Natives Guide: Park Hill, Levy and a bunch of North Little Rock 

Forge a connection with the neighborhood.

Like islands whose distance from one another means each has a slightly different version of the same species — as in Darwin's finches — North Little Rock's residents can be identified by neighborhood. Baring Cross, west of arty Argenta and across from the Union Pacific Railroad yard, is an old, gentle blue-collar neighborhood. The gated community that has sprung up along the Arkansas River speaks of folks who like a water view and might have a boat at the new marina. Lakewood's large mid-century homes are for persons who love their water flat and their lots wide. Park Hill is North Little Rock's Hillcrest, with a mix of bungalows and Modernist architecture that appeals to all sorts. Levy has a distinctly working class feel, and proud of it. Destinations in neighborhoods beyond Argenta in North Little Rock often do not get the attention they deserve (for instance here, where I am lumping them into a single article).

This, for some locals, creates a frustration: What do you mean you've never been to North Bar (3812 JFK Blvd.)? Never even heard of it? But as you drive around, spending days here popping from underappreciated cool thing to underappreciated cool thing, it can create a love for the loner life, like going to a restaurant by yourself while everyone is at church on Sunday morning.

If you, like me, enjoy the tranquility of exploring, but have chronic worries about being around too many people, than North Little Rock's neighborhoods are perfect. The sprawling shops and restaurants and bars remind me, at times, of Los Angeles if the entire city went away for a holiday — hidden gems in strip malls along busy roads mostly to yourself. Not to say North Little Rock isn't vibrant (because it is), just that it's almost indifferent to you. Little Rock wants to be the cool spot in Arkansas while North Little Rock north of Argenta seems decidedly insouciant — and all the more attractive for it.

Do you enjoy sugar? How about bread? How about fried foods? Yeah, that's a donut. It's actually something we don't talk about enough: Donuts are an insane food made to satiate all sinful desires known to the modern palate in one bite. If looking to indulge, I like to start the day at Mark's Do-Nut Shop (4015 Camp Robinson Road) in Levy. And you have to start the day there because it's only open from 5:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. (closed on Sunday). Do go early; the donuts sometimes sell out. Also bring cash, Mark's doesn't take cards. Or you can bring change — donuts are very cheap, usually between a dollar or two.

If it's a weekend, I might take another route. Usually having slept in, I will look for something more in the brunch category. Rosalinda's (900 W. 35th St.), which opens up at 10 a.m., is my favorite. Serving Salvadorian and Honduran food, it's got the secret best brunch around — a cheap pupusa must be ordered along with anything you choose. Plus, on the weekends, its TVs broadcast soccer games live from Europe (where it is, during our morning, night).

Donut or pupusa firmly rooted in my stomach, I now go to explore. I may head to Angry Dave's Bicycles (3515 JFK) to browse. Or, if I'm feeling more attracted to superheroes, I'll head to Collector's Edition Comics (3217 JFK). In both cases, these are great places, to window shop or talk to the pros if you want to buy. Same goes for Arkansas-Record CD Exchange (4212 MacArthur Drive), which is a bit farther away. Warning for all: The stuff in there is cool enough that you probably will end up buying something.

To do some more shopping before lunch, I'll likely head back to Levy to Hogg's Meat Market (4520 Camp Robinson) — a wonderful butcher shop, with cheap and beautiful cuts of meat. It's a small store focused exclusively on what you need to make a wonderful meat-based meal. Gab with the employees and figure out what you want to cook. I'd recommend a pork chop. (If you're a hunter, Hogg's processes on the side of the shop.)

For lunch, I alternate among the about five Mexican restaurants near Hogg's. There's Taqueria Guadalajara (3813 Camp Robinson), Las Delicias Super Mercado (3401 Pike Ave.), Tortas Mexico (1000 W. 37th St.), Mexico Chiquito (4511 Camp Robinson) and La Casa Real (700 JFK). You can also throw in Senor Tequila (4304 Camp Robinson) if you're looking to sit down. Guadalajara has really cheap tortas ($3.99), gorditas ($2.25) and tamales ($1.50); you can get those all, each a meal in themselves, for under $10. At Guadalajara, I sometimes head to the bakery/convenience store for a sweet treat — either the delicious candy bar Bubu Lubu or one of the baked goods. Las Delicias has a similar setup: a small restaurant attached to a grocery store. If I'm craving cheese, this is the place to go: Its quesadillas are excellent and very, very rich, and its tamales might be the best in town.

Next up: the weird stuff I never thought I'd do but is actually pretty cool. Breathe It In Salt Rooms (4560 JFK) are, as they sound, rooms where you go to breathe salt. It's called halotherapy and I cannot vouch for it beyond saying it's cool and I have no idea if I'll live any longer. It's a luxury: $25 for the first session, $30 for single sessions. You can get massages, too, for ultimate relaxation. If, instead of relaxing, you'd like to challenge yourself, try the Central Arkansas Escape Rooms (108 W. F Ave.) Here, you pay someone to trap you and your friends in a room to see if you can escape. (They won't leave you there.) Don't let shame keep you from buying elaborate lingerie and bedroom implements local. Cupids Lingerie (5400 J.F.K.) knows all the secrets to keep things sexy.

Farther afield, Krebs Brothers (4310 Landers Road) supplies restaurants, but also has all sorts of kitchen gadgets for the home cook. While you're out that way, discover Hideaway Pizza (5103 Warden Road) for a slice.

I was about to again recommend Mexican food for dinner. (Sorry, I have a problem). But you probably want to eat something else. On the cheap side, I'd head to The Original ScoopDog (5508 JFK), which has a rabid and deserved following. The dogs are great, piled high with toppings, and you have to grab some decadent custard to top off the meal. For sitting down, there's Jacob's Wings (5200 JFK), which is, as it sounds, a great wing place; Mick's Bar-B-Q (3609 MacArthur) for the platters of meat; and Gadwall's Grill (7311 North Hills Blvd.) with great diner food and burgers.

Post-dinner drink options depend on your mood. If I'm feeling like smoking and sitting around a table with friends, I'd head to Spectator's (1012 W. 34th). It's a perfect dive bar with the layout of a TGIF Fridays — I love the table space and the feeling that it's a place whose customers have just clocked out and are ready for a drink. North Bar (3812 JFK) is more millennial and open, not smoky, and has great food. It's in the same vein as Stone's Throw Brewing south of the river.

And then, my friends, there is The Forge (3000 Pike Ave.). Sometimes a passing Union Pacific train will block your view of this shack of a bar. If you want a working-class bar with pool tables, shuffleboard and cheap beer, this is the spot.



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