor that gave way to the tender fish. The sandwich was simple — two filets on a couple of pieces of wheat bread — but the lettuce and tomato that came with it were fresh, and I was pleasantly surprised that it came with a couple of packages of Louisiana Hot Sauce — and if you've never had catfish with hot sauce, you're missing out. The onion rings were excellent, with a thin, crisp coating that held snug to the rings of sweet onion, and I'd put them up against any onion rings in town in terms of taste and quality.
Kevin's choice of grub was the Patty Melt, and he rated the burger-and-onion combo somewhere between "not bad" and "just okay." It was with his choice of side, fried okra, where Hot 'Lanta really showed their stuff, though, and we all passed around the crunchy bits of fresh-tasting okra and marveled at how good it was (although I still have to take issue with Mr. Shalin's use of ketchup on that okra). Fried okra is one of those dishes that's either really, really good or incredibly bad, and this okra was most definitely the former. It's available as a stand-alone menu item — and I foresee myself returning to Hot 'Lanta just to get an order.
Of course, if there are Chicken and Waffles on the menu, we all know that Dan's going to order them. We were all very skeptical of how this particular dish would emerge from the depths of the food truck — I was honestly expecting something along the lines of an Eggo-brand frozen waffle with a few frozen chicken strips. There's no way I could have been more wrong. The waffles were fresh made, four perfect little circles of fluffy golden brown batter that were slightly crunchy on the outside and pillow-soft on the interior. Delicately flavored, and with some fresh cut strawberries nestled in the center, these waffles would have been a fine dish on their own. Served to the side was a massive pile of breaded chicken wings, piping hot from the fryer. I watched with no small amount of envy as Dan smeared those luscious waffles with butter, loaded them up with the fried chicken, and covered the lot with a flood of warm syrup. It might sound like hyperbole to call this dish a revelation, but there aren't many places serving up chicken and waffles as well as Hot 'Lanta.
As somebody who pays attention to food possibly more than is normal, I've picked up on a few things that point to a meal that is going well and being enjoyed. Three of those things happened right after our food hit the table: all conversation stopped as first and second bites were taken, a look of pleasant surprise was shared across the table, and then we all started talking over each other about who needed to try a bite of what. Food is the most basic thing over which people bond, and the discovery of an unexpected source for that food makes the experience all the more memorable. I've eaten at a lot of food trucks over the years, and I'd put Hot 'Lanta Wings up against any of them. It's a simple, honest menu executed with skill and style, and a valuable addition to a neighborhood that most people don't think of as a destination for great food.
Hot 'Lanta food truck is set up behind an enclosed fence on Asher Avenue. Coming from University, the trailer is just before the Site station that used to be Uncle Abe's (on the right side). Coming from Roosevelt, it's just past the old J&M Products building on the left — look for the white trailer with the bright yellow and red signage.
The excaliburger was born when a rock climber from Missouri named Johnny was having lunch with Kyle Pounders, a 25-year-old Arkadelphia native, at the Ozark Cafe in Jasper. Johnny couldn't decide between a burger and a grilled cheese, so he asked the chef if he could have a burger between two grilled cheeses. The chef loved the idea. He told Johnny if he could come up with a clever name, the sandwich would earn a permanent spot on the menu.
Ozark Cafe uses Texas toast, so when the sandwich arrived it was about six inches thick. Rather than a toothpick, the chef had plunged a steak knife through the center to hold the thing together. When Johnny saw the sandwich, he was reminded of the long sword, or excalibur, in the legend The Sword and the Stone. He grabbed the knife and yelled, "Excalibur," and from that day on, the excaliburger was added to the Ozark Cafe menu. (Or so the legend goes.)
Meanwhile, Kyle Pounders was all set to enter the medical profession, but he wasn't that engaged by his studies at Baptist Nursing School. While waiting tables at So, a doctor and regular customer asked him what he really wanted to do with his life. Pounders thought about it and realized that he loved cooking for his study group. While the other students were in the living room cramming, he'd be preparing their snacks in the kitchen. In fact, he had enjoyed the near decade that he'd spent washing dishes, serving and cooking at various restaurants in Little Rock and Arkadelphia. Eventually this mysterious doctor would become his financial backer and silent partner in Excaliburger, the soon-to-be food truck.
