You all won't find a bigger fan of crazy, out-there, off-the-wall food than me, but there are times when all I want is some comfort food. In those times, all the foreign spices and eclectic flavor combinations in the world just won't satisfy — and that's when I thank the food gods that we have places around like Buffalo Grill. It ain't fancy, and it ain't challenging, but it hits just the right spot when all that sounds good is good old American food.
I stopped into the Rebsamen Road location of Buffalo Grill this past weekend and was immediately taken in by two things: the red-checkered table cloths (vinyl, natch) and the gargantuan glasses of iced tea that were quickly plopped down in front of myself and my dining companion. I'm a man that gets a taste for a cold swig of tea now and again, and I don't take kindly to waiting for refills. My thirst-anxiety quenched, I took a minute to thumb through the menu, which while large, sticks right to the sort of diner fare that I find quite compelling when executed properly. We went with a plate of chicken nachos, offered with cheddar cheese or cheese dip (which isn't a real choice at all in the land of cheese dip) and a tuna steak sandwich that sounded good but left me feeling a little apprehensive — after all, tuna in places like this usually comes out of a can to be mixed with mayo.
The nachos arrived, and we were struck by the sheer size of the platter. Chips, finely chopped chicken, tomatoes, and creamy melted cheese were nearly spilling from the plate and onto our easy-to-wipe table cloth. The chicken was tasty, and the cheese dip made a nice, sloppy topping that held everything together. These aren't any sort of gourmet nachos or anything — these are nachos I might make myself before a football game or on a night when I feel like eating junk food. In other words, they were perfect.
The tuna steak sandwich was the real shocker, though. I honestly expected the thing to come out dry, overcooked, and tasting like the bottom of some old fisherman's trawler. What arrived was a moist, lightly grilled tuna steak on a fresh sesame seed bun accompanied by a slice of tomato, some lettuce, and just enough mayonnaise to keep things interesting. The fish was very light tasting, balancing the meaty texture of the tuna with a stay on the grill that imparted a lot of flavor without turning everything into a rubbery mess. I'm a pretty big fan of tuna in all forms, and this grilled sandwich was exactly how it should have been — a nice surprise given my earlier worries.
For an inexpensive lunch, Buffalo Grill is hard to beat. The selection of sandwich, burger, and salad classics is straight out of every diner stereotype you can think of, but it's a comfortable menu that the place makes work. For those days when only classical American cuisine will work, it's hard to go wrong here.
Buffalo Grill has two locations in Little Rock, at 400 N. Bowman and 1611 Rebsamen Park Road, and they're open from 11 a.m. Sunday-Saturday until whenever the cook decides to kick everybody out.
Menu writers are a lot like real estate agents: their job is to make something sound incredible, even if that means being a little over-optimistic with the truth. This can result in something commonly known as "your mileage may vary" — the advertised "man cave" turns out to be an unfinished basement or the "hand-made aioli" is just Blue Plate mayo with some garlic salt tossed in. Still, most mid-range and upscale places around town do a pretty good job at being honest about their dishes, keeping the hyperbolic flourishes to a minimum. Once in awhile, though, one of these menu descriptions really goes above and beyond what the finished product entails — which brings me to Loca Luna.
Now Loca Luna has been recognized by both the local and national press as a great neighborhood restaurant, and it was this reputation that drew me to the dark dining room off of Cantrell Road. I ran my eyes over the impressive menu until they lighted upon a dish custom made for my tastes: Lobster-Crab Stuffed Trout, which combines three of my favorite things all in one dish. Promising a "crumbled lobster-crab cake" on top of a butterflied trout, I ordered quickly and couldn't wait to tuck in to my stuffed fish, steamed vegetables, and roasted red potatoes.
What arrived wasn't quite what I expected. Sure, there was a trout filet on the plate, its edges dry and crunchy from overcooking and tasting a little more fishy than fresh water fish should taste. The "lobster-crab cake" was certainly crumbled over (some of) the top, but I couldn't discern any actual lobster and/or crab meat in the mass of mushy seasoned bread crumbs. I've honestly seen crab cakes with more seafood in those Chinese buffet crab cakes that are mostly just mush stuffed inside a crab shell. A thin, almost unnoticeable butter and caper sauce finished everything off with a sad bit of palest yellow. On the plus side, the steamed vegetables were excellent, and so were the mashed potatoes that I was mistakenly given in place of the roasted ones I ordered.
