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The best restaurants in Arkansas 

Our readers do the picking.

NORTHWEST PASSAGE: Fine restaurants like The Plaza aboudn in NW Arkansas.
  • NORTHWEST PASSAGE: Fine restaurants like The Plaza aboudn in NW Arkansas.
There are many imitators, but in Arkansas, no restaurant contest has been around longer and is more respected than the Arkansas Times Readers Choice Awards. The readers do the voting. We insert ballots in two fall issues and then spend the next couple of months counting the thousands of votes on restaurant favorites around the state. We ask readers to vote on the best restaurants in their hometown and in the balance of the state. It’s a way to be sure our heavy concentration of readers in Little Rock doesn’t leave other restaurants out of the mix. We search hard for people who submit multiple ballots and disqualify them. This year, as ever, many past winners are still reader favorites. But times change, new talent enters the market and Northwest Arkansas has created a restaurant dynamic all its own. (That’s why we decided to feature the great Northwest in the cover story that accompanies this year’s list of winners.) Winning isn’t everything. Being a runner-up is a big deal, too. Here’s the honor roll, with runners-up listed in alphabetical order: OVERALL Personality chefs who constantly freshen menus in restaurants that are pleasant to behold: It’s a winning formula for both our repeat winners. LITTLE ROCK Brave New Restaurant RUNNERS-UP: Faded Rose, 1620, Trio’s. AROUND ARKANSAS James at the Mill of Johnson RUNNERS-UP: DeVito’s of Eureka Springs, Marketplace Grill of Conway and Pompeii Cafe of Hot Springs. NEW How much new happened in Arkansas last year? Not much. A chain restaurant ran away with the Little Rock competition. Nothing in the balance of the state drew enough votes to merit an award. LITTLE ROCK On the Border RUNNERS-UP: Cheers of Maumelle, Gusano’s, Rock Town Grill. ITALIAN You don’t get more venerable than the winner in Little Rock, one of the city’s oldest restaurants. And Hot Springs boasts the other top honor. LITTLE ROCK Bruno’s RUNNERS-UP: Bene Vita, Graffiti’s, Olive Garden, Romano’s Macaroni Grill. AROUND ARKANSAS Belle Arti of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: DeVito’s of Eureka Springs, Ermilio’s of Eureka Springs and J’s Italian Villa of Hot Springs. CHINESE It is perhaps time to create an Asian category, because of the growing availability of diverse offerings from that region. But for one more year, here goes, with the most popular the flagship of a family group of restaurants. LITTLE ROCK Chi’s RUNNERS-UP: Fantastic China, Fu Lin, Hunan Oriental Cuisine. AROUND ARKANSAS Lucky Dragon of Berryville RUNNERS-UP: Jade China of Conway and King’s and Panda of Hot Springs. MEXICAN The stars are back in alignment this year with a double win for a popular local chain. LITTLE ROCK La Hacienda RUNNERS-UP: Casa Manana, El Porton, Juanita’s, Senor Tequila. AROUND ARKANSAS La Hacienda, Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Don Juan’s of Hot Springs, Elenita’s of Fayetteville and Los Amigos of Conway. FUN The category can mean a place for kids or decidedly for sophisticated grownups, like the big swinging deck at our Little Rock winner. See what we mean. LITTLE ROCK Cajun’s Wharf RUNNERS-UP: Chuck E. Cheese, Ciao Baci, Purple Cow. AROUND ARKANSAS Jose’s of Fayetteville RUNNERS-UP: Garbanzo’s of Hot Springs, Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs, Varsity Grill of Fort Smith. OTHER FOREIGN Many tastes, spanning the globe you might say, with fusion winning out in an upset of a long-time winner. LITTLE ROCK Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some RUNNERS-UP: Cafe Bossa Nova, Sekisui, Star of India. AROUND ARKANSAS Brau House of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Bohemia of Hot Springs, Taste of Thai of Fayetteville. BAKERY Familiar and old-fashioned good are the watchwords with both of our repeat winners. LITTLE ROCK Community Bakery RUNNERS-UP: Boulevard Bread Co., Old Mill, Silvek’s. AROUND ARKANSAS Ed’s of Conway RUNNERS-UP: Ambrosia of Hot Springs, Klappenbach’s of Fordyce, Mueller’s of Hot Springs. BARBECUE A relative newcomer solidifies its hold on first in the capital, while the old tried-and-true is still a blue ribbon winner in Hot Springs. LITTLE ROCK Whole Hog Cafe RUNNERS-UP: Corky’s, HB’s, Sims. AROUND ARKANSAS McClard’s of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Bubba’s of Eureka Springs, Craig’s of DeValls Bluff, Smitty’s of Conway. BREAKFAST The chains are taking a firmer hold on most slots in this category, with one big exception. LITTLE ROCK Ozark Mountain Smokehouse RUNNERS-UP: Denny’s, IHOP, Satellite Coffee Co. AROUND ARKANSAS Cracker Barrel, multiple locations RUNNERS-UP: Pancake Shop of Hot Springs, Stoby’s of Conway, Waffle House. CATFISH The old order was restored this year after a Little Rock upstart took a rare victory last year. LITTLE ROCK Grampa’s of North Little Rock RUNNERS-UP: Catfish City, Cock of the Walk, Flying