Pounders took a second job and with all those saved pennies, he purchased cooking equipment and a pop-up tent. He debuted his pop-up excaliburger stand at the El Dorado Music Fest, bought a 14-year-old bread truck, and began considering how to convert it to a food truck. He plans to conquer the task of framing the inside, building a window, mounting a generator, outfitting the thing for running water and painting the exterior in a single weekend, with the help of a volunteer crew.
He hopes to debut Excaliburger in mid-October. In addition to the burger, there will be Excalibird, with a grilled chicken breast rather than a beef patty, Excali-que with pulled pork and Excalibella, with portabella mushroom. And there will be some leaner options — traditional burgers and grilled cheeses made with olive oil, as well as a shish-kabob.
Pounder's excaliburger will be scaled down from the Ozark Cafe beast — he'll use thinner bread and a thinner patty. He also plans to offer handcut potato chips. Excaliburger should be open for lunch every weekday and will rotate its location among a handful of neighborhoods. For dinner, the truck will follow the crowds, making at appearance at special events.
Pounders is also working with Mosaic Church to create a Little Rock Food Truck Association and eventually, a website where all of the city's food trucks can update their location in real time, on a virtual map.
Those of you who work and play downtown may have noticed that Grills on Wheels, the big black food truck that serves hearty soft shelled tacos and a killer bean and cheese burrito for a very reasonable amount of dinero, hasn't been parked at it's usual President Clinton Avenue location at the east side of the Arkansas Studies Institute. According to owner Al Aquino, for the past three weeks the staff has been on vacation, the truck is having a dented bumper repaired, and he's trying to figure out where to move, since a four story mixed-use commercial building is going up where Grills used to park. The Arcade Building, a proposed 80,000 square foot space is being developed by Moses Tucker Real Estate and, according to the firm's website, will include "retail space, office and residential space and an auditorium/theater to be developed in conjunction with the Public Library." Aquino expects Grills on Wheels to be back in business in about two weeks. He's not sure if he'll have to move at that time, but when the time comes, he plans to find another spot downtown.
For most Arkansans, the fall season brings a much-needed relief from the sweltering summer heat. It's finally possible to be outdoors from more than five minutes without feeling like your face is about to melt off. Additionally, for food truck followers, there is no finer time to get outside and experience the cultural phenomenon that continues to blossom in Arkansas. I've spent a good number of summer afternoons eating the offerings of local food trucks on sidewalks, car hoods, and picnic tables, whilst enduring the soul-crushing heat of the summer sun. No matter how wonderful the food in this situation, the settings are often far from ideal and it is sometimes difficult not to yearn for the luxury of the air-conditioning inside a restaurant. We, here at Eat Arkansas, anxiously look forward to the many opportunities in the coming months to comfortably revisit some of Arkansas' leading food trucks as well as sample the craft of some of the newest trucks to hit the asphalt.
This coming Saturday, Sept 22, Hillcrest is hosting their annual HarvestFest celebration. This is a wonderful opportunity to drag your friends and family out of the house and experience the handiwork of some of Little Rock ’s most creative artists and craftsmen. Vendor booths, live music, fashion shows, and children's activities are all on the schedule for this year’s event, and you definitely won't want to miss the cheese dip contest as we reported here previously. A handful of mobile food vendors will be positioned at various locations around the festival grounds as well, and this year's HarvestFest will also see the debut of Little Rock 's first dedicated dessert truck, Sugar Shack Sweets. I was fortunate enough to meet up with the two ladies running this oven on wheels, and I was able to sample a handful of the tantalizing treats this crew will be offering.
It was a festive scene Thursday night at the Bernice Garden on South Main Street for the inaugural Second Thursday Food Truck Night, with folks lining up to sample the wares of The Southern Gourmasian, Philly's To Go, Clyde and Kiddo's Barbecue, and Little Rock Urban Farming. In a part of town that's woefully bereft of after-five dinner choices, the people we talked to seemed very happy to have a chance to get a bite to eat and mingle with other people from around the city in one of Little Rock's most attractive settings. Despite a couple of the planned-for trucks being unable to make it out due to unforeseen circumstances, Thursday's event was a strong start to the new monthly truck night. South Main is really developing into a neighborhood full of people who value community, and they'll be the first ones to tell you how proud they are of the revitalization projects going on all around the area — and how much they enjoy events like this that allow them to show those projects off. More pictures after the jump.
