Little Rock’s 10 Best Cultural Restaurants: Eating Out in Arkansas
Little Rock borrows its name from a small rock on the river, used as a landmark for boats; the town, named after this promontory, is also slowly becoming a landmark for food as highly lauded chefs are migrating to Arkansas. A bastion of Southern cuisine where international influences still manage to colour authentic American eats, these are ten of the best cultural restaurants in Little Rock.
Brave New restaurant
Little Rock has a long history as a seafaring city, with boats coming and going and fresh sea produce constantly arriving on its shores. Brave New Restaurant is perfectly placed, on a river-facing dock, to make it feel like you’re navigating its waterways on a journey of taste discovery. The city’s skyline is paraded in front of the smoked salmon salad, the veal with wild mushrooms or mixed grill, either for lunch or dinner service, bringing out the best of both day and night with a light river breeze easing through the deck. Menu updates are constantly made to keep the restaurant as enticing as it was on its opening day.
Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro
Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro feels like a family affair, and that’s exactly what it is, though everyone is welcomed with the same warm hearth, mystical charm and quirky menu. The main draw, and the main point which is remembered by visitors, is the award-winning cheese dip, which is a béchamel-based delicacy with three cheeses, four grilled pepper varieties, pico de gallo, salsa, sour cream, and green onion. In addition to the famous dip, Dizzy’s also offers more than the usual restaurant service, with charity soirées, salsa dancers, music groups, and children’s musical nights throughout the year.
Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro, 200 River Market Avenue, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 375 3500
Ashley’s At the Capital
Chef Joël Antunes returns to the United States after a long-running career, which has taken him to Bangkok, London and now Little Rock, Arkansas. The French-born and raised chef, who studied under the legendary Paul Bocuse, brings sophistication, experience and creativity to Ashley’s at the Capital, creating a menu which reconnects with the South’s true culinary traditions while giving them a modern twist. One of the things that inspired Antunes to settle in Little Rock was the region’s availability of fresh, local produce, which ensures that both the dishes and the ingredients that compose them are of the highest possible quality. The restaurant is an unmissable – and surprising – culinary treat, located just around the corner from the Historic Arkansas Museum.
Ashley’s at the Capital, 111 West Markham, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 370 7011
Art can come in many forms, ranging from the visual and sensory to the personal. Best Impressions, one of the most renowned casual eateries in Little Rock, provides a symbiosis of a good number of these different kinds of art. The culinary creativity in its American fusion menu is a delight for the palate; the artistic vision given by the artwork on display just on the other side of the partition, at the Arkansas Arts Center, coincides perfectly with the food; and the visual panorama offered by its floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto green open space finish off the tableau with panache. The menu revolves heavily around salads, pastas and classic mains (chicken, burgers, steaks) with a brunch option as well, and some rather seductive desserts –red velvet cake is not always on the menu in sit-down restaurants, but it is at Best Impressions.
Best Impressions, 501 East 9th Street, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 907 5946
The burgers may be big, but the disclaimer should be that they are not, thankfully, orange. They do, however, come in many different colours at Big Orange, and are infused with different ingredients and accompaniments and served with careful attention to detail, which makes Big Orange a hamburger restaurant for a special occasion. The responsible sourcing and sustainable development of the two Big Orange outlets are proudly displayed on all of their communications, a sign of its dedication to quality service and ethical eating. The process here is simple: choose a style of burger, a side and type of fries. The choice, however, isn’t as straightforward: diners can pick from a range of mouth-watering options, including white truffle pecorino burger or blackened tilapia burger sandwich, truffle-garlic herb fries or Kenebec potato chips served with chipotle mayo sauce.
Big Orange West, 17809 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 821 1515
Doe’s Eat Place
A prime-cut steak cooked to perfection should be enough to elevate Doe’s Eat Place to a position of renown in Little Rock. However, in case there’s any doubt as to the quality of the meat, there is also a very important claim to notoriety: Doe’s was former President Bill Clinton’s staff hangout during the 1992 election campaign, and bears his image on the walls in unavoidable glory to this day. The famous interview with Clinton, published in Rolling Stone magazine, was carried out over a steak at Doe’s, with Clinton dressed down in khaki and giving a brief low-down on the history of Doe’s before the difficult questions ensued (to reiterate, Doe’s was an offshoot of a Mississippi restaurant and soon surpassed its predecessor’s success). Tamales are also a house speciality, and come with one of three formulae: sauce, sauce and fries, or sauce, fries and salad. A very important fact to remember is that Doe’s classes itself as ‘no-frills’ and it’s no less delicious and culturally significant for this fact.
Doe’s Eat Place, 1023 West Markham Street, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 376 1195
Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro
Ya Ya’s translates into English as ‘grandma’s’, and the accompanying idea conveyed by its carefully-chosen and nostalgic name is that the restaurant offers a personal and eclectic European style, passed down from generation to generation from the ‘original’ grandma of the USA, Europe. Greek, Italian and French influences are all worked into the dishes, which also incorporate another homely feature: a playful twinkle, which means that the service is friendly and the food is uncomplicated but joyful and colourful.
Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, 17711 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 821 1144
South on Main
South on Main is more than just an innovative restaurant and culinary space. It’s also an entire cultural experience which has at its helm an ingenious head chef, whose dishes complement the concerts, talks and recitals which are held under the same roof as the meals. The menu offers a crisp, unpretentuous selection that is varied enough to be truly appetising, while still retaining its simplicity. Freshness of preparation and cultural content of the South on Main programme is certain, and a credit to this recently opened Little Rock institution.
South On Main, 140 South Main Street, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 244 9660
Situated in the Best Western Premier Governor’s Suites, this classy establishment is presided over by Head Chef Scott Rains. The modern American menu is creative without being pretentious, and blends modern favourites such as biscuits and gravy with fusion-style surprises such as squid strips served in a dainty basket. The eponymous Table 28 is reserved for special occasions only, and is glorified with a six-course taster menu for the guests lucky enough to be able to reserve it. The menu prices are fixed according to an ethically calculated percentage of profit margins for producers and farmers, and donations are publicly made to a local children’s hospice by the restaurant’s management.
Table 28, 1501 Merrill Drive, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 224 2828
Whole Hog Cafe
Despite the name, it’s impossible to buy a whole hog at this culturally entrenched restaurant in Little Rock. There is, however, a hearty selection of ribs, smoked chicken, tender beef brisket and pulled pork, all readily available for sale on plates the size of small US states. Guests can – and should – also take out Whole Hog’s award-winning sauce to recreate the experience at home. Another Bill Clinton mention: Whole Hog café eating utensils are buried in the former US president’s time capsule, set to be retrieved and opened in 2104.
Whole Hog Cafe, 2516 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, AR, USA, +1 501 664 5025
By Claire Baker