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The king of wings? 

We consider three local spots.

click to enlarge AMAZING SAUCE: At Mista Wings.
  • AMAZING SAUCE: At Mista Wings.

Until recently, it's been rough going for Buffalo-wing lovers in Little Rock.

The last time we took a survey of the wing scene, about a year and a half ago, we found three restaurants that didn't quite live up to expectations. In the interim, a downtown joint called 801 Wings had time to open shop and then close for good. It was enough to conclude that Little Rock will never be a wing town.

Happily, that conclusion was premature. Since January of this year, two new restaurants devoted to wings — Mista Wings and All American Wings — have opened downtown. Along with Chicken Wangs Cafe, an established, off-the-beaten-path joint we recently discovered, the new restaurants allow us to report that wings have arrived in Little Rock. All three are certainly among the best wing places we've tried here. Only Chicken King in North Little Rock gives them a run for their money.

Don't be fooled — none of these competes with the wings in our one-time home of Buffalo. But after an adjustment period during which we adhered to very strict Buffalo-derived standards for our wings, we've come to begrudgingly accept regional variants. For example, Little Rock seems to believe that wings should be served with ranch dressing rather than blue cheese. This is a sin against nature as far as we're concerned, but one we're willing to swallow if we can swallow some fine, greasy chicken meat at the same time.

Still, a good chicken wing will have certain characteristics that cannot be disputed. We hereby present the Three Commandments of Good Buffalo Wings, whether they're prepared in Buffalo or Timbuktu:

I. They shalt be large.

II. They shalt be of a moderate crispiness.

III. They shalt be well-sauced.

So how do our three new restaurants live up to the Three Commandments? Very well — though none quite achieves the trifecta.

Chicken Wangs Cafe first. This is a little place a ways out on Colonel Glenn Road that has limited seating and ridiculously late hours — until 1 a.m. on Saturday and 2 a.m. on Friday. Its strength is size; though not of an overwhelming girth, the wings are quite large. We ordered two flavors, barbecue and spicy, which we were told was the hottest. The spicy turned out to essentially be miniature fried chicken dusted in a hot powder. The meat was quite greasy and not what springs to mind when you think of Buffalo wings, though that's not to say it was bad. The barbecue was somewhat disappointing. Its texture was slightly reminiscent of a fried Chinese dish. Still, we left the restaurant satisfied. Other flavors we neglected include regular, lemon, pepper, garlic pepper, honey mustard and Buffalo, which we were told was more akin to the wing we know and love than the spicy.

A couple of complaints make Chicken Wangs Cafe the bronze medalist in this roundup. The restaurant did not offer blue cheese even as a special order, as the other two restaurants do, a real shock to the system. More importantly, it offers the lowest bang for your buck. Six wings, no sides included, will cost you five or six dollars depending on flavor. A six-piece dinner, which comes with two sides, offers a better deal at $7.

With Mista Wings and All American Wings opening within months and blocks of each other, Little Rock may be in for a Buffalo-wing battle royale downtown.

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