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Vegetarian Dining Guide 

It wasn't that long ago when Times readers voted Dixie Cafe best vegetarian restaurant in the Best of Arkansas poll. We love a "Vegetable Heaven" plate as much as the next Southerner, but it goes to show just how limited the options for vegetarians were in Central Arkansas just a few years ago. Thankfully, things have changed. With ever-increasing frequency, Arkansas eateries are making well-executed, delicious, meat-free dishes. Below, we offer a jumping off point for vegetarians, vegans and people who just like good food that happens to be meat-free.

4Square Cafe & Gifts This restaurant is ideal if you work downtown and are looking for something light and healthy. We usually opt for the soup du jour and the tofu hummus wrap, which is filling and bold thanks to the Kalamata olive spread inside. Chips, a limp pickle spear and other traditional sides don't come with the sandwiches and wraps, which is a plus, since you'll want to save room for dessert. Options range from hand-dipped Yarnell's ice cream to baked sweets to cookies, pie, and cake. Everything is vegetarian. 405 President Clinton Ave. 244-2622. CC. No alcohol. 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri., 10:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sun.

Argenta Market You'll find a wealth of products from Arkansas here to make homemade meat-free meals at home, including a good variety of produce. The bread and pastry case is filled with goodies from Boulevard Bread Co. and Community Bakery, a convenience for those who live on the north side of the river. The deli in the back of the market offers a fine portabella sandwich, but it's the deluxe grilled cheese sandwich with melted Colby and cheddar cheese, served with a sublime roasted tomato-onion jam, that truly stands out. Excellent house-made potato chips come on the side. 521 Main St., North Little Rock. 379-9980. CC. Beer and wine. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-8 p.m., 9 a.m. Sun.

Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine Banana Leaf serves flavorful, authentic Indian food, and there are always good veggie options. We dig the masala dosas, pakoras, veggie samosas and the vadas (savory lentil doughnut). But be prepared to wait awhile. 201 N. Van Buren Street. 227-0860. Cash only. No alcohol. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.

Bangkok Thai An oasis in the Central Arkansas Thai restaurant desert, this stall inside the River Market's Ottenheimer Hall offers all your basic Thai staples done well. A favorite entree is the pad kra pao, a stir-fry with bell pepper, carrots, onion, tofu and lots of basil, served on a bed of rice.  The food is prepared to order, which is a good thing, but don't visit if you are in a hurry. Most, not all, items can be made without meat and tofu substituted. 400 President Clinton Ave. 374-5105. CC. No alcohol. 10:30 am- 4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Big Orange If you find yourself on Chenal Parkway, this is a great place to pop into for a meat-free specialty burger. Big Orange is better known for beef, but the veggie patties are clearly not an afterthought. Their homemade, moist and well-textured, and there are nine burger varieties to choose from. An added bonus -- all the starters are vegetarian. There are some interesting salads, as well. 17809 Chenal Parkway. 821-1515. CC. Full bar. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 10:30 a.m.- 10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Boulevard Bread Start your week off with Meatless Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m. Each Monday, the Heights location offers a veg-friendly hot plate dinner. These meals are usually made with local produce and have included Asian fried tofu with shiitake mushrooms, curried Jamaican veggies, vegetarian chili and eggplant parmesan. On its regular menu, all four Boulevard locations have a vegan hummus sandwich and two veggie sandwiches -- goat cheese and mozzarella -- as well as a veggie Greek sampler plate. There's usually a veggie soup option, too. And if that option is Mexican black bean with creme fraiche, you definitely don't want to miss out. 1920 North Grant Street (Heights). 663-5951.CC. Wine, beer. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 4301 West Markham Street.526-6661. 1417 Main Street. 375-5100. 400 President Clinton Avenue.375-2552. CC. No alcohol.7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Cafe Bossa Nova This Brazilian cafe features an entire section on its menu for vegetarians and vegans. It's hard to go wrong with the arroz com feijao (black beans and rice). It's a simple dish, done right. You'll also find salads here made with fresh greens, fruit and nuts. Try to save room for dessert. The cafe's tres leites, rice pudding and bread pudding are all recommended. You'll find pastries and bread and some of the best coffee in town at the restaurant's bakery next door, Rosalia's. 2701 Kavanaugh Blvd. 614-6682. CC. Full bar. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Sat.; 10:30 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sun.

Chi's Dim Sum & Bistro With it's neutral exterior and Shackleford location, Chi's blends into the surrounding chain restaurants. But it isn't a chain -- it's runs by a family that has been serving up Chinese food in Little Rock for 30 years. They offer an entire vegetarian menu, full of bean curd and marinated tofu and veggie bowls. 6 Shackleford Drive.221-7737. CC. Full bar. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

Curry in a Hurry Indian restaurant in a west Little Rock strip mall, with an astounding number of veggie and even vegan dishes. Dependably hearty and yummy. 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road. 224-4567. CC. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon., Wed-Sun. Closed Tuesday.

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