Pizza, burgers, tacos and more: the top ten top fives | Rock Candy

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pizza, burgers, tacos and more: the top ten top fives

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2015 at 9:41 AM

click to enlarge befunky_collage.jpg

With the rise in popularity of the list article (or "listicle"), I've been thinking of going above and beyond the regular list of "bests" and creating something bigger, something bolder—something worthy of the Little Rock food scene. To that end, I present not just a list, but a list of lists—the Eat Arkansas Top Ten Top Fives, ten lists of five things each that I think are the best around. 

Don't see something here that you think belongs? Let's get a discussion going in the comments—we may have a top ten top tens by the time all is said and done. And...commence!

click to enlarge Hard-shell Beef Tacos, Heights Taco & Tamale Co. - MICHAEL ROBERTS
  • Michael Roberts
  • Hard-shell Beef Tacos, Heights Taco & Tamale Co.


Tacos:

  1. Cuban Taco, Baja Grill: Picking one taco from this Heights Mexi-Cali taco joint is tough—they’re all pretty good. I've been a fan of Baja Grill since their Saline County food truck days, and it's been nice to see them succeed in their brick-and-mortar location. The Cuban is a fantastic taco filled with succulent, smoky pulled pork and topped by a tangy red cabbage and jicama slaw and fresh avocado. It's fresh, it's savory—it might be my favorite taco around.
  2. Tripa Taco, Eliella: Yes, this is a taco made with crispy bits of pig intestine. Yes, it is totally awesome. There's something about the way these little bits of chewy, crispy pig bits are prepared that just make my mouth water. If you've ever wanted to branch out into eating more offal, make these tacos your starting point, and be sure to add plenty of white onion, cilantro and a healthy squeeze of lime.
  3. Lengua Taco, Taqueria Azteca: Another favorite from my Saline County days, these bits of boiled cow's tongue make a damn fine taco. The chicken at Azteca is also fantastic, but as with the tripa, I recommend committing to something new and going for it. You'll be happy you did.
  4. Taco al Pastor, Taqueria Samantha: There is a lot to love from Samantha, including some of the best sopes in town—and a burrito that Max Brantley swears by. But we're talking tacos, and the al pastor tacos from this Southwest Little Rock taco truck are elite. Be sure to grab a healthy dose of salsa verde for a tangy kick.
  5. Hard-shell Beef, Heights Taco & Tamale: After three authentic listings in a row, I have to throw in the authentically not-authentic dish from the new Heights Delta-style Ark-Mex joint. Crunchy shells, seasoned ground beef, sour cream and tomato—these are Taco Tuesday tacos and they hit a nice sweet spot in my heart. The Pickle-Fried Chicken tacos are delicious, but these crunchy beef tacos are my favorite.
click to enlarge Half Seas Over was a heck of a debut for Moody Brews. - MICHAEL ROBERTS
  • Michael Roberts
  • Half Seas Over was a heck of a debut for Moody Brews.

Beer:

  1. Half Seas Over, Moody Brews: When Josiah Moody announced that his first beer on his Moody Brews label would be an Imperial IPA, I admit some disappointment—not because I doubted his skill, but rather I'm just not that into IPAs, much less their bigger, badder Imperial cousins. Then I tasted the brew and all disappointment melted away (as did my sobriety). It's a big beer without being bossy, with a lovely floral nose and smooth taste that puts the hops forward but not aggressively so. A perfect brew.
  2. Pale Ale, Ozark Beer Company: I'm not alone in liking this one—it's gotten national recognition. It's a smooth, crisp beer that's nice on tap or out of the can. Well worth seeking out, although it's a rare animal in Central Arkansas.
  3. Hazy Morning Stout, Apple Blossom Brewing: This is less of a beer and more an experience. Take Arsaga's coffee (specially roasted for the brewery) and use it to heavily flavor a rich stout, then pour the whole thing off a nitro tap and what do you get? A beer that has the equivalent of a shot or more of espresso per pint and tastes divine.
  4. ESB, Core: Don't let the "bitter" in the name steer you wrong, this is a flavorful beer that is quite drinkable. Great with food, or as an afternoon "unwinder." It's one of my go-to everyday beers.
  5. Rye PA, Blue Canoe Brewing: We've got a lot of good IPAs in the state, but this version from Blue Canoe on 3rd St. might be the most unique. Trading traditional bitter and astringent hop flavors for a more floral profile, this is an IPA that even non-IPA lovers can get down with. 
click to enlarge Piro's prosciutto pie is loaded with deliciousness. - MICHAEL ROBERTS
  • Michael Roberts
  • Piro's prosciutto pie is loaded with deliciousness.

