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When you talk about Mexican cuisine in Central Arkansas it's important to be clear about definitions. Are we talking about new-wave taco joints that serve up fried chicken and pickles wrapped in flour tortillas? Are we talking about your middle-of-the-road chains that churn out combo platters on hot plates? Or are we talking about the real deal?
What is the real deal? The real deal is a little off the beaten path. The real deal may or may not be attached to a grocery store. The real deal is decked out with bright green and orange walls. The real deal has televisions set to Spanish-language soap operas.
El Paisano, just off of Camp Robinson Road in North Little Rock, is the real deal.
Start with the guacamole. A small bowl will run you $3.99, but it was more than two of us could finish off. It's not for the faint of heart. It's chunky, filled with hunks of un-mushed avocado, diced tomato and chopped onions. It's got plenty of cilantro and is punched up with lime. Its cool and creamy texture is a nice complement to the spicy hot homemade salsa that comes gratis with nicely fried and salted chips.
El Paisano is serious about portion size. Our dinner platters were hearty and came packed to the edges. The Bistek Ranchero ($8.99) was a standout. Thin sheets of grilled skirt steak came surrounded by rice, pinto beans, grilled green onions, a huge grilled jalapeno, cactus slices, lime halves and — best of all — a hunk, yes a hunk, of cotija cheese. There was some shredded lettuce and pico de gallo, too. It's served with a side of hot flour or corn tortillas (we chose flour). We figured the way to go was to just cut everything up and stuff it in the tortillas. That worked. You get a great combination of textures and flavors, all warm, spicy and comforting.
The Pollo Ala Mexicana ($8.99) was a little underwhelming but only in comparison to the bistek. It's solid enough, grilled chicken mixed with sauteed green peppers and onions. The dish comes with refried beans, rice and sliced avocado (which is a nice touch that looks great, too). It's worth mentioning that El Paisano has some of the best rice around. Long grains, not greasy and not dry either, with a really subtle saffron flavor. This is a good plate; it just wasn't our favorite.
The Alambres ($8.99) was another winner, but you had better be hungry if you want to get anywhere near finishing this plate. It's sauteed steak and chorizo (mixed with plenty of seasoning), topped with shredded cheese and flanked with rice and beans. A side of tortillas helps you make headway on this one, but you'll probably have some to take home. The spicy and warm chorizo coats the steak and really gives you something tasty to chew on.
Whether we're at a taco truck or at a sit-down establishment like El Paisano, it's difficult for us to order a torta. It's just not our thing. However, sometimes you just have to push yourself past your comfort zone, and we're glad we did here. The torta ($5.99) comes absolutely loaded with your choice of meat (we went with the al pastor, which is ground and seasoned pork), lettuce, tomato, mayo, avocado and jalapeno. These ingredients just work. The mayo cools out the jalapeno, the lettuce provides a nice crunch, there was plenty of meat and the bread was amazing. This all comes inside a sandwich roll that's been buttered and grilled. It's downright heavenly (and huge).
You can't go to a place like this and not order tacos. We tried a couple. The al pastor and asada tacos ($1.99 each) were great. They're small, but the meat's stacked high and each comes with two fluffy and soft corn tortillas, so once again there's a lot of bang for your buck. There are more adventurous offerings, including tongue and pork belly. The steak was nicely seasoned meat and not dry or tough. Everything we ordered — including on a return trip at lunch — was solid. It's no-frills, downright good food. The service is friendly and you get more than what you pay for. As an added bonus, Donald Trump would absolutely hate this place. If this is the kind of food we can expect when there are #tacotrucksoneverycorner, then sign us up.
406 W. 47th St.
North Little Rock
We mentioned the tacos but we didn't mention the taco. The Taco Loco ($1.99) is probably one of the best tacos we've ever had — taco truck, restaurant, wherever. It's steak, chorizo, melted cheese, a dash of pico, a slice of avocado. Ask for some hot sauce (green and red both) to throw on top and you've got yourself a winner. It comes wrapped in a warm flour tortilla and is absolutely delicious.
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Credit cards accepted. Beer by the bottle. There's a grocery store next door.
The best pizza!!!!