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I’ve done a fair amount of traveling throughout the great state of Arkansas in 2021, all in the name of finding great food. Below are my 20 Favorite Dishes around Arkansas in 2021. Now, a few things to keep in mind. I am not saying these are the 20 best dishes in the state, but rather, the 20 best dishes I ate this year. Also, while assigned a number, these dishes are not rated in any particular order. Finally, I live in Little Rock, so to make this list, I wanted to feature dishes from my “travels.” The restaurant must be at least 30 minutes from the capital city to qualify.
We had a great dinner at Local Flavor Café, but the prized dish came at the end of the meal in the form of a spectacular Vanilla Crème Brûlée. A vanilla-forward offering with a crispy, sugar shell topping, this dessert is a must-order at the popular Eureka Springs restaurant.
Do you love bacon? I mean, do you really love bacon? Then make sure to get up (or down) to Coursey’s Smoked Meats in St. Joe for the best in Arkansas. Depending on the time of year, they’ll even ship the meat to you.
I am a sucker for a great tot. The Grumpy Rabbit blew my mind by smashing them into a thick pancake shape and then pairing the fried potatoes with my choice of cheese sauce, spicy ketchup, garlic aioli, ranch, or fry sauce. I can’t tell you which condiment to go with as they’re all worthy.
Other than not having authentic bread, Pea Farm Bistro keeps it as traditional as possible with this well-executed Cuban sandwich. Pork shoulder, ham, mustard, and pickles all come together to form a sandwich that is darn near impossible to beat.
Why get one item when you can get the whole shebang at Knightfire BBQ? I forget how much a meat platter costs at the food truck that’s about to turn brick-and-mortar, but it’s a reasonable price for some of the very best brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and sausage in the state. Oh, and then there’s the nearly one-pound beef rib.
I’ve written about this fried catfish extensively in 2021, and for good reason, as it’s absolutely fantastic. The thick coating and ideal fry-job give the massive fish filet delightful crispiness. A dusting of ranch seasoning helps separate this catfish from much of the competition.
Make it your business to eat at Grider Field Restaurant at least once in your life. The restaurant is inside a tiny airport on the outskirts of Pine Bluff. When you go, try out the chicken & dumplings, a traditional rolled dumpling offering with a soupy base with bits of carrots, celery, and chicken scattered throughout.
The popular burger joint off Interstate 40 in Russellville is famous for forming house-ground chuck shoulder into balls and then tossing them onto the flat top for quick grilling. The result is a simple, classic burger best eaten with a side of fries.
While the sliced brisket at Ray’s Rump Shack still has room for improvement, the peppery-barked beef already resides in the upper echelon of Arkansas. High praise, especially for a still relatively new brick-and-mortar. Keep an eye on this place, as the future looks bright for the Northeast Arkansas establishment.
Roots Restaurant is a cool spot in the heart of downtown Jonesboro, with a concept that focuses on sourcing as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. I was particularly impressed with this sweet corn-based appetizer during my lunch visit. I also love shrimp, and these were done right.
I’ve been going to PattiCakes Bakery for years, and this vanilla cream puff is the best item I’ve ever gotten from the shop. It is loaded with thick, rich cream, while the pastry part is just as light and airy as can be. The pastry is a masterpiece, and, truth be told, only half of one should do you.
Say “Donnawellen Kuchen” five times in a row. Not easy, I know, but spoiler alert, the German pastry is a lot easier to eat than to say. Chocolate and vanilla cake is swirled with cherries then topped with buttercream and chocolate ganache. It all comes together to form one of Ludwig’s Bakery’s signature desserts.
Atlas the Restaurant, in the heart of Fayetteville, offers a fine-dining experience like none other in the area. My 2021 dinner was highlighted by a Maine diver scallops appetizer with bits of smokey bacon and a tarragon beurre blanc.
At Yeyo’s, take your pick of protein for each taco, but know that they’ll all be stellar. We tried proteins of carnitas, barbacoa, and charred cauliflower, with each residing in a corn tortilla topped with chopped, raw onion, cilantro, and queso fresco.
It’s a fried food paradise at Woods Place in Camden. Yes, the chicken fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, onion rings, and chicken tenders are all worthy of a two-hour drive, but going and not ordering some of the restaurant’s fried catfish is an absolute mistake. Clean tasting and fried right, this catfish is what put Woods Place on the map, and for good reason.
Speaking of iconic dishes, it’s the French dip at Ed Walker’s in Fort Smith. The tender, pot roast-like shreds of beef come loaded into a soft hoagie roll with melted Provolone. Each sandwich comes with a small Styrofoam tub of au jus that you can use for dipping.
Best Café serves some amped-up French toast with a rendition that includes cinnamon butter and fresh strawberries and blueberries, all on a slab of freshly baked brioche. Get it with a side of bacon and prepare to be wowed once it hits the table. Spoiler alert, it tastes just as good as it looks.
I know this whole food thing is very subjective but is there any doubt that Taylor’s dry-aged, 20+-ounce, bone-in ribeye is the best steak in Arkansas? People, including me, drive from far and wide for it, making the Dumas steakhouse one of the more iconic restaurants around.
All of the food at YGFBFKitchen in Conway is amazing, but if I had to pick just one dish, it would have to be the shrimp & grits with blackened shrimp, smoked sausage, tomato compote, Cajun-style gravy, and cheesy grits. Prepare yourself for a taste bud explosion and plenty of leftovers. Portions are huge at the restaurant.
Hamburger steak is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, and Grumpy’s Getaway does the dish about as good as anyone out there. As expected, the thick hamburger patty is topped with brown gravy, but Grumpy’s version takes it up a notch with a heavy hand of grilled onions and mushrooms.
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