Pizza:
  1. Margherita, Vino’s: Not the fanciest in terms of ingredients, not the showiest in presentation, but just good, solid pizza. I've been eating this pizza for years and years and it continues to be a satisfying pie. This is one I don't recommend getting by the slice, though, as the slices add sauce and throw off the flavors.
  2. Underdog, Damgoode: The menu helpfully tells you that this pie is no longer truly an "underdog," and from the first bite of spicy sausage, mixed red and yellow peppers and olives, all held up by a delightful pink sauce it's easy to see why. Some folks swear by going "stuffy," but my money's on a hand-tossed crust every time.
  3. Pepperoni, Iriana's: Since this downtown pizza joint is in the same building as the Arkansas Times offices, I eat here regularly. But even if it weren't so convenient, it would be worth it—this is one of the most underrated pizza places in town. My colleague David Koon loves the "Sweep the Floor" here, adding that it also makes a perfect breakfast for a hungover "Breakfast of Shame." For me, I think the crust at Iriana's is so good that I prefer just cheese or maybe pepperoni—and since pepperoni is part of various lunch specials during the week, I eat m share of it. And your share, too.
  4. Prosciutto, Piro: This is one of the most heavily decked-out Neapolitan-style pizzas I've ever tried. Nice crust, but being a ham fan, it's the thick layer of high-quality prosciutto on top that gets my motor running with this one. This is basically a charcuterie board where you can eat the board, too.
  5. Forager, ZaZa: The artichoke hearts, garlic and tomatoes make this a good pie, but the addition of caramelized onions make it great. This is one of the few multi-topping, busy pizzas I truly love—and being a fan of thinner crusts, ZaZa always hits the spot.
click to enlarge Mylo Coffee Co. goes mobile. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Mylo Coffee Co. goes mobile.

Coffee:

  1. Mylo Coffee Co.: From humble origins at area farmers markets to a bustling location in Hillcrest, a sleek mobile coffee cart—and soon, a downtown location in the Sterling building—Mylo has made themselves a staple of Little Rock's coffee scene. The pour over is great, but with summer's heat just around the corner, it's the cold brew that gets my mouth to watering. Don't miss the pastries and bread, either!
  2. Arsaga’s: I often credit Arsaga's coffee for getting me through college, and that's not much of an exaggeration. The Fayetteville coffee company keeps improving, and they make my favorite latte of all time. 
  3. Leiva's: Geovanni Leiva is a wonderful person, and the coffee he's roasting in his Ferrari-red coffee roaster is made with skill and love. Like the coffee at the Capital Hotel? That's the good stuff he's doing.
  4. Cafe Brunelle: When I find myself in West Little Rock's Promenade Shopping Center, I always fortify myself with a cup of coffee from Cafe Brunelle. Smooth, rich, and far better than stopping for an over-roasted cup of murky sadness from Starbucks.
  5. Onyx: This Fayetteville coffee roastery has won national awards for its coffee, and it's easy to see why. Pick up some of their products from places like Boulevard Bread Company, or stop by their shop at Gregg and Township in Fayetteville. It's a great way to get caffeinated.
click to enlarge North Pulaski Farms lettuce is vibrant. - JESS MILLER-ROBERTS
  • Jess Miller-Roberts
  • North Pulaski Farms lettuce is vibrant.