Our second dish of the night, the Pork Tenderloin, was better than the fish, but not by much. The pork medallions suffered the same fate as the trout: they were overcooked. The mustard-cream sauce poured over them was far better than the sauce on the fish, though, and served to loosen up the pork. My dining companion was kinder to the dish than I, so there may be an audience out there for overcooked pork that Loca Luna is doing a fantastic job of servicing, but for my money — and given the menu's price point, a good bit of it — the dish just lacked anything that made it stand out at all.
I don't know how much day-to-day work Chef Mark Abernathy has with his restaurants, but my experience with Loca Luna was a far cry from the good experiences I've had with Abernathy's other restaurant Red Door. After a meal of such mediocrity, I wonder if maybe the kitchen was having an off night, or if there was somebody new on the grill. But when your main courses consist of the basic "meat and two veg," you better be dead sure that the protein shines, because steamed vegetables are on countless menus around the country, and "choice of potatoes" isn't much of a choice at all — even if the kitchen gets them right.
I have a lot of respect for my colleague, friend, and Eat Arkansas co-conspirator Dan Walker, but there are some subjects that we just don't see eye-to-eye on — like his recent chest tattoo depicting Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, or even worse, his review of La Casa Real on Rodney Parham, a place I think is pretty tasty. Thinking more about it, I decided I had two reasons to disagree with Dan: La Casa Real evokes a strong sense of nostalgia in me, and Radiohead is terribly overrated.
Growing up around Hot Springs as I did, you'll find two camps of Mexican food lovers: those who love Central Avenue mainstay La Hacienda, and those that don't — and the ones that don't are usually pretty strong in their dislike. For me, La Hacienda is the perfect example of what a restaurant should be: family run, with tasty, relatively inexpensive food, good atmosphere, and friendly, efficient service. A recent visit to La Casa Real proved that the same things are true about the Little Rock branch of the Oseguera family business, with cheerful servers, delicious food, and a price that was exactly right. Neither La Hacienda nor La Casa Real are 100% authentic Mexican, but it would also be unfair to classify their menu as Tex-Mex. These are family recipes, perfected over generations and served with care.
My dining companion ordered the Alambre de Queso, which basically boils down to a huge plate of fresh-off-the-grill skirt steak covered in peppers, onions, and loads of gooey melted cheese. Again, it's far more cheese than you'll find in authentic Mexican cuisine, but the cheese lover in us was delighted. To the side, a small container of freshly grilled corn tortillas, mixed rice with vegetables, and a generous helping of the greatest refried beans I've ever tasted. Usually, the beans on a plate of Mexican food are an afterthought, just some brown sludge to fill in the gaps and possibly be poked once or twice with a tortilla chip. Not these beans. Dark and thick, with a creamy texture and rich flavor, these beans are like no other I've ever tried. I've attempted to make them at home with no success. The result of all this goodness was a plate that looked like a Mexican-style Philly cheese steak exploded everywhere, ready to be wrapped up on a tortilla lovingly buffeted by a layer of beans. Perfection.
For myself, I took the full nostalgia trip and ordered the #1 Combination: One shredded beef taco in a crisp shell, one cheese enchilada, and one tamale (with some more of those excellent beans). I wasn't always the adventurous eater that I am now, and this simple three-item combination was just about all I ordered at the Hot Springs La Hacienda (it's the #1 there, too) when I was growing up. It was almost exactly as good as I remembered. The taco shell was thin and crispy, loaded with tender shredded beef and piled high with lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese. The enchilada was a wonderland of luscious cheese and red sauce — and then there was the tamale. La Casa Real's tamales are moist without being soggy, filled with seasoned pork, and topped with a thin layer of queso and more pico de gallo. And while I loved the tamale on my plate at La Casa Real, the queso was a poor substitute for the thick red chili sauce that I remembered from my youth. Still, it was an excellent and filling plate — especially for $7.99.
