For decades, I have driven through Little Rock, Arkansas, on various trips from my home state of Oklahoma, but I am embarrassed to say I had never had the time to stop and explore Little Rock and its sister city, North Little Rock.
The city nestled on the banks of the Arkansas River in Pulaski County is located almost in the dead center of Arkansas, one of the prettiest states in the United States in my opinion, and after being hosted on a sponsored trip to explore this area, I came away putting Little Rock and NLR on my “I Could Live Here” list.
With nearly 200,000 people, Little Rock is the largest city in Arkansas, so it should be no surprise that it has a thriving and impressive culinary scene as well. While this capital city shines with such attractions as the Clinton Presidential Center, The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center (a key moment in America’s Civil Rights movement), the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, and outdoor adventures along the Arkansas River, it is also home to unique restaurants, breweries, and culinary districts.
Whether you’re spending several days in Little Rock/North Little Rock (and you should!) or just stopping through for lunch or dinner, here are seven fabulous restaurants to try.
1. 42 Bar And Table At The Clinton Presidential Center
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock was founded by the Clinton Foundation as a center for educational and cultural opportunities that reflect President Bill Clinton, the 42nd U.S. President, and his service to society and the nation. It also holds 20,000 square feet of exhibit space and the largest archival collections in American presidential history.
Tucked along the Arkansas River in Little Rock’s River Market District, the Clinton Presidential Center also boasts the popular on-site restaurant, 42 bar and table. The menu at this formal/casual restaurant blends local dishes with more international cuisine, as well as housing a full bar with an impressive wine library. You can get as fancy with your menu choices as you want, though the rustic local specials like the fried catfish plate with hand-cut fries, hushpuppies, tartar sauce, and coleslaw aren’t to be scoffed at.
While having brunch there, I had the pleasure of sampling the seared salmon mousse and seared crab cakes, the fluffy deep-fried New Orleans beignets, the Southern Crab Benedict, and the sweet potato & kale hash with a perfectly fried egg. The views from the restaurant show the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. Formerly the Rock Island Railroad Bridge, this old railroad bridge was converted into a ramped pedestrian pathway and reopened in 2011.
2. Get Your Coffee And Breakfast Fix With Fidel & Co.
Everyone needs a break — and maybe a little light breakfast — when exploring all the historic attractions and funky little districts in Little Rock/North Little Rock. One of my favorite coffee shops in the area was Fidel & Co Coffee in Little Rock’s East Village.
One of the newest coffee shops in Little Rock, Fidel & Co. was founded by Fidel Samour and serves specialty coffee, tea, and seductive little pastries all day. You can also grab a light bite during lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Fidel & Co was my first stop after my flight and the lavender and honey latte I ordered brought me back to life in a sweet, floral hug. Coffee lovers will cheer over the nitrogen-infused iced coffee made from single origin coffee beans, but if you’re more of a tea person, then the variety of iced or hot tea lattes will not disappoint.
The breakfast and lunch menu offers up standard favorites like bagels and lox and house-made avocado toast, but other selections have a distinct Mediterranean twist. Try the Chicken Harissa Wrap with its roasted chicken, harissa yogurt, pickled cucumber, radish, roasted onion, and fresh herbs; or go for the Hummus Fattoush Wrap with house-made hummus and avocado.
You can also buy bags of Onyx Coffee Lab coffee to take home with you as well as locally sourced honey.
3. Hello Dumpling!
Little Rock and North Little Rock may officially be considered “the South,” but you’ll find so much more than Southern fare here. One of the city’s unique international cuisine favorites is the Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co, a Chinese hot spot that serves up a variety of steamed and fried dumplings, noodle dishes, and more.
This unique eatery offers up signature bowls like the dumpling bowl with housemade Shui jiao filled with a choice of protein topped with green onions; or the steamed bun, a house-made mo (a bun with springy consistency that’s somewhere between a regular bread bun or pita) served sandwich-style with pickled veggies, fresh spring greens, cilantro, pepper sauce, and your choice of protein.
I ordered the three-fold salad with tofu, which came with fresh spring greens, the signature slaws, pickled veggies, cilantro, and a tea-scented egg. You cannot leave this cool little joint without at least sampling the famous dumplings and potstickers, and the homemade Taro chips are downright addictive.