Fish. AROUND ARKANSAS Fish House of Conway RUNNERS-UP: Denton’s Trotline of Benton, Jason’s Burgers and More of Hot Springs, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs. DELI/GOURMET SHOP A booming sandwich shop in Little Rock and a bit more refinement in Hot Springs describe the winners here. LITTLE ROCK Jason’s RUNNERS-UP:Bennett’s, Boulevard Bread Co., Diane’s. AROUND ARKANSAS Cafe 1217 of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Cheese Corner of Hot Springs, Market at Pinnacle of Rogers, Ozark Natural Foods of Fayetteville. HAMBURGER The citified version of a country favorite widens its margin in Little Rock this year and, in Hot Springs, how bad can the namesake dish be? LITTLE ROCK Cotham’s in the City RUNNERS-UP: Arkansas Burger Co., Buffalo Grill, Purple Cow. AROUND ARKANSAS Jason’s Burgers and More of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Hugo’s of Fayetteville, Shorty’s of Conway, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger of Russellville. PIZZA They might as well call the runaway winner Arkansas Pizza, it so dominates our contest. LITTLE ROCK U.S. Pizza RUNNERS-UP: Damgoode Pies, Pizza Cafe, Vino’s. AROUND ARKANSAS Rocky’s Corner of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Larry’s of Bryant, Rod’s Pizza Cellar of Hot Springs, Sonny’s of Eureka Springs. SEAFOOD Good fish and good fun could be the winning motto of our Little Rock winner, while a Hot Springs favorite repeats. LITTLE ROCK Cajun’s Wharf RUNNERS-UP: Brave New Restaurant, Flying Fish, Red Lobster, Vermillion Water Grille. AROUND ARKANSAS Cajun Boilers of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Fish House of Conway, Fisherman’s Wharf of Hot Springs, Powerhouse Seafood of Fayetteville. STEAK Downtown is uptown for steaks this year and a legendary restaurant in Hot Springs still keeps our readers happy. LITTLE ROCK Sonny Williams’ Steak Room RUNNERS-UP: Faded Rose, Outback, Sir Loin’s Inn. AROUND ARKANSAS Coy’s, Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Colton’s with many locations, Doe’s of Hot Springs, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs. DESSERT Visions of strawberry shortcake always dance in our head when we write the undefeated champion of this category from Little Rock. And sweets go well with java in Conway. LITTLE ROCK Trio’s RUNNERS-UP: Community Bakery, Silvek’s, 1620. AROUND ARKANSAS Mean Bean Cafe of Conway RUNNERS-UP: Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs, Marketplace Grill of Conway, Stoby’s of Conway. COFFEE The big chain whips them good in Little Rock, again. LITTLE ROCK Starbucks RUNNERS-UP: Boulevard Bread Co., Coffee Beanery, Sufficient Grounds. AROUND ARKANSAS Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs RUNNERS-UP: Arsaga’s of Fayetteville, Mean Bean Cafe of Conway, Something’s Brewing of Conway. HOME COOKING Our home-grown chain, and a national chain with some similarities, have won legions of fans. LITTLE ROCK Dixie Cafe RUNNERS-UP: Cotham’s in the City, Homer’s, Your Mama’s Good Food. AROUND ARKANSAS Cracker Barrel RUNNERS-UP: Holly’s Country Cooking of Conway, Jones Cafe of Pine Bluff, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs. FAMILY We keep meaning to try to differentiate this category from that immediately above, to define it as a place good to take kids. But, come to think of it, kids do love macaroni and cheese and other comfort food. LITTLE ROCK Dixie Cafe RUNNERS-UP: Buffalo Grill, Chili’s, Purple Cow. AROUND ARKANSAS Cracker Barrel RUNNERS-UP: AQ Chicken of Fayetteville, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs, Stoby’s of Conway. ROMANTIC It means many things to many people, thus several votes for Waffle House. The winners are more upscale. LITTLE ROCK 1620 RUNNERS-UP: Acadia, Ashley’s, Vermillion Water Grille. AROUND ARKANSAS Belle Arti of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: James at the Mill of Johnson, Marketplace Grill of Conway, Pompeii Cafe of Hot Springs. WINE Tough competition in Little Rock, at least, produced a new winner. LITTLE ROCK Acadia RUNNERS-UP: Ashley’s, Capers, Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some. AROUND ARKANSAS Pompeii Cafe of Hot Springs RUNNERS-UP: Autumn Breeze of Eureka Springs, Belle Arti of Hot Springs, James at the Mill of Johnson. OTHER CITIES In our final category, we asked voters to pick the best restaurants in the major cities outside Little Rock, with Fayetteville representing the Northwest Arkansas corridor including Rogers and Bentonville. EUREKA SPRINGS Ermilio’s RUNNERS-UP: Bubba’s, DeVito’s, Horizon. FAYETTEVILLE James at the Mill of Johnson RUNNERS-UP: AQ Chicken, Pesto Cafe, Herman’s. FORT SMITH Bella Italia RUNNERS-UP: Emmy’s, Neumeier’s Rib Room, Taliano’s. HOT SPRINGS McClard’s RUNNERS-UP: Belle Arti, Chef Paul’s, Pompeii Cafe. JONESBORO Couch’s RUNNERS-UP: 501 Club, Lazzari’s. PINE BLUFF Jones Cafe RUNNERS-UP: Colonial Steakhouse, Leon’s, Sno-White Grill. THE WINNER Lennie Bryan of Little Rock wins $100 in our ballot drawing.
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