In the end, I can forgive Dan for trashing the place. After all, he didn't grow up with the wonderful goodness that is La Hacienda, so we can hardly expect him to appreciate a variation on a theme he's never experienced. But please, by all means, feel free to make as much fun of Radiohead in the comments as you would like.
Let’s set a few things straight: Chang’s (or more precisely, Chang Thai and Asian Cuisine) in Sherwood is in no way related to P.F. Secondly, as sad as this fact may be, there is a real shortage of good Thai in central Arkansas. Honestly, I’d trade a dozen run-of-the-mill burger joints for one or two great Thai places (I’d trade two dozen for a Korean barbecue restaurant, but that’s a different story). When I’d heard from a reliable source that the best Thai food in central Arkansas was in Sherwood, an area I rarely venture to in my food hunting escapades, it was only a matter of time before I made my way up there. Truthfully, it’s not so painfully far from Little Rock, but expectations certainly begin to rise as the drive starts to creep above the 30-minute mark. Luckily, our first trip to Chang’s was extremely rewarding. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but rest assured that much care has been poured into preparing what is unequivocally some of the best Thai in these parts.
Someone at our table was bound to order the pad Thai…and I’m ever so happy they did. I enjoy pad Thai, it’s one of the safest choices when sampling a Thai restaurant for the first time. It’s popular because it’s generally pretty good, but Chang’s version was exceptional, actually. Their version is a blend of soft rice noodles, stir-fried and tossed in a creamy sauce of tamarind, eggs, vinegar, minced garlic, fish sauce, and scallion. The tamarind and fish sauce strike a nice balance between sweet and salty, the vinegar (as well as a squeeze of lime) adding a touch of sour. Our dish, again, incorporated chicken and was garnished with shreds of fresh cabbage, bean sprouts, and chopped peanuts for crunch. Another impeccably done dish—one that proves pad Thai rightly deserves the popularity status it has attained.
Walking through the doors of Ciao Baci feels almost like strolling into you neighbor’s Hillcrest home for dinner. It’s cozy and comfortable; it’s dimly lit and has a certain elegance about it. But don’t let its humble size be mistaken for simplicity—it’s no ordinary home. While many of the plates being served at Ciao Baci come with a slightly higher price tag, the level of execution and attention to detail with each dish, gives one a sense of the talent lurking back in the kitchen. With a raucous group of nine hungry, persnickety food lovers, Ciao Baci certainly had its work cut out for itself. But among our group, the food and service were almost universally applauded, and no one regretted opening up their wallets in order to sink their teeth into some of the more impressive meals to be had in this Little Rock.
The charcuterie board should not be missed. Now, I adore charcuterie plates. I rarely disappointed by this tantalizing assortment of cured, smoked, and dry-aged meats. The addition of lavish, foreign cheeses and a few slices of crunchy bread make just about anything taste better, and a well-executed charcuterie is a wonderful way to wake up the taste buds. I was partial to the spicy coppa, an aged pork shoulder flavored with garlic and paprika, as well as the black pepper saucisson, a dry-cured pork sausage encrusted in black peppercorn. This pungent morsel of rich, fatty sausage, cut by the spice of pepper made a wonder addition to the plate. But all of these were overshadowed by the house rillette. A rillette is not something you lose your paycheck to while gallivanting in Las Vegas—it’s a chopped meat dish (in our case, pork), heavily salted and rendered down in its own fat until tender. The meats are then placed in a small pot, topped with a generous layer of clarified butter, and allowed to solidify and firm up in fridge. Basically, it’s meat butter. It shouldn’t be legal, but thank your lucky stars that it is. Spread on toast, savor the slowly melting butter, the salted pork, the flavorsome fat. This was a real show-stopper.
I initially balked at the idea of a $22 fried chicken. It just felt unnatural. But after the waiter finished his well-rehearsed description of the dish, stating that it was truly one of the standout menu items, I could not pass up the opportunity—I’m a stubborn man, but I know when to take good advice. And good it was. The chicken itself was no unconventional preparation, but it was simply done right. Moist, juicy interior, seasoned correctly, with a nice, crispy skin. You’d expect this level of execution to be a given with that price tag. But the accompaniments are what made the dish sing. A ragout of tender, robust pinto beans with pan-fried bacon bits formed the base of plate. Tangy, tender, sautéed cabbage added elements of sweet and a touch of sour. Finally, a drizzle of sriracha-lime dressing brought everything together, and really took this dish to new heights.
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.
Comfort food or “home-style” cooking is, generally speaking, not terribly complicated, nor is it particularly challenging to produce. Relying on rather simplistic cooking techniques and classic, commonplace ingredients, it’s termed “comfort” cooking and “home-style” because it’s familiar and accessible to even the lowliest of home cooks. But being simplistic or accessible does not imply that this cuisine need be drab, bland, or dissatisfying—indeed a large part of its comforting appeal is rich, satisfying flavors meant to warm the soul and fill the belly. Fried chicken, for example, requires only a handful of key ingredients—its preparation straightforward and approachable. But it’s no secret that a perfectly done piece of fried chicken is one of life’s great pleasures. Perhaps, however, it is this expectation of something comforting that makes poorly done home-style cooking such a tearjerker, a real disappointment. Thus was my experience with Homer’s West, a place (at least in its original location) has stood and a Little Rock landmark for years.
I’ve driven by the more recently erected western branch of the Homer’s family dozens of times; I’ve rarely had much interest in stopping in. But this particular night, I had a hankering for fried chicken—a craving that hit me suddenly like a bowling ball to the ten pins. Problem is, most popular home-style restaurants close early in the day or are only open on weekdays—a problem here, as it was late on a Saturday evening. Homer’s came to mind, they would surely serve some fried poultry capable of taming this growing pang in my stomach.
Unfortunately, Homer’s struck out, went down swinging, and never really had a chance with such a losing formula. First off (so far as I could tell), fried chicken was not on the menu that night— “chicken fried chicken” was—a completely ridiculous name for nothing more than flattened and batter-fried chicken. This was as close as I would get to fried chicken that night. But I’ve had decent chicken fried chicken in the past—very decent, enjoyable in fact. But Homer’s version and all it’s accompanying adornments left much to be desired.
The chicken was dry, lifeless, and lacking any crispness whatsoever. The thin, wispy sliver of white meat was devoid of any freshness or flavor, the breading and outer crust reminiscent of an item one might expect from a microwavable Hungry-Man dinner. The bombardment of bad did not stop there. The simple sides, staples in the comfort food armamentarium, were no more impressive. The macaroni and cheese was thin, watery, and left me wondering if there was actually anything in there that had ever even been near a cow’s udder. The mashed potatoes, an item so easily executed and reproduced by even the most amateur home cooks, were abysmal. Grainy, flavorless, and underseasoned—with enough butter and salt, I’m convinced you could create better mash from those abominable potato flakes. Even the yeast roll had an off-putting flavor, tasting slightly sour, as if it had spent a bit too long gathering dust on a pantry shelf.
The original Homer’s, while I’ve never eaten there myself, must be attractive enough to warrant opening a second location. But with food such as I was served, I find it hard to believe the two locations are equal in quality. Am I wrong here Homer’s fans? Did I miss something or was this an off night? Homer’s West boasts a location fairly convenient to my home, but I can’t say I’d be particularly anxious to return in the near future.
Nearly any form of meat undergoes a type of special transfiguration when stuffed inside the intestines of another beast. The recent departure of Hot Dog Mike from our distinguished city had many loyal followers bemoaning the loss if his fair franks; it was an exit that hit the central Arkansas foodscape with the force of a wrecking ball. Yet, I am reminded of a good number of restaurants that continue to put out some truly fantastic tubed meats. There are plenty of extraordinary sausages, brats, and hot dogs in central Arkansas to act as a soothing balm to the painful burning Mike’s departure may have left in your heart. Then again, that may just be your GERD acting up again. So before you all go rushing off for the Oscar Mayer wieners, here are a few joints around central Arkansas serving up the luscious links that’ll help stave off the hot dog withdrawals.