Lovers of Indian food had a reason to rejoice today with the return of Banana Leaf, the popular food truck that's been serving up authentic Indian cuisine in Hillcrest since 2011. The menu at Banana Leaf is a perfect example of a good food truck menu, with simple, quick-to-prepare dishes that are loaded with flavor and served up hot for not a lot of cash. Owner Poorni Muthaian and crew had been on hiatus since late May, and judging by the crowd of people waiting for lunch when I showed up today, they were greatly missed. In fact, by the time I arrived they had already run out of both their vegetarian and non-vegetarian lunch offerings and seemed pleasantly surprised that business was so good.
Lucky for me, they hadn't yet run out of Chicken 65, an extremely spicy marinated chicken dish that had me wiping sweat from my forehead and guzzling water. The flavor of this chicken is incredible, with the complex play of spice, salt, and just the vaguest hint of sweet working together to create something truly special. My favorite kind of spicy dishes are the ones that are capable of matching their heat with bold, assertive flavor, and the Chicken 65 does this well.
To temper the spice of my chicken, I also ordered an Egg Dhosa, a rice crisp stuffed with egg, onions, tomatoes and cilantro. This was my first experience with a dhosa, but it will definitely not be my last, with its light, chewy exterior and warm filling — it was like a happy marriage between an omelet and a crepe. Heartier eaters can order a potato-filled version, but since I'm an egg-lover, I thought this dish was perfection. I'm relatively inexperienced with Indian food, but my trip to Banana Leaf today made me realize that it's a cuisine with which I need to become better acquainted.
Like many of our local food trucks, Banana Leaf is active on Facebook and Twitter, so check them out for daily specials and announcements. Banana Leaf food truck is located at 201 N. Van Buren, and they are open from 11:00 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. The service is quick and friendly, even when there's a crowd of hungry folks all waiting to get their hands on some tasty food.
Chef Jeffrey Palsa has been operating The Food Truck in Little Rock for a couple of years now, serving up hot gourmet sandwiches and and soups with a cheerful smile and a ready laugh. After a hot, dry summer that proved difficult for many of our local trucks, Palsa wanted to reignite excitement in the food truck scene, deciding to create a monthly truck even in the SoMa neighborhood called Second Thursday Truck Night. The event will be held on September 13 from 4:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. at the Bernice Garden and will continue throughout the fall every second Thursday of the month. Chef Palsa chose evenings for his event in order to bring people down to a neighborhood that doesn't have many options for dining out past five o'clock, although he stresses that the ladies of Loblolly Creamery will have their soda fountain in the Green Corner Store open for folks in need of ice cream or a fresh-made soda.
For the inaugural event, Palsa has lined up several of Little Rock's best trucks in addition to his own, including The Southern Gourmasian, Clyde & Kiddo's Barbecue, and Taqueria Samantha III. Little Rock Urban Farming will also have a booth set-up with flowers, Arkansas honey, and produce. The trucks are all planning specials for the event, including some kid-friendly dishes. There will be ample covered seating available so that everyone can enjoy their meals comfortably, and parking is located both next door to the garden as well as across the street.
If you haven't had a chance to try these trucks, or would like to get a taste of things to come during the upcoming Main Street Food Truck Festival, this new food truck event is the perfect opportunity to come down to SoMa, enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the sculpture garden, and sample a lot of really great food. Bernice Garden is located at 1401 S. Main in Little Rock.
You learn something about yourself when you eat at a taco truck. Are you the kind of person who prefers the luxury of padded seating, air conditioning, or a waiter to talk you through a menu when you dine? Or are you content with a tasty morsel no matter what conditions it is served under, perhaps inhaled from the front seat of your Honda Accord? Are you comfortable eating in sometimes questionable locales, the parking lot of a pawn shop, behind a now abandoned Blockbuster video? Or do you prefer the valet-serviced glitz of a swanky downtown hotel restaurant? Taco trucks speak to everyone differently and are adored by patrons in nearly every city in the nation for their cheap, often authentic food, with each new truck holding the hope that this latest find will the greatest hidden treasure in town. Some truck locations move daily but some tend to stay planted, allowing their fans an opportunity to get their fix without the need to constantly stalk a Twitter feed. Taco trucks and trailers are essentially the granddaddies of all mobile dining, they have been in the business for a long time, but they manage to stay relevant and popular today due to their ability to offer patrons a quick, delicious lunch in an environment that welcomes all comers...if you've got the cash, they've got the tacos.