Farmers Market Finds:

  1. Willow Springs Tomatoes: I always head over to Robert Lashley's table at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market, because you never know what he's going to have. Where his Willow Springs Market Garden really shines, though is with wonderful tomatoes. Tart and tangy green zebras, hollow stuffer tomatoes and Cherokee purples are just a few of the wonderful things he has every year. It's a tomato lover's dream.
  2. Laughingstock melons: Whenever Josh Hardin has watermelons ready to go, I'm there. Last year, his Laughingstock Farms booth carried melons that were just as sweet as a mother's love—and he wasn't charging all that much for them.
  3. Kent Walker Cheese: Even though Kent Walker has moved into some new digs over on Cross St., you can still find his cheese at area markets. Look for the Roccina (which means "Little Rock"), his take on asiago—it's just one of several delicious choices.
  4. North Pulaski Farms Lettuce: Kelly Carney grows a lot of delicious food, but I bought a few heads of lettuce from him this year that basically redefined how I see lettuce. Sweet and crisp, this lettuce asserted itself as a vegetable in its own right instead of just a method of conveying salad dressing into the mouth part of the face.
  5. Geek Eats Granola: Hands down, the best granola I've ever eaten comes from Geek Eats. It's a pecan-heavy mix, and that's just a-OK with me. I always buy the granola intending on using it in yogurt or as an addition to fruit salad—and then I wind up eating most of it on the way home, often by the fistful. No matter your way of eating it, it's delicious.

Desserts:

  1. Loblolly Creamery: Whether its by the pint, served up at the Green Corner Store Soda Fountain or handed out the window of a solar-powered ice cream truck, there's always something delicious to be had from Loblolly. Most recently, I had a scoop of a bourbon pecan ice cream that blew my mind. This is America's best local ice cream.
  2. Banana Pudding, Capital Bar and Grill: What's not to love about a Southern classic like banana pudding? CBG's version is velvet-smooth, richly flavored and a true delight to eat. 
  3. Chocolate cake, Heights Taco & Tamale: Cake and pastry guru Zara Abbasi Wilkerson has really gone above and beyond with a decadent chocolate cake at the new Heights Taco and Tamale Co. I've had this cake twice now, and it's richer than the Waltons. If you're heading to HT&T, save room for dessert!
  4. The New Cheesecake Co.: These personal-sized cheesecakes are locally made—and out of this world. I tried a selection of them awhile back, and I always stop by to grab them at Whole Foods. These are a cheesecake lover's paradise, truly.
  5. Le Pops: These local ice lollies are outstanding. Fresh ingredients, innovative flavors—there's a lot to love here. If they have the Thin Mint inspired bar available, grab it up: real peppermint oil adds another level of coolness to an already-cold treat.
click to enlarge Crispy onions make the Big Orange Hickory Smoke a winner. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Crispy onions make the Big Orange Hickory Smoke a winner.

Burgers:
  1. Hickory Smoke, Big Orange: This burger is a tangy, spicy combination of pickles, barbecue sauce and crisp onion strings on top of a signature Big Orange patty. Order your burger medium for maximum juiciness and get extra napkins—this bad boy is totally messy and totally worth it.
  2. Double w/ Onions, David’s: It's a simple burger made from two hand-pressed beef patties, but when topped with a pile of grilled onions and a slice or two of American cheese, the Double from David's becomes something else—the best cheap burger in town (and better than many that cost a lot more). Endless fries don't hurt, either.
  3. Nuremburger, The Pantry: This is a different one, huge and bold. A brat patty, sauerkraut and bacon all come together to create an explosion of deliciousness that will make it hard to order anything else at The Pantry (although take a break for some fish and chips sometime, won't you?).
  4. H.A.M.burer, Hillcrest Artisan Meats: The Friday burger at H.A.M. is large and in charge. Get there early, they tend to sell out. One bite of this locally-sourced masterpiece and you'll know why.
  5. The Root Burger: For a restaurant that regularly makes the "best vegetarian" lists, The Root makes a hell of a burger. I usually take the side salad that comes along with it and plop it right on the patty along with the housemade dressing—it creates a sloppy, decadent mess that I can't get enough of. This burger is worth waiting in the lines that generally form for lunch at the South Main cafe.
click to enlarge The Cuban from Samantha's is a smoky treat. - MICHAEL ROBERTS
  • Michael Roberts
  • The Cuban from Samantha's is a smoky treat.