4. Taco Me Up At Heights Taco & Tamale Co.
Ever heard of Tex-Mex? Well, get ready for some Ark-Mex at the Heights Taco & Tamale Co., famous for its true Tex-Mex fare with an Arkansas southern influence. Before you even get to the absolutely decadent melting pot cheese dip, you should definitely indulge in some of the crazy creative cocktails at Heights Taco & Tamale. We had the seasonal cocktail called The Florida Man, a heady mix of Hayman’s gin mixed with Forty Brewing’s Easy Tiger lager. The Frozen Margarita Tumbler is also a popular cocktail to start out the night with.
Tacos and tamales reign supreme at this casual jumping little restaurant. The pickle-fried chicken tacos and the ahi-tuna tacos are to die for, and the signature pork “Delta” style tamales steal the show. Leave some room, if you can, for the varieties of skillet nachos and the homemade sour cream chocolate fudge cake.
5. Cool It Off At Loblolly
You scream I scream, and we all should scream for Loblolly Creamery in Little Rock. A small batch, handcrafted creamery, Loblolly uses local and organic ingredients to create beautiful flavors. Founded by Sally Mengel and Rachel Moore in 2011, Loblolly Creamery now has locations throughout Arkansas, but the Little Rock location is a local favorite. The ice cream parlor specializes in curated flavors, but also gluten-free and vegan options as well. They also have a line of soda syrups, bottled drinks, and kombucha, all sold at the soda fountain.
The flavors rotate out seasonally, but some of the most popular are the double vanilla, bourbon pecan, honey lavender, vanilla coconut sorbet, and Arkansas mud, which is a sweet concoction of milk chocolate ice cream with house-made fluff, brownie, and cookie pieces.
The brave little ice cream store also releases limited batch experimental flavors called AdvenChurn, which have included such tastes as Everything Bagel, Leftover Pizza, Black Pepper Persimmon, Avocado, and Loblolly Pine.
Pro Tip: You can get your scoop in a cup, but definitely go for the homemade waffle cones. Loblolly also sells baked goodies like house-made cookies, brownies, macarons, Whoopie Pies, oatmeal cream pies, and ice cream cakes.
6. Brave New Restaurant
Fine dining meets crazy impressive dishes at Brave New Restaurant, and head chef Peter Brave continues to wow locals and visitors alike with his consistent excellence with his protein-focused menu. Brave is famous for his signature jumpsuit, which makes him look like he should be working as a mechanic instead of an award-winning chef, and he buzzes around this restaurant with the energy of an obsessed genius.
This warm, casual environment has an enviable setting overlooking the Arkansas River with the Little Rock skyline in the distance, but you’ll forget everything once you start eating. Appetizers like the goat cheese mousse and the baked brie are to die for, and the main course favorites include the mushroom Wellington, which includes portobello caps stuffed with mushroom duxelles, goat cheese, spinach, and pecans, all of which are wrapped up in a puff pastry and baked.
Meat lovers will faint from pleasure at the Duck with Duck, a pan-seared duck breast served with smoked duck sausage, lingonberry demi-glaze, and wild rice.
The Veal with Lime is a delicate, lightly breaded veal tenderloin pan sauteed in butter and served with a lime butter sauce, and the mixed grill comes with grilled pork tenderloin, stuffed quail, wild game sausage, and a fat little beef medallion.
Chef Brave also sources and roasts his own coffee beans at the restaurant, so be sure to pick up a bag to take home with you.
Pro Tip: Yes, you are in the right place. When you first pull into the parking lot, you’ll think you’re in the wrong place, because the building is a giant bank building. Just go inside and take the elevator up to the restaurant.
7. Brood and Barley
This hyperlocal gastro pub starts out strong with a selection of appetizers like deep-fried olives, perogies, and crawfish, and the beer cheese fondue. The Scallop Panzanella is a solid choice for a salad or lighter fare, but the entrees are hard to choose from.
The Dutch burger is a half-pound monster served with scrapple, cream cheese, fried egg, and apple butter while The rib is simply a giant braised beef rib served with gouda polenta and shaved Brussels sprouts. Once you’re done with dinner, hop next door to the Four Quarter Bar, a little dive joint that hosts live music. In fact, when I was there, Rockabilly legends Dale Watson and Jim Heath (frontman for the Reverend Horton Heat) were performing.
Pro Tip: This area is so cool, and it was my favorite part of Little Rock/North Little Rock. In June 2020, the North Little Rock City Council approved an entertainment district in downtown North Little Rock, known as the Argenta Outdoor Dining District. There are a ton of participating restaurants, which can be found here.
You can work up an appetite experiencing all that Arkansas offers, so check out the activities then sit down to some sumptuous meals: