Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
One of the coolest things about the influx of Latinos into Little Rock in recent decades has been the food they've brought with them. Fifteen years ago, the closest Little Rock residents were going to get to authentic Mexican or South American dishes was likely to be the “International” section at Kroger. These days, however, there's a wide selection of Latino treats to be found — from authentic tamales to fine Mexican pastries — if you're willing to go looking for them.
For us, that means making frequent forays into Southwest Little Rock, where the city's vibrant Latino population has tended to settle. And while we love hitting up the ubiquitous taco trucks that seem to idle on every corner down in those parts, our favorite sit-down dining stop while in SWLR has to be La Regional Taqueria, on Baseline Road.
Back when we first discovered this fine little working-class joint four or five years ago, it wasn't much more than a lunch counter in the back of a grocery store — a register, a small kitchen, a box full of chilled Cokes in glass bottles and two or three booths that quickly filled up with Spanish-speaking laborers around lunchtime. A couple years ago, though, La Regional Taqueria grew enough to warrant busting through the wall on the other side of the grocery store to take over the space there. Since then, it has spun off into an honest to goodness restaurant.
The best part of that news, other than that you can actually catch a table there at lunchtime, is that the quality of the food hasn't changed with the decor. We've honestly never had a dish at La Regional that we wouldn't rate as terrific — fresh, perfectly prepared and even beautiful to look at. This visit was no different.
From the nicely sized menu (it's been kinda-sorta translated into English since our last visit, but no worries — the friendly staff will help with your order if you don't speak the native tongue), the reviewer and friend started off with an appetizer of pork tacos with onions and cilantro ($1.50 each … and, like most of the dishes on the menu, you can order them with any of over a dozen meats, though some of them are only for the adventurous eater). The pork tacos al pastor at La Regional are heavenly: small, piping hot flour tortillas covered in thin strips of spicy grilled puerco and onion, all sprinkled with fresh cilantro. Spritzed with juice from the supplied lime wedges, they made for a little symphony of flavor. Just writing the paragraph makes us want to go back for another fix.
For an entree, we tried the fajitas de pollo a la crema ($7.99) while our companion went for the enchiladas potosinas ($7.99). Both came quicker than we expected, and both turned out to be just as delicious as the tacos. The enchiladas potosinas was especially good: four brick-red tortilla pockets filled with spices and cheese and drizzled with a sweet cream sauce, flanked by rice, refried beans, avocado wedges and a paper thin but perfectly prepared piece of lean steak. The chicken fajitas were a close second, spicy, stir fried with onions and covered in a delicious mixture of cream and cheese. Served with tortillas, rice and refried beans, all it needed was a shot of the house-made salsas that adorn every table.
Though La Regional Taqueria has a number of in-house desserts to choose from, we decided that the better choice would be to amble (or, given the meal we just indulged in, waddle) next door to La Regional Panaderia, the Latino bakery owned by the same folks as the taqueria. The shelves at the panaderia are like a trip unto themselves, stacked full of sugary, ultra-fresh goodies from every region of Mexico and beyond. The last couple of times we've been in, we blindly filled our tray (that's how it works there, by the way: grab a round aluminum tray and a pair of tongs from a rack by the door and go at it) like a kid in a candy shop, selecting solely by what looked sticky, colorful or sweet. That strategy hasn't steered us wrong yet, and didn't on our latest visit. For a little under $3, we emerged with a paper sack bursting with all sorts of tasty bits. We sampled at will from the good stuff in the sack, and they made the perfect compliment to a really fine lunch. Stuffed to the gills, we summarily agreed: We'll be back, and soon.
La Regional Taqueria
7414 Baseline Road
If you're at all a fan of really fresh juices, be sure to try the Aguas Frescas ($1.50 small, $2.50 large). Made from scratch every morning in flavors like papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, jamaica (a blood-red nectar made from tiny purple flowers, tasting something like cranberry), and tamarind, they are all absolutely delicious. Our personal fave: horchata, a sweet, cinnamony, rice-flour-based punch that tastes vaguely like melted vanilla ice cream. Yummy!
Open daily 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
All credit cards taken. Beer sold in the grocery store.