Sandwiches:
  1. Cuban, Samantha's: I love a good Cuban, and this smoky, savory version from Samantha's on Main is one of the best. Whoever decided that sliced pork shoulder and ham should go on a sandwich together with pickles deserves a monument—and kudos to Samantha's for their ability to pull it off so well.
  2. PLT, Boulevard: What's better than regular bacon? Why, pancetta, of course. Boulevard takes thin-sliced pancetta and cooks it crisp, adding lettuce and tomato for a great taste combo. The delightful aioli slathered all over the whole affair adds a nice layer of smooth garlic flavor to the sandwich that ties everything together nicely.
  3. The Georgie, Hillcrest Artisan Meats: This is a simple sandwich made from Plugra butter and thin-shaved ham. The secret to the Georgie, though, is to be sure and add the optional truffle shavings, because the flavor of truffles mixed with the smooth butter is beyond compare. This is probably my favorite cold sandwich of all time.
  4. Banh Mi, Flying Saucer: Not the most authentic banh mi I've ever eaten, but this big sandwich from the Saucer proves that bar food doesn't have to be sub par. Grab one of these the next time you're in for a pint—it's a great way to soak up all those beers you need to get a plate up on the wall.
  5. Gyro, Layla's: Is the gyro really a sandwich? I don't really care, this is fantastic. Shaved lamb with warm, fresh pita would be good enough, but add in the house-made tzatziki and you've got a hot sandwich made perfect with the cool flavor of yogurt, mint and cuccumber.
click to enlarge Noodles from Three Fold make for a fantastic lunch. - DANA VICKERSON
  • Dana Vickerson
  • Noodles from Three Fold make for a fantastic lunch.

Best Lunch:
  1. South on Main: Phillip Schaaf and Matt Bell are executing some great lunches on South Main St. Grab anything with chicken livers involved, or go for one of the excellent blue plate lunches—fresh ground meatloaf and fried chicken have become local favorites.
  2. Three Fold: This is the gold standard of inexpensive lunch. It's so good, in fact, that when I started writing this sentence, I had to leave, go get some dumplings, and then come back. My preference is pork and as hot as they'll go, but there's nothing bad on this menu.
  3. Iriana's: As I said above, the pizza at Iriana's is underrated. When it comes to lunch, though, don't pass up their sandwiches—meatball, Italian and sausage grinders are all available by half or whole, and that whole sandwich is a whole LOT of sandwich.
  4. Capital Bar and Grill: There are a lot of good items on the CBG menu for lunch, but the Monday red beans and rice special is my favorite. CBG also serves the best iced tea around.
  5. Taqueria Samantha: Huge burritos, great sopes or those tacos al pastor I mentioned above. This is what Chipotle pretends it is.
click to enlarge Norwegian smoked salmon is just one wonderful thing at One Eleven. - JESS MILLER-ROBERTS
  • Jess Miller-Roberts
  • Norwegian smoked salmon is just one wonderful thing at One Eleven.

Best Dinner:
  1. One Eleven: filet with foie gras. Enough said. Joel Antunes has made the former Ashley's into even more of a destination restaurant than ever.
  2. Heights Taco & Tamale: Come for the tamales; stay for everything else. Pickle fried chicken tacos? Awesome. Queso with ground beef? Like mom used to make. It's gotten better every time I've been.
  3. South on Main: There's always something new and compelling here, and the service is outstanding. At my most recent meal, the kitchen cooked flank steak like brisket...to rave reviews. Probably the best one-two lunch-dinner punch around.
  4. Southern Gourmasian: I lived off Gourmasian chicken and dumplings for a solid month when they first opened, but it's the ramen bowl and Korean fried chicken that obsess me now. Great flavors, innovative menu—and not that pricey.
  5. Table 28: This is one of the few places I've ever heard of where people rave about Brussels sprouts. The quail lollipop also seems to have a cult following. Another destination restaurant in Little Rock.
And there you have it. Ten lists, 50 items. I'm sure you found lots to disagree with, and maybe a little to cheer about

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