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Food 2

Food Day Trip to El Dorado


Two key components are critical in pulling off the perfect food day trip. First, you need to pick a collection of restaurants, pit stops, and quick eateries that all offer something a little different. Second, and every bit as important as the first, is that you must roll with the right people. Picky eaters need not apply, and neither should individuals looking to be difficult. My friends, Drew and Bendy, two such fine folks who fall into the “right” category, recently invited me down to El Dorado for what promised to be a grand day of dining.

Things got going at Oriental Gardens, a charming, older Chinese food restaurant located just inside the city limits. We were there specifically for the highly-recommend egg rolls. They did not disappoint. Perfectly fried, not greasy, and filled with ample cabbage and bits of pork, these were some of the best egg rolls I’ve had in a very long time. I’m guessing you’d be hard-pressed to find a better version in Arkansas.

Afterward, we headed toward the center of town for a quick lunch at House of Wylie, which proved to be a charming spot to hang for an hour on a lazy Saturday afternoon. The menu is filled with salads, wraps, sandwiches, and burgers. I opted for the Italian Panini with chicken, ham, red pepper, and Provolone on a simply delicious rosemary focaccia, which I learned was shipped in from New Orleans. My tablemates got the ever-popular Salad Plate, a design-your-own combination of four salads from a selection of fruit salad, pasta salad, broccoli/cauliflower salad, pimento cheese, baked potato salad, tuna salad, chicken salad. The star was the broccoli/cauliflower salad, which, given its high sugar content, ate more like a dessert. This is a compliment. Speaking of actual desserts, do not, I repeat, do not go to House of Wylie without getting one of their massive Salted Caramel Cookies.

With our stomachs nearing capacity, we spent the next hour walking around the town square area, popping in out and out of various shops, bookstores, and even the iconic La Bella Gourmet Gifts & Deli. This locally-famous El Dorado eatery and gift store has been going strong since 1986, and while we were just there to look, it was still a pleasure to see this town treasure.

This downtime from eating did us well, but we refocused, got back in the car and headed to T-Models Pit Stop, a small dining spot inside a gas station that serves plate lunches, fried catfish, and burgers. The three of us split a cheeseburger. A satisfying offering, this thick patty burger had all the traditional fixings and provided a nice glimpse as to why T-Models is one of the more popular spots in town.

Do you know what’s better than eating at a gas station? Following that experience by going to another one with the sole intention of imbibing the “best Icee on the planet.” According to my tour guides, nothing beats the frozen treat at ET Relay Station, so I briefly relived my childhood with a Coke Icee. Per usual, they were correct.

It was already time for dinner, but, alas, we had reservations at a restaurant 40 minutes down the road in Camden. That’s a post for another day.

My food trip in El Dorado was as delightful as expected, but truthfully, we only scratched the service of what the town had to offer. A return visit is already on the horizon.

Oh, and did I mention that Drew and Bendy sent me home with a dozen Spudnuts they picked up earlier that day? Did you really think I’d go to El Dorado without partaking in one … or five?

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Kevin Shalin is a food writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Sara, and two daughters, Natalie (12) and Sydney (7). He started his own blog, The Mighty Rib, seven years ago while living in Houston. Six months later, he began writing for Eating Our Words, a Houston Press food blog. After a year in Boston, he moved to Little Rock, where he’s been for almost five years. During that time, he’s written for Little Rock Soiree, Rock City Eats, Treatsie, and Bourbon and Boots.

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2 responses to “Food Day Trip to El Dorado”

  1. Jamie Burton says:

    We would LOVE to see you again in Labella’s! Sorry the store is currently undergoing new ownership and a remodel but still the same smiling faces and same great food!! Thank you for your visit!!

  2. William Taylor, Jr says:

    I was born in El Dorado in May, 1955. Moved to Ohio in ’59. I can remember boarding the train and heading north. The last time I was able to visit here was 7 years ago. So much has changed. Glad to see that Spudnuts was still there! Took 3 dozen home with us. I no longer have any family left in El Dorado. My grandfather was Gordon McKinnon and he owned an antique store across the street from the Lion Oil refinery. He passed in 1987.

    I will always cherish my home town. I probably will never get back there, but I will will definitely remember the good times that I had there.

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