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Natives Guide: Southwest Little Rock 

Delicious diversity.

If the River Market is our Manhattan and Hillcrest is our Brooklyn, consider Southwest Little Rock our Queens. Like that most diverse and sprawling of New York City boroughs, you'll find that hip, authenticity-craving words like "curated," "mercantile" and "artisan" are conspicuously absent from signage in Little Rock's southwest corner, replaced with words like "panaderia," "fish market," "surplus," "pho bac diet" and "African hair braiding." Convincing denizens of the other Little Rock "boroughs" to venture south of UA Little Rock can be difficult.

So, in the spirit of exploring our own backyard, let's plan a day in Southwest Little Rock: It's way too cool to be experienced only from the car window on Interstate 30.

The first place you'll want to stop is La Regionale Panaderia (7414 Baseline Road) and, unless you're the earliest of worms, you can count on them being there; they open at 6:30 a.m. daily. The grocery is a perfect place to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables you may not find elsewhere — cactus leaves for trying out that Nopalites con Papas recipe on Pinterest, Martha Stewart's Yuca with Mojo Sauce or a pound of fresh, in-the-husk tomatillos for a brightly acidic salsa verde that's as perfect on top of enchiladas or eggs as it is alongside a bowl of white corn tortilla chips.

Standing in the parking lot at La Regionale also means you're only about 2 miles east of the Baseline Road access point to Fourche Creek, an expansive and underappreciated waterway that acts as a watershed to the city of Little Rock. Large sections of the creek are floatable, and the Fourche is home to beautiful wetland wildlife: towering cypress trees, wood ducks, herons, river birch, silver maple and sycamore. Enjoy the creek from Baseline (observe the map at ar.audubon.org under the "Conservation" tab) or, if the weather suits you, plan a morning float from the concrete launch at the southwest corner of Interstate Park (3900 S. Arch St.) While you're at it, grab a torta from La Regionale's grill and tuck it away in your knapsack for later; jamón sandwiches always taste better inside a kayak.

Maybe La Regionale is old news to you. In that case, head over to Mercado San Jose Grocery and Bakery Store (7411 Geyer Springs Road) for a breakfast muffin or pastry instead. On the west end of the store, you'll see a large, stainless steel table with pizza-sized trays and metal tongs. Just select what you like from the cases (or straight from the rolling racks, for the stuff fresh from the oven). You might find a shortbread-like pretzel topped with sugar crystals and infused with a hint of cinnamon, or a dense muffin dotted with tiny chocolate chips. If you've got a birthday coming up, order one of its custom sheet cakes, covered in decadent white buttercream and topped with chocolate-covered strawberries.

Now it's time to shop, and if you're willing to dig around a little to score a bargain, Southwest Little Rock can be a treasure trove for DIY and home improvement projects. For one, there's the Habitat for Humanity ReStore (6700 S. University Ave.), a donation center that serves as a nonprofit home improvement outlet. Beyond the secondhand clothing, kitchenware, furniture and small appliances in the front room, there's a high-ceiling warehouse in back with as-is appliances, as well as rows and rows of salvaged materials you could put to use in the garden, the shop, the house or to build that studio you decided you wanted in the Tiny House Craze of 2014. Doors, windows, chicken wire, barely used buckets of paint, lumber, tools, baseboard trim, metal remnants, light fixtures, tile, shelves and filing cabinets line the walls. Home Depot it is not, but your pocketbook will sustain much less damage, and you'll know you're reusing something that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

If you happen to be out on a Wednesday, check out the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration's Marketing & Redistribution Center (6620 Young Road). The warehouse sells "everything from nuts to bolts to oil rigs," Manager Phillip Cole said. Basically, if it's something a university, prison, park or other state agency once used but no longer needs, it ends up here: vehicles, hats and outdoor clothing, desks, computers, pontoons, kayaks, lawnmowers, tractors, lighting. Retail sales are open to the public on Wednesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and online at govdeals.com (type "Arkansas state") into the search box to browse or bid on items.

For lunch, consider sharing the Pan Fried Turnip Cakes, Roast Duck and a steamy Seafood Clay Pot soup with a friend at Mr. Chen's (3901 S. University Ave.) in the shopping center where University Avenue meets Asher Avenue/Colonel Glenn Road, and whose adjacent grocery store is a destination in and of itself, with teapots, ramen, tamarind candies, hundreds of stir-fry-ready sauces and spices, hanging rotisserie ducks crisping under a heat lamp, frozen squid and Chinese scroll wall calendars. In the unlikely event that you don't find your favorite brand of ramen or miso soup there, hop across the intersection to Sam's Oriental Store (3704 S. University Ave.) for more pantry stocking. Bring cash; Sam's does not accept credit cards. A few doors down, there's Kimchi (3700 S. Unversity Ave.), a Korean restaurant that replaced longtime Vietnamese noodle shop Vanlang earlier this year, and which serves hot pots, pho, peanut chicken, short ribs and Korean pancakes.

Just around the corner, there's more shopping; a decades-old curio shop of sorts, Armadillo's Hands (6318 Colonel Glenn Road), screams to passersby with its flamingo pink paint job announcing its mission: "Rock-N-Roll Clothing!" "Exotic Shoes!" "Lingerie!" Let's face it; you or someone you know desperately needs some jeans with "Like a Virgin"-era Madonna airbrushed on the left thigh, and this is where you'll get them. Armadillo's Hands smells like Nag Champa and looks like a party; there are red leather bralets, racks and racks of T-shirts, tie-dye bandanas, glassware and water pipes (for tobacco, of course), concert posters, dream catchers and pink plaid miniskirts.

If all those grocerias didn't inspire you to roll and steam your own tamales or wrap up some rice paper spring rolls with cabbage and shrimp for dinner, check out Mike's Cafe (5501 Asher Ave.) for some real-deal pho, late-night karaoke, Kung Pao Shrimp or bubble tea. Or, grab some carnitas or Coctel de Camaron from Taqueria Karina Y Cafe (5309 W. 65th St.), a small storefront in a strip mall that pairs its fare with cheap domestics and Mexican beers during happy hour, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Don't miss the storefront for Tortilleria Brenda two doors down, where Maria Martinez sells queso fresco and various sizes of locally made tortillas from the factory on Colonel Glenn Road.

For night owls, the gritty club scene in Southwest Little Rock is a breath of fresh air from a city saturated with craft cocktail spots. There's Club Envy (7200 Colonel Glenn Road), a late-night spot where, depending on the night, you could end up step dancing to The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," dishing up a plate of catfish and lemon-poached salmon from the buffet, or soaking up the sounds of DJ Deja Blu until the doors close at 5 a.m. There's Norm's (6416 Colonel Glenn Road), a laid-back tavern where you can play pool or shuffleboard or just enjoy the icy cold domestics. If line dancing is more your speed, check out the Little Rock location of the Electric Cowboy chain (9515 Interstate 30), a rowdy 5 a.m. joint where the drinks are cheap and stiff enough to give you the courage to ride the bar's mechanical bull or get out on the dance floor and do the electric slide, which is just as likely to happen to the tune of Tim McGraw's "Down on the Farm" as it is to Marcia Griffith's "Electric Boogie."

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