Green Cart Deli: Conway residents are not strangers to fabulous franks as they’ve been fortunate to have the likes of Green Cart Deli in their midst. Not living in the area and wondering if it’s worth the trip out to C-town? Here’s what you can expect from this wonderful, forward-thinking little cart: The “Warrior” dog with bacon, house made slaw, relish, and Memphis sweet sauce; the “Ranch” dog with bacon, slaw, fried onions, pepper strips, and chipotle ranch dressing. That not enough to entice you to visit? How about the “Cobbdog” with hard-boiled egg, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, sriracha mayo, and green onion? Suddenly, Conway feels like it deserves your undivided attention.The Original Scoop Dog: This North Little Rock roadside stop boasts a sizable number of desserts based primarily on their excellent frozen custard. But they’re not slacking in the hot dog department either; while the selections may not be extensive, what they do have is worth pulling over for. Their classic Chicago dog is done right, with all the usual suspects: mustard, neon green relish, onions, red tomato slices, and spicy sport peppers. You’ll also want to take the Detroit dog for a spin, with all-beef chili, mustard, chopped white onion and nacho cheese. I typically shun the processed, goopy yellow liquid cheese, but somehow it seems to work well here. The dogs are served hot and the buns warm and slightly steamed. A respectable dog stand by all accounts.
Lynn’s Chicago Foods: You’ll not find a better representation of the wares of the Windy City than at this long-time Southwest Little Rock establishment. One should not visit without slurping down one of their famous, sloppy Italian beef sandwiches but you’ll also find one magnificent Chicago dog on the menu…likely not a huge surprise there. Standard arrangement, but done right, served fresh. Close your eyes and dig in and you can almost make yourself believe you are eating in the shadows of the spaceship-like Chicago Civic Opera House.
There have been some truly brilliant partnerships throughout history…Lennon and McCartney, Batman and Robin, Ben and Jerry. For me, it’s always pleasing to see chefs, bakers, and culinary craftsmen partnering up to produce beautiful products. It’s this sense of camaraderie and cooperation that fosters progress in our local culinary scene. It always excites me to see young, creative minds finding new ways to support local food by sharing ideas and products with each other. Recently, we reported the new goings on at the lovely kitchen at White Water Tavern. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone in this town not enthusiastic and entirely pleased about what’s coming out of Jonathan Wilkins’ kitchen. Previously, we mentioned the mild-melting collaboration between White Water and the fabulous Loblolly Creamy, which in my opinion happens to serve the finest ice cream in Little Rock, and perhaps in the known universe. This was a partnership destined for greatness from the moment of its inception. This past weekend, Loblolly began serving up paninis prepared in conjunction with the kitchen at White Water. Like a moth to bright lights, it was too tantalizing an offer for me to stay away.
What a joy to be able to begin your lunch at Loblolly with a savory sandwich before pounding three scoops of exquisite ice cream. Paninis will change weekly, so you’re not likely to get bored with frequent visits. It’s nice to see Loblolly spreading its good name throughout Little Rock by teaming up with these businesses. Where else will you find them? They’re also providing ice cream to the dessert menu at Trio’s, they’re periodically bringing their goods to White Water to help produce the big kid’s “boozy milkshakes,” and you’ll find them in the freezer cases of Argenta Market and Boulevard Bread. Am I fine with Loblolly gradually taking over this city? Oh yes, I wholeheartedly support it.
(You'll find Loblolly inside the Green Corner Store at 1423 Main St., Little Rock. Mon-Sat 11am-5pm)
This may sound odd, but I've got a lot of sympathy for Ashley's at the Capital Hotel. It's never easy to be the top dog, and around Little Rock it doesn't get any bigger than the restaurant that can boast a line of chefs who have both won and been nominated for some of the country's top food prizes. The departure of chef Lee Richardson last year sent our local food community into a tizzy, leading to speculation about whether Ashley's upscale Southern menu could survive the loss of his guidance and vision. The subsequent hiring of Beard-award winning and Michelin-starred Joël Antunès raised questions once again, with locals being only slightly soothed by news that the new chef would attempt to keep the menu local while putting his signature on things. Lost in all this talk was an important question: how's the food?
Chef Antunès has yet to make any sweeping changes to the Ashley's menu, but when the opportunity to join fellow food writer Kevin Shalin and his wife Sara for a meal arose, I couldn't wait to get my fancy duds on and see if all the hype would pan out. Ashley's offers two options for dinner dining, a three course, $52 prix fixe menu and a $99 tasting menu that spans five courses. We opted for the three course meal, but were pleased that Ashley's offers a couple of the exclusive dishes from the five course tasting as possible choices for the the smaller meal as well. After some discussion, two of our party decided to spring for the $24 wine pairing to go along with their meal, and while I stuck with iced tea (not being a fan of wine), I must say that it was some pretty fantastic tea.