It helps to know some solid folks on Twitter, as they can be invaluable when needing to find a secret gem to grub out. I recently posed a question to Twitterworld, asking where the best tacos can be found in Little Rock, as I was seriously jonesing for some tortilla love. Luckily, I was provided with many-an-option, adding to my steadily growing list of Mexican restaurants and shops to try. This week, I decided to stop by Taqueria Tamaulipas, a trailer parked in Sherwood near the parking lot of a Walmart, just the kind of place I would expect to find brilliantly done Mexican food.
For such an inconspicuous, unassuming taco joint, I was surprised how quickly the line grew given the less than optimal temperatures outside. But good food waits for no one and even the awesome power of Mother Nature will not stop a valiant taco hunter on a mission to sample the best a city has to offer. Taqueria Tamaulipas may not look like much from the outside, but once sampled, you’ll never be able to pass by this stretch of road again without experiencing uncontrollable taco cravings.
8715 Highway 107
It all started in an unassuming little red trailer parked on Military Road with "EatMyCatfish.com" emblazoned on a hanging banner to the side. Benton's a small town, though, and word soon got out about the food coming out of that trailer: fresh fried fish, mud bugs, chicken strips, and shrimp that folks around these parts considered as good or better than anything they'd ever eaten in a sit-down restaurant. As the buzz around Eat My Catfish grew, so did their sales, and within the last year they traded in the trailer for a more permanent location in a shopping center across the street near Sutherland's Hardware. It's not nearly as visible a location as the bright red trailer right off the road was, but it does make a nice bit of difference when the temperature's over 100 and a hankering for the fried stuff sets in.
Eat My Catfish makes no secret of what it's about: things dipped in batter and fried crisp in the numerous deep-fryers that line the wall, and they know their business well. Ordering is simple, just walk right up to the counter and take your pick from a menu that doesn't offer anything grilled as a sop to the health nuts. On our recent trip, we started off with one of our favorite delicacies, a basket of Fried Pickles ($5.00). Now fried pickles come in two varieties — limp, soggy horrors that somebody pulled out of a bag in the freezer and the freshly battered, screaming-hot from the grease kind. The pickles here were the latter, and the salty, slightly spicy fish batter that Eat My Catfish uses transformed a healthy-sized portion of regular hamburger dill chips into an appetizer that was crunchy on the outside with a soft, tart middle. Served to the side was a cup of the South's most popular condiment, ranch dressing. We greedily made our way through the entire basket and found nary a pickle that wasn't fried up to crisp perfection.
Since every sign around us was demanding that we eat some catfish, we ordered a Three Piece Dinner ($8.00) and were rewarded with a basket of crisp breaded filets, hushpuppies, slaw, and fries. The fish was excellent, with a firm coating that was fried well but still remained moist and tender. The flavor of the catfish was nice and fresh, too, and there wasn't any of that muddy taste that can sometimes mar an otherwise decent filet. Catfish has never been our favorite fish to eat, but these filets were as good as any we've ever tasted. The fish came with a side of homemade tartar sauce that had a nice hot sauce zing to it and made a wonderful dip for the fish. The hushpuppies and slaw were nothing special, but the fries were excellent. It seems like there are a lot of places that can fry up a decent piece of fish or chicken but have no clue whatsoever how to get a potato to turn into anything other than a soggy mess. It's one of my biggest pet peeves, and flaccid fries have turned me off of more than one restaurant. These fries were pretty close to the Platonic ideal of a French fry: a slightly spiced exterior that was firm and crisp and gave way to a mealy and flavorful interior. It may sound slightly obsessive and insane on my part to go on at such length about a pile of fried potatoes, but in a state where McDonald's still routinely win's the Readers' Choice for "best fries" due to so many places serving weak, limp, apathetic spuds, it's refreshing to see a place that can make them right.
There's also a nice selection of po' boy sandwiches on the menu, and since a good po' boy is one of our favorite things in life, we opted for the Crawfish Po' Boy($7.00). Ordering crawfish in Arkansas is an act of bravery. Most of the fried variety tastes like nothing more than fake crab dipped in fish fry and fried to a hard, burned crisp. The crawfish tails on this po' boy were like manna from a Cajun heaven, though — fat, plump tails that had a good, sweet flavor that wasn't overpowered by the light, crisp batter. There were a lot of them, too. The sandwich was made just how I like my po' boys, on a crusty piece of French bread with slaw. As an added bonus, a generous helping of that delicious spicy tartar sauce was mixed in with the slaw, bringing the whole sandwich into a nice mix of salty, sweet, and savory flavors. I've eaten po' boys at nearly every restaurant in Central Arkansas that serves them, and I've got to say that the Eat My Catfish version is probably my favorite of all that I've tried. That's sure to get some of you riled up, and I'll admit that there are some good po' boys out there: but this one was better.
After all that food, we were pretty full, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Eat My Catfish also has a selection of fried chicken strips, chicken wings, shrimp, and the thing we were most upset about missing — fried pies, in apple, apricot, chocolate, coconut, or peach. It's seriously good food, and a place that nobody who loves the fried stuff should miss. Eat My Catfish is available for dine-in, carry-out, and catering, and they've expanded from their small food trailer to two locations: 1205 Military Road, Suite 7 in Benton and 1347 Albert Pike Road in Hot Springs. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see more locations popping up around the state, as the food is fresh, cheap, and apt to cause cravings after your very first time eating it.
The Hot Springs location is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and the Benton store is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 3-9 p.m. Tue. and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
If Little Rock has anything that might be called a food truck franchise, it's Taqueria Samantha. For several years, Samantha I and II have provided some of the best tacos in town, but it's with their most ambitious addition, Samantha III, that they've really come into their own. Unlike the other Samantha taco trailers, Samantha III is a full-sized food truck that sports an expanded menu to match its new roomier digs. The ladies behind the truck are some of the most regular and faithful of the trucks that park at the University Market at 4 Corners, and in recent weeks they've added some very tasty new dishes to their already stellar selection. Samantha is one of the best meal values in town, with huge portions available for prices that are almost shockingly low, and the food is made with skill and care and served with a friendly smile. Plus, they sell liter bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola products — the kind still made with real sugar.
Of course, since we're talking taco trucks, let's talk tacos. Samantha's tacos are so large and piled with ingredients that it's sometimes an ordeal to plan a method of attack. They offer a choice of steak, chicken, pork, or tongue with their tacos, and there really isn't any way to go wrong with those choices. Each meat is tender and moist, and seasoned with just the right amount of savory spice. The tongue tacos at Samantha are particularly good, with meat reminiscent of high-quality roast beef that is fall-apart tender and very juicy. Tongue is one of those foods that makes a lot of us norteamericanos a touch squeamish, but I assure you that you're missing out if you avoid it at this truck. Each taco is heaped with lettuce, cheese, and cilantro and served with a fire-roasted jalapeno pepper and a slice of lime. Be sure to take a liberal squirt of the homemade salsa verde provided; it isn't all that hot, but the tangy flavor adds just the right balance to each taco.
If it's something more substantial you're craving, the Samantha burrito will suit you fine. These burritos are a two-handed affair, and unlike some popular chains that serve large burritos that are mostly rice, Samantha gives you the protein you crave in the form of whole pinto beans your choice of meat, wrapped tightly in a flour tortilla and toasted on the grill. For cheese lovers, the quesadilla is loaded with cheese and larger than the plate on which it's served.
It's the new portion of the menu, however, that has really separated Samantha from the taco truck pack. Recent additions include tacos and quesadillas filled with succulent shrimp prepared with the staff's usual flair for spice and flavor. The last shrimp quesadilla I ordered was so full of the shellfish that they spilled out onto the plate in tasty pink piles. Shrimp is something that I would normally be skeptical about ordering from the back of a truck, and it's a testament to the high quality of Samantha's food that I didn't hesitate for a moment before ordering their seafood. I'm hoping that this addition of shrimp to the menu means more things of that nature to come, because a fish taco would really make this menu complete.
The newest item on the Samantha menu has also become my favorite: the sope. A sope is sort of like a tostada, but instead of a regular crispy corn shell, the toppings are piled on a circle of fried masa, the same corn meal and lime mixture used to make tamales. Using masa gives the entire dish a richer flavor, and since the masa shell is thicker and more absorbent than the usual corn shell, it soaks up all the good flavors from the meat and beans. Plus, at only $2.25, it's quite possibly the cheapest lunch in town. Sopes are traditionally considered snack food and not a full meal, but the size and generous portions of the Samantha version really go beyond what I'd consider snack food. Again, the sopes are available with any of the truck's available meats, and I've found that the marinated pork goes best with the rest of the flavor profile.
Little Rock is blessed with several excellent taco trucks, but it's the service and quality of Samantha that makes their food my favorite. You can find Samantha III parked from 11am-2pm Monday-Friday for lunch in the University Market, and as of this week they are now accepting debit and credit cards.
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