It was hard to pick from the menu options, because the descriptions are all quite tantalizing. I finally settled on the risotto and was treated to a bowl of creamy rice topped with thick curls of Parmesan cheese and a generous pile of shaved black truffles. From the smooth texture of the rice to the earthy flavors of the truffles and cheese, this was one of the most simple and satisfying dishes I've ever eaten. No one flavor dominated, but all came together to make each bite a delightful mix of taste and texture that stayed consistently good from the first bite to the last. Of all the first course dishes we tasted (including a tasty quail dish and a nice play on shrimp and grits), the only other dish I felt came close to this risotto was a plate of crisp-fried veal sweetbreads with braised apples and bacon lardons that we substituted from the five course meal. The sweetbreads were meltingly tender and complemented well by the tart apples and smoky bacon.
For the main course, I knew right away what I was going to order: the seared duck breast with lentils and duck confit. Duck, as Kevin so accurately put it, is a "high-risk, high-reward" dish — when it's good, it's incredible, but it's often overcooked, dry, and basically inedible. When the attractive dish of sliced duck hit our table, the signs were good: the duck was medium-rare in the center with a dark, crisp-looking skin attached. I eagerly took the first bite...and success. The meat was juicy and tender, with a taste that was mild at first but with a richness that came through almost immediately. The skin, which is one of the most important elements, was uniformly crisp without being the least bit tough. The lentils, which could have been an afterthought, were excellent, richly flavored by the thin shreds of fat-cooked duck confit and a perfect counter-weight to the breast. The rest of the table were impressed with their various steaks, plates of monkfish, and arctic char, but all agreed that this duck was something memorable.
In fact, our meal only had two disappointments: an amuse bouche that tasted like mushroom-flavored gingerbread was dismissed by our table as dry and inedible and our desserts were pretty unimpressive. But between those lackluster bookends were some of the greatest dishes I've had the privilege to sample in Little Rock, with the duck being one of the best things I've eaten anywhere. The whole experience left me eager to see what Chef Antunès has up his sleeve for Ashley's, and I look forward to my next meal in that quiet, stately dining room.
A few years ago, Chi's Too on Markham would have been perfectly acceptable Chinese take-out: it's quick, it's cheap, and while nobody would consider it gourmet, it's tasty enough. Unfortunately for Chi's, Little Rock has come a long way in terms of delicious Chinese that doesn't hit the pocketbook very hard. Midtown has Pei Wei, the P.F. Chang's spin-off that boasts ample portions in the $6-$10 range, and South University is home to the Chinese-food wonderland that is Mr. Chen's. Compared to these powerhouses, Chi's Too is just a distant also-ran, a throwback to a time when Chinese take-out was just a step above microwaving a TV dinner.
But all that's not to say that Chi's doesn't have its good points. First, the place will deliver to the surrounding neighborhood, and there are some nights where a drop-off in quality for convenience is an acceptable trade. The staff is generally quite friendly, and orders placed for pick-up or dine in arrive hot and fresh without much wait at all. As for the food...well, I don't want you all to get the wrong impression. Chi's food is perfectly fine. The pan-fried potstickers are tasty, if a touch soggy, and the kung pao chicken is savory and good nestled on its bed of fresh steamed broccoli. Less successful to me was the Sichuan beef, which lacked any sort of spice whatsoever. I understand that "Sichuan" is just a generic descriptive term in these parts, but I'd like to see a Chinese place in Arkansas actually do true Sichuan cuisine — the kind of pepper-laced deliciousness that burns to the point of numbness while exploding with flavor. Chi's version was a mild beef dish that only had a fresh crunch of onions to give it some pep.
All of this is not to say that Chi's should be avoided; it isn't nearly so bad as that. As a quick option for lunch, it's a perfect idea, and as I said before, the delivery option wins it a lot of points in my book. For something really excellent, though, there are just options that blow the place out of the water in terms of taste while coming in right at the same price point. Chi's Too was a place I really wanted to like (especially given its proximity to my house), but unless I'm feeling lazy I don't foresee myself heading to the place over other nearby options.
Chi's Too is located at 5110 W. Markham, and they are available for delivery from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. Call 604-7777 to place your order.
(Mercado San Jose is located at 7411 Geyer Springs Rd, Little Rock. The restaurant is open from 9 am - 6:45 pm todos los dias)
Our meal began with a trio of salsas. The first was a standard proprietary blend of red tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño. Although this was a rather routine recipe, we found it to be the most appealing. The next salsa was a spicy green blend heavy with blended jalapeño. The salsa was certainly on the spicy side but fell a little flat in the flavor department, the taste of the peppers overwhelming any other ingredients. Most at our table completely avoided this one. Lastly, we were presented with a warm, stewed blend of tomato and green chilies. This had a hint of sweetness and was a nice change of pace from the other two cold salsas. The chips were thin and crispy with a light coat of oil, in all making the complimentary beginning to this meal a favorable start.
The carne guisada was the most successful dish of the night. Guisadas are stewed meats, typically served swimming in a rich, flavorful, aromatic sauce. La Casa Real's version took bits of serloin, cut into strips and served them in a spicy, peppery blend of green chilies, onions, black peppercorns, and garlic. The sauce was rather tasty but the beef was slightly overcooked and chewy. Still, the dish was woven with interesting flavors, I would not hesitate to eat this one again. We sampled two varieties of deep-fried chimichanga, one filled with ground beef and the other with shredded chicken. While the beef was enjoyable, the chicken was oddly sweet and unappetizing to most in our party. The most grievous aspect of the dish was the thick, goopy layer of Velveeta cheese slopped across the entire surface of the fried chimi which formed an unappealing film across the top of the dish within minutes. We all wished they had held off on the gobs of processed cheese in favor of more sour cream or guacamole. Our chicken enchiladas suffered from the same misgivings I presented above, funky sweetened chicken and sup-par tortillas.
Has there ever been a more wonderful animal than the pig? We cure and smoke its hind quarters to adorn our holiday tables, eat its jowls for good luck come the new year, cut strips from its belly and back for breakfast and seasoning, barbecue its front quarters and ribs — and all of that is just the barest scratching of the culinary surface when it comes to the humble pig. Arkansas is a pig-loving state, even being home to the only sports team in America that has a porcine mascot. There isn't a part of the pig that can't be made into something delicious, and that goes for some parts that have fallen out of favor among modern eaters: the intestines. Long valued as a Southern delicacy, pork intestines (or chitterlings) trace their humble roots across every culture that has made the pig a food animal. This includes Chinese cuisine, and if you've ever needed a spicy way to embrace and consume pig guts, Mr. Chen's Oriental Restaurant on South University is the place for you.
Mr. Chen's has no less than three preparations for pork intestines, but with the cold wind blowing today there was only one thing that would satisfy: the Spicy Pork Intestine Hot Pot. All thoughts of the blustery day left me as the steaming cauldron hit my table, the thick broth still bubbling with the sliced intestines, cubes of silken tofu, and a generous helping of hot peppers. The smell is at once funky and delightful, with an earthy richness to it that can only be gotten from offal. The flavor of the intestines themselves is much milder than the initial aroma might leave one to believe, with a texture that is right in the sweet spot between tender and chewy. Each bite brings a load of spice to the tongue, and between the hot temperature of the dish, the pepper-heat, and the filling nature of the pork, a plateful of this stew becomes a fortifying tonic against the weather outside.
There's something about these rustic stews of cast-off parts and waste bits that gets me every time. The simple, mineral flavor of the meat is mellowed by long-cooking and complemented by the hot peppers. Every filling bite is the perfect balance of texture, spice, and flavor that makes these sorts of slow-cooked dishes so special. Adventurous eaters should seek this one out for a delightful wintertime meal, because like my mother always said: you'll never know you like it if you never try it.
"...honestly I expect about the same level of food out of Chuy's. which means I…
While I'm gad to see another restaurant fill up that space, it worries me for…
Riviera Maya? Cozymel's? really? I don't believe I've heard anybody praising that